Friday, November 28, 2014

Understatements... Proverbs 10:19

Proverbs 10:19

You've heard of "too little and too late." How about "too many and too much"? That's the way I'd describe our times. In a society overrun with overstatements, I find an occasional "not quite enough" a sheer delight.

Too much empty talk. Too much rich food. Too much emphasis on success, winning, being the biggest and the best. Too much comparison and commercialism. Too many meetings. Too many pages in the newspaper. Too many TV channels, neon signs, sports teams, schools, and opinions. Too many options on stuff like cars, sound systems, computers, and soft drinks.

We find ourselves making the extreme the standard. Periods are fast being replaced by exclamation points. "Nice" is no longer sufficient. Now it's got to be "fantastic" or "incredible."

Whatever happened to a quiet, barefoot walk along a beach? Or an evening of just listening to music? Or going on a bike ride, topped off with an ice cream cone, single dip? Or flying a kite, then lying on our backs and taking a snooze? When did we let candle-lit loveliness and holding hands with someone we love get bumped by the fluorescent and flashy?

How nice to be surprised by subtlety. To stumble across genuine beauty, true sincerity without overt attempts to impress. First-class class . . . understated elegance that leaves room to imagine, to think, to decide for ourselves, to appreciate. Films and other art forms that give us spaces of silence to feel, to sigh. Speeches, sermons, and writing that reflect true craftsmanship, convincing us that so much more was meant to be said.

My plea in a nutshell? More originals, fewer copies. More creativity, less technology. More implying, less explaining. More thought, less talk. Someone put it like this:

When's the best time to stop talking? Probably now.

A story is told about FDR when he was a young lawyer. He heard his opponent summarize a case before the jury in eloquent, emotional, but lengthy appeal. Sensing the jury was restless, FDR is reported to have said, "You have heard the evidence. You have also listened to a brilliant orator. If you believe him, and disbelieve the evidence, you will decide in his favor. That's all I have to say." He won. Overstate and bore. Understate and score. When a baseball umpire says, "Strike three!" he doesn't have to add "Yer out." That's what strike three means.

"To state with restraint . . . for greater effect." That's what understatement means. As in "I love you." Next time you're tempted to say too much, just say that.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thank God

Thank God for everything!
A person never runs out of reasons to say “thanks.” Just the word lifts the spirit!  To say, “thanks” is to celebrate a gift. Something. Anything. In Scripture the idea of giving thanks is not a suggestion or a recommendation. It’s a command. It carries the same weight as “love your neighbor” and “give to the poor.” More than a hundred times, either by imperative or example, the Bible commands us to be thankful.

If quantity implies gravity, God takes thanksgiving seriously. Ingratitude is the original sin. Adam and Eve had a million reasons to give thanks. They lived in a perfect world. Then Satan slithered into the garden and, just like that, Eden wasn’t enough. Oh, the hissing we hear. “Don’t you want more?”

So thank God. Moment by moment. Day by day. Thank him…for everything!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Submitting to God... Acts 10:14-15

"Surely not, Lord!" Peter replied. "I have never eaten anything impure or unclean." The voice spoke to him a second time, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." - Acts 10:14-15

Do you feel comfortable saying "no" to God? We might not have the ability to admit it but we each say "no" to God in some way. Sometimes we say "no" by choosing to not witness. Sometimes we say "no" by refusing to volunteer. Sometimes we say "no" by ignoring the prompting of our heart. But most of the time we say "no" because we refuse to accept His will for our lives.
In Matthew 16:13, Jesusasked His disciples, "Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?" The disciples answered His question by stating what others think about Him. "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter is the only one who answered and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus acknowledges to Peter that God, Himself, has revealed this to him. A few passages later, Jesus begins explaining that He will have to suffer. Peter again is the only one who speaks up as he disagrees with God's plan, taking the liberty to rebuke the Lord. Matthew 16:22-23 says, “Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!’ Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.’” Peter has gone from a place of esteem to a place of rebuke. In Acts 10, we find Peter disagreeing with God again as he says, "Surely not, Lord."
We are flesh and our natural born nature rebels against the Lord at times. God can handle whatever position we take and He wants to reason with us on our position. Talk to Him and be honest. The problem comes when we place our thoughts and desires over God's, to a point of rebuking the Lord. We may not have the boldness to tell Him we think He is wrong, but our actions show the thoughts and intents of our hearts as we choose not to submit or yield or even listen to what He is trying to say. God's ways do not make sense to us and His thoughts are not our thoughts.. Peter was a man who had an honest relationship with God. His rebukes may not seem respectful but he kept himself in a position to keep listening until his will lined up with God's will.
What is the Lord trying to tell you today? Are you going through a set of circumstances that you refuse to acknowledge is God's will for your life? Are you fighting or submitting? Are you willing to listen or are you running? Let us all pray that we are on God's side. When it comes down to it, He is going to win. Don't you want to be on His team?

Monday, November 24, 2014

The church part 2... Ephesians 1:19-23

Ephesians 1:19–23

Previously, we discovered Dr. Jay Kesler's five reasons why the church really is a big deal. No, it isn't perfect (you're a part of it, aren't you?) and it hasn't always modeled its message. But whatever is next in order of importance is a distant second—and I mean way down the line.

So, what's all the commotion about the church? Well, besides the things in the list, I can think of only one other reason worth consideration. It is the church over which Jesus Christ says He rules as Head. He's in charge.

Not General Motors. Not American Airlines or the American Medical Association or the Academy of Arts and Sciences. Not the local fire station or theater or police department or library or courtroom. Although important and helpful, these cannot claim His headship. Only the church. With all its quirks and faults, it still ranks right up there at the top.

See you Sunday. That's when the Body and the Head meet to celebrate this mysterious union . . . when ordinary, garden-variety folks like us gather around the preeminent One. For worship. For encouragement. For instruction. For expression. For support. For the carrying out of a God-given role that will never be matched or surpassed on earth—even though it's the stuff the world around us considers weird and weak . . .

Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are. (1 Corinthians 1:25–28).

No matter how it may appear to others, if the church is something God has chosen and God is pleased to use, it's a big deal.

 Only the church, with all its quirks and faults, can claim Jesus as its Head.

The church... Matthew 16:18

Matthew 16:18

So, what's the big deal about the church?

Good question. And it deserves a good answer. Something more than, "You gotta have one to get married in," or "It's the place kids oughta be on Sunday." Or how about, "There's not a better spot to make business contacts."

Really, now . . . haven't you wondered at times if the church is that significant in a day of high-level decisions and powerful international issues? I sure have. How could a congregation of folks carry much clout in our modern era of transcontinental missiles, mind-boggling scientific discoveries, space exploration, and impressive educational advancements? It's easy to be a tad cynical when you compare the importance of a brilliant body of keen-thinking minds wrestling over a decision that could impact a continent of humanity with a few dozen people in some white clapboard building singing "In the Sweet Bye and Bye."

Yet, unless you've recently sliced Matthew 16:18 out of your Bible, it still says the same thing Jesus said. It still includes an unconditional promise that the church is His personal project ("I will build My church") and also that it will be perpetually invincible. No way will "the gates of hell" put it out of business. When you chew on that thought long enough, you begin to realize that the church is the impervious anvil, and all these other hot items, no matter how impressive and loud and intimidating, will ultimately cool off and be replaced.

I remember a message Dr. Jay Kesler gave at a family camp at Forest Home Conference Center. The title of his talk was unpretentious: "Why I Believe in the Local Church." Disarmed by simplicity, all of us in the audience walked away with our heads a little higher, our shoulders no longer slumped as though we had something to prove to a world that often doubts our reason for existence. Jay offered five splendid answers.

1. The church is the only institution dealing with the ultimate issues. Death. Judgment. Relationships. Purpose. Lasting priorities. Meaning in life. Identity. Heaven and Hell.

2. The church provides perspective that gives dignity to mankind. We live in a day in which man has become a means rather than an end. This creates a desperate sense of inner worthlessness. The church counteracts this insidious message.

3. The church provides a moral and ethical compass in the midst of relativism. Like a swamp of murky, slimy water, our society has either rethought, resisted, or completely rejected absolutes. Not the church! It still stands on the timeless bedrock of Scripture.

4. The church is the only place to find true community, healing, compassion, and love. It is here people care. Really care. Not because of status or money. But because the Spirit of God is at work, weaving together the lives within the Body.

5. The church (like no other institution) has provided motivation for the most lasting, unselfish, essential, courageous ministries on earth. Schools. Hospitals. Halfway houses. Orphanages. Leprosariums. Missions.

Look back over the list. Think each one through. See if it doesn't thrill you to realize you are connected with such a significant arm of strength.

 The church is Jesus’ own project ("I will build My church") and it’s invincible.

Shout out...Psalm 100

They say that when you complain, half the people who hear you aren't interested, and the other half are just glad you finally got what's coming to you!
As Christians, we are called to have an attitude of gratitude. Interestingly, our celebration of the holiday called Thanksgiving has a precedent in the Old Testament.
The ancient Israelites worshiped God through a series of five offerings: the burnt offering, the grain offering, the peace offering, the sin offering, and the trespass offering. The last two were compulsory; you had to do those. But the first three were voluntary; you did them only if you wanted to. And so those three offerings were important to God; they were called "a sweet aroma to the Lord" (Leviticus 1:9).
The burnt offering signified the consecration of one's self to God, and the grain offering was about the dedication of one's service to God.
The peace offering is my favorite; it's the celebration of salvation. Like our Thanksgiving, the people gathered together and shared a meal. They brought a portion of it as a sacrifice, and a portion of it went to the priest. They took the rest of it home, cooked it up, and had friends and family over to thank the Lord for what He had done.
So, on Thanksgiving we gather with family and friends and share a peace offering, thanking the Lord for His goodness and kindness. And if ever there was a national holiday in this country that symbolized a biblical worldview, it is the celebration of Thanksgiving.
This year, I invite you to read one of the psalms of thanksgiving with your family. Try Psalm 100, which begins, "Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands!" Today, we would say, "Give Him a shout-out!"
In the New Testament, 1 Thessalonians 5:18 gives a commandment: "In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." So, if you've ever wondered, "What's God's will for my life?" that's part of it. Be a thankful person—not a griper, a grumbler, or a complainer. Learn to count those blessings and recite them. Make it your habit and practice to give thanks.
The greatest thing we have to be thankful for is what Jesus Christ did for us in shedding His blood on the cross 2,000 years ago. Now, that's worth a shout-out!
The writer of Hebrews said, "Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe" (Hebrews 12:28, NIV).
This peace offering that we celebrate once a year, this Thanksgiving feast, should be centered on gratitude for our salvation. The kingdom that we've inherited will last forever. The joy that we get from time to time in our Christian walk will be maxed out to the full, and in eternity, it will never end. That's also worth a shout-out!
May you have a blessed Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Fine Art...2 Corinthians 12:8-10

The Fine Art of Blowing It
2 Corinthians 12:8–10

It happens to every one of us. Teachers as well as students. Cops as well as criminals. Bosses as well as secretaries. Parents as well as kids. The diligent as well as the lazy. Not even presidents are immune. Or corporation heads who earn six-figure salaries. The same is true of well-meaning architects and hard-working builders and clear-thinking engineers . . . not to mention pro ball players, politicians, and preachers.

What? Making mistakes, that's what. Doing the wrong thing, usually with the best of motives. And it happens with remarkable regularity.

Let's face it, success is overrated. All of us crave it despite daily proof that man's real genius lies in quite the opposite direction. It's really incompetence that we're all pros at. Which brings me to a basic question that has been burning inside me for months: How come we're so surprised when we see it in others and so devastated when it has occurred in ourselves?

Show me the guy who wrote the rules for perfectionism and I'll guarantee he's a nailbiter with a face full of tics . . . whose wife dreads to see him come home. Furthermore, he forfeits the right to be respected because he's either guilty of not admitting he blew it or he has become an expert at cover-up.

You can do that, you know. Stop and think of ways certain people can keep from coming out and confessing they blew it. Doctors can bury their mistakes. Lawyers' mistakes get shut up in prison—literally. Dentists' mistakes are pulled. Plumbers' mistakes are stopped. Carpenters turn theirs into sawdust. I like what I read in a magazine recently.

Just in case you find any mistakes in this magazine, please remember they were put there for a purpose. We try to offer something for everyone. Some people are always looking for mistakes and we didn't want to disappoint you!

Hey, there have been some real winners! Back in 1957, Ford bragged about "the car of the decade." The Edsel. Unless you lucked out, the Edsel you bought had a door that wouldn't close, a hood that wouldn't open, a horn that kept getting stuck, paint that peeled, and a transmission that wouldn't fulfill its mission. One business writer likened the Edsel's sales graph to an extremely dangerous ski slope. He added that so far as he knew, there was only one case on record of an Edsel ever being stolen.

And how about that famous tower in Italy? The "leaning tower," almost twenty feet out of perpendicular. The guy that planned that foundation to be only ten feet deep (for a building 179 feet tall) didn't possess the world's largest brain. How would you like to have listed in your resumé, "Designed the Leaning Tower of Pisa"?

A friend of mine, realizing how adept I am in this business of blowing it, passed on to me an amazing book (accurate, but funny) entitled The Incomplete Book of Failures, by Stephen Pile. Appropriately, the book itself had two missing pages when it was printed, so the first thing you read is an apology for the omission—and an erratum slip that provides the two pages.

Among the many wild and crazy reports are such things as the least successful weather report, the worst computer, the most boring lecture, the worst aircraft, the slowest selling book, the smallest ever audience, the ugliest building ever constructed, the most chaotic wedding ceremony, and some of the worst statements . . . proven wrong by posterity. Some of those statements, for example, were:

"Far too noisy, my dear Mozart. Far too many notes." —The Emperor Ferdinand after the first performance of The Marriage of Figaro

"If Beethoven's Seventh Symphony is not by some means abridged, it will soon fall into disuse." —Philip Hale, Boston music critic, 1837

"Rembrandt is not to be compared in the painting of character with our extraordinarily gifted English artist Mr. Rippingille." —John Hunt (1775-1848)

"Flight by machines heavier than air is unpractical and insignificant . . . utterly impossible." —Simon Newcomb (1835-1909)

"We don't like their sound. Groups of guitars are on their way out." —Decca Recording Company when turning down the Beatles in 1962

"You will never amount to very much." —A Munich schoolmaster to Albert Einstein, aged ten

And on and on it goes. The only thing we can be thankful for when it comes to blowing it is that nobody keeps a record of ours. Or do they? Or do you with others?

Come on, ease off. If our perfect Lord is gracious enough to take our worst, our ugliest, our most boring, our least successful, our leaning-tower failures, our Edsel flops, and forgive them, burying them in the depths of the sea, then it's high time we give each other a break.

In fact, He promises full acceptance along with full forgiveness in print for all to read . . . without an erratum sheet attached. Isn't that encouraging? Can't we be that type of encourager to one another? After all, imperfection is one of the few things we still have in common. It links us close together in the same family!

So then, whenever one of us blows it and we can't hide it, how about a little support from those who haven't been caught yet?

Oops, correction. How about a lot of support?

 Imperfection is one thing we all have in common, linking us in the same family.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Someday... Philippians 4:11-13

Philippians 4:11–13

SOMEDAY WHEN THE KIDS ARE GROWN, things are going to be a lot different. The garage won't be full of bikes, electric train tracks on plywood, sawhorses surrounded by chunks of two-by-fours, nails, a hammer and saw, unfinished "experimental projects," and the rabbit cage. I'll be able to park both cars neatly in just the right places, and never again stumble over skateboards, a pile of papers (saved for the school fund drive), or the bag of rabbit food—now split and spilled. Ugh!

SOMEDAY WHEN THE KIDS ARE GROWN, the kitchen will be incredibly neat. The sink will be free of sticky dishes, the garbage disposal won't get choked on rubber bands or paper cups, the refrigerator won't be clogged with nine bottles of milk, and we won't lose the tops to jelly jars, catsup bottles, the peanut butter, the margarine, or the mustard. The water jar won't be put back empty, the ice trays won't be left out overnight, the blender won't stand for six hours coated with the remains of a midnight malt, and the honey will stay inside the container.

SOMEDAY WHEN THE KIDS ARE GROWN, my lovely wife will actually have time to get dressed leisurely. A long, hot bath (without three panic interruptions), time to do her nails (even toenails if she pleases!) without answering a dozen questions and reviewing spelling words, having had her hair done that afternoon without trying to squeeze it in between racing a sick dog to the vet and a trip to the orthodontist with a kid in a bad mood because she lost her headgear.

SOMEDAY WHEN THE KIDS ARE GROWN, the instrument called a "telephone" will actually be available. It won't look like it's growing from a teenager's ear. It will simply hang there . . . silently and amazingly available! It will be free of lipstick, human saliva, mayonnaise, corn chip crumbs, and toothpicks stuck in those little holes.

SOMEDAY WHEN THE KIDS ARE GROWN, I'll be able to see through the car windows. Fingerprints, tongue licks, sneaker footprints, and dog tracks (nobody knows how) will be conspicuous by their absence. The back seat won't be a disaster area, we won't sit on jacks or crayons anymore, the tank will not always be somewhere between empty and fumes, and (glory to God!) I won't have to clean up dog messes another time.

SOMEDAY WHEN THE KIDS ARE GROWN, we will return to normal conversations. You know, just plain American talk. "Gross" won't punctuate every sentence seven times. "Yuk!" will not be heard. "Hurry up, I gotta go!" will not accompany the banging of fists on the bathroom door. "It's my turn" won't call for a referee. And a magazine article will be read in full without interruption, then discussed at length without mom and dad having to hide in the attic to finish the conversation.

SOMEDAY WHEN THE KIDS ARE GROWN, we won't run out of toilet tissue. My wife won't lose her keys. We won't forget to shut the refrigerator door. I won't have to dream up new ways of diverting attention from the gumball machine . . . or have to answer "Daddy, is it a sin that you're driving forty-seven in a thirty-mile-per-hour zone?" . . . or promise to kiss the rabbit goodnight . . . or wait up forever until they get home from dates . . . or have to take a number to get a word in at the supper table . . . or endure the pious pounding of one Keith Green just below the level of acute pain.

Yes, someday when the kids are grown, things are going to be a lot different. One by one they'll leave our nest, and the place will begin to resemble order and maybe even a touch of elegance. The clink of china and silver will be heard on occasion. The crackling of the fireplace will echo through the hallway. The phone will be strangely silent. The house will be quiet . . . and calm . . . and always clean . . . and empty . . . and filled with memories . . . and lonely . . . and we won't like that at all. And we'll spend our time not looking forward to Someday but looking back to Yesterday. And thinking, "Maybe we can babysit the grandkids and get some life back in this place for a change!"

Could it be that the apostle Paul had some of this in mind when he wrote:

I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.
(Philippians 4:11)

Maybe so. But then again, chances are good Paul never had to clean up many dog messes.

God's Plan...1 Samuel 4:1-11

Read: 1 Samuel 4:1-11
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in Him I will trust.” —Psalm 91:2

Everybody was wrong about the ark of the covenant (an item in the tabernacle that represented the throne of God). After losing a battle to the Philistines, Israel sent messengers to Shiloh to ask that the ark be hauled to Ebenezer, the site of their army camp.

When the ark arrived, the Israelites celebrated so loudly the enemy heard them all the way over in Aphek. The ark’s arrival caused the Philistines to fear and the Israelites to have courage.

They were both wrong. The Israelites took the ark into battle and were again clobbered by the Philistines, who captured the ark. Another mistake. The Philistines got sick and their false gods were destroyed.

We can understand the Philistines’ error—they were idol-worshipers. But the Israelites should have known better. They failed to consult God about using the ark. While they knew that the ark was earlier carried in battle (Josh. 6), they didn’t consider that God’s plan, not the ark’s involvement, allowed Israel to defeat Jericho.

No matter our resources, we will fail unless we use them according to God’s plan. Let’s study the Word, pray for God’s direction, and trust His leading (Ps. 91:2) before we step out in any venture of faith.

My times are in my Father’s hand;
How could I wish or ask for more?
For He who has my pathway planned
Will guide me till my journey’s o’er.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Relevance... Matthew 10:24-39

Matthew 10:24–39

He was a hated man. He was therefore maligned, threatened, publicly criticized, and privately rebuked. By his own admission he struggled vigorously with sins of the flesh. Especially outrageous anger. His debating disposition, wrote one biographer, caused his writings to "smell of powder; his words are battles; he overwhelms his opponents with a roaring cannonade of argument, eloquence, passion, and abuse." Sarcasm dripped from his pen.

He insulted a colleague by deliberately and repeatedly misspelling his name. He piled such vulgarity on him that one reputable historian said he could not translate its meaning into decent English. "One massive thunderclap" is an apt description of the man's style.

You may be surprised to know he was a Christian. He was, in fact, clergy. Once he admitted:

I never work better than when I am inspired of anger; when I am angry I can write, pray and preach well.

His maverick spirit led to his being excommunicated by the Pope when he was only thirty-eight. Rubbing salt into the ecclesiastical wound, he married a nun (in the sixteenth century, no less!) and became the talk of every monastery in Europe. Unintimidated, he stood alone like a bull in a blizzard . . . but silent he wasn't.

As is true of all such notorious characters, exaggeration and extravagance swarm around his story. It is difficult to filter out myth from truth, but one thing is for certain, Martin Luther was not irrelevant. Irreverent, yes; irrelevant, no. Out of step, yes; out of touch, no. Off base, yes; off target, no. Insulting and offensive, yes; impertinent and tedious, no.

With all his faults, Luther could never be criticized for being dull and distant. His philosophy could be summed up in his own timely words:

If you preach the gospel in all aspects with the exception of the issues which deal specifically with your time—you are not preaching the gospel
at all.

Don't misunderstand, he wasn't advocating a "social gospel," but rather a word from God that contains the solid ring of relevance. The gospel isn't to be changed. It is not ours to tamper with. But it is to cut into each generation like a flashing sword, sharpened on the stone of Scripture, tempered in the furnace of reality and need.

Of all the reactions a person may have to the gospel, I can think of none worse than a yawn . . . a sleepy "So what?" A bored "Who cares?"

I find it refreshing that Jesus Christ met people where they were. His words touched nerves. There was a lot more here-and-now than then-and-there in His talks. His attack on the hypocrisy and prejudice of religious phonies came through loud and clear. He met people as they were, not as they "ought to" be. Angry young men, blind beggars, proud politicians, loose-living street-walkers, ignorant fishermen, naked victims of demonism, and grieving parents were as clearly in His focus as the Twelve who hung on His every word.

His enemies misunderstood Him, but couldn't ignore Him. They hated Him, but were never bored around Him. Jesus was the epitome of relevance. Still is.

It is we who have hauled the cross back out of sight. It is we who have left the impression that it belongs only in the cloistered halls of a seminary or beneath the soft shadows of stained glass and marble statues. George MacLeod, who wrote the following piece, expresses my firm conviction.

I simply argue that the cross be raised again
at the center of the market place
as well as on the steeple of the church,

I am recovering the claim that
Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral
between two candles:

But on a cross between two thieves;
on a town garbage heap;
At a crossroad of politics so cosmopolitan
that they had to write His title
in Hebrew and in Latin and in Greek . . .

And at the kind of place where cynics talk smut,
and thieves curse and soldiers gamble.

Because that is where He died,
and that is what He died about.
And that is where Christ's men ought to be,
and what church people ought to be about.

 Jesus met people as they were, not as they "ought to" be.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Big picture... Matthew 28:16-20

Matthew 28:16–20

If you were to do a little fun research to discover the sheer quantity of activities that happen each day in America, you'd be amazed. Consider, for example, the number of cups of coffee consumed, the number of babies born, the number of people who take a taxi, bury a pet, get divorced, go to the hospital, watch prime-time television, ride on an airplane, and go to school.

So what? That's trivia, right? When you multiply all those things by 365, you get the general idea that there's a fair amount of energy, money, activity, and trauma going on in a year's time. And that's just in America—representing only a portion of the world's population. We may not be big, but we're busy. In fact, we are so busy it's easy to get selfishly swept up in the whirlwind of our own little playground sandwiched between the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans . . . blessed beyond measure and rich beyond comparison.

Every so often it's helpful to stop the annual merry-go-round, get off, look objectively, and think clearly. It's not only helpful, it's essential for the Christian. In this circus-like American lifestyle of ours, we tend to be deafened by the blare of our own band and blinded by the lights of our own spots, shining—always shining—on the ring of our own choice.

That needs to change. We need to hear the voice of the Ringmaster as He raises His hand to stop the band:

"We interrupt this program to bring all of you a reminder that the world in which you live is not the whole world . . . but only a very small part of the world for which I died."

The Great Commission is still "the Great Commission," not "The Limited Agreement for My Corner of America." He still looks out across a wide world and weeps over men and women and children who do not know—have never heard—His healing, life-giving Name.

Can you feel His pain? What could you do this week to reach farther, see wider, feel deeper? What could help you kindle a greater understanding, perspective, and compassion for this vast hurting world of ours?

Taking a missionary out for coffee?
Reading—really absorbing—a good missions magazine?
Writing a letter to some battle-weary missions veteran in the trenches of a distant country?
Making friends with a lonely international student?
Writing a check so that a hungry third-world family finds hope for another day?
Praying that the Lord would give you an opportunity to serve Him in a cross-cultural experience—even for one year?

Sound risky? Maybe. But I've got a hunch that when the score is added up one day as we stand before our Lord, many of us will wish we'd played a lot more Risk . . . and a lot less Trivial Pursuit.

 God looks over the world and weeps for those who haven’t heard His healing Name.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Suffering...2 Corinthians 1:3-11

2 Corinthians 1:3–11

Of all the letters Paul wrote, 2 Corinthians is the most autobiographical. In it the great apostle lifts the veil of his private life and allows us to catch a glimpse of his human frailties and needs. You need to read that letter in one sitting to capture the moving emotion that surged through his soul.

It is in this letter alone that he records the specifics of his anguish, tears, affliction, and satanic opposition. In this letter alone he spells out the details of his persecution, loneliness, imprisonments, beatings, feelings of despair, hunger, shipwrecks, sleepless nights, and that "thorn in the flesh"—his companion of pain. How close it makes us feel to him when we picture him as a man with real, honest-to-goodness problems . . . just like you and me!

It is not surprising, then, that he begins the letter with words of comfort—especially verses 3 through 11 (please stop and read).

Now then, having read those nine verses, please observe his frequent use of the term comfort in verses 3-7. I count ten times in five verses that the same root word is employed by Paul. This word is para-kaleo, meaning literally, "to call alongside." It involves more than a shallow "pat on the back" with the tired expression, "the Lord bless you . . ." No, this word involves genuine, in-depth understanding . . . deep-down compassion and sympathy. This seems especially appropriate since it says that God, our Father, is the "God of all comfort" who "comforts us in all our affliction." Our loving Father is never preoccupied or removed when we are enduring sadness and affliction! Read Hebrews 4:14–16 and Matthew 6:31–32 as further proof.

There is yet another observation worth noting in 2 Corinthians, chapter 1. No less than three reasons are given for suffering—each one introduced with the term "that." Can you locate them? Take a pencil and circle the "that" in verses 4, 9, and 11. Quietly, without a lot of fanfare, the Holy Spirit states reasons we suffer:

1. "That we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction . . ." (v. 4). God allows suffering so that we might have the capacity to enter into others' sorrow and affliction. Isn't that true? If you have suffered a broken leg and been confined to crutches for weeks—you are in complete sympathy with someone else on crutches, even years after your affliction. The same is true for the loss of a child . . . emotional depression . . . an auto accident . . . undergoing unfair criticism . . . financial burdens. God gives His children the capacity to understand by bringing similar sufferings into our lives. Bruises attract one another.

2. "That we would not trust in ourselves . . ." (v. 9). God also allows suffering so that we might learn what it means to depend on Him, not on our own strength and resources. Doesn't suffering do that? It forces us to lean on Him totally, absolutely. Over and over He reminds us of the danger of pride . . . but it frequently takes suffering to make the lesson stick. Pride is smashed most effectively when the suffering comes suddenly, surprisingly. The express trains of heaven are seldom announced by a warning bell; they dash suddenly and abruptly into the station of the soul. Perhaps that has been your experience recently. Don't resent the affliction as an intruder—welcome it as God's message to stop trusting in your flesh . . . and start leaning on Him.

3. "That thanks may be given . . ." (v. 11). Honestly—have you said, "Thanks, Lord, for this test"? Have you finally stopped struggling and expressed to Him how much you appreciate His loving sovereignty over your life? I submit that one of the reasons our suffering is prolonged is that we take so long saying "Thank you, Lord" with an attitude of genuine appreciation.

How unfinished and rebellious and proud and unconcerned we would be without suffering! Alan Redpath, the beloved evangelist and former pastor of Moody Bible Church in Chicago, once remarked;

When God wants to do an impossible task, He takes an impossible individual—and crushes him.

Here is another statement on suffering I heard years ago. I shall never forget it:

Pain plants the flag of reality in the fortress of a rebel heart.

May these things encourage you the next time God heats up the furnace!

 Have you expressed your thanks to God lately for His sovereignty over your life?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Our best...Mark 12:44

“She of her want did cast in all that she had” (Mark 12:44).

“Make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son . . . and she, and he, and her house did eat many days” (1 Kings 17:13, 15).

Let us ever remember that God is glorified in the full consecration of what we have, be it small or great. He desires not the increase of five talents for the loan of one, but a full, perfect consecration of that one to His own honor; and whoever renders this, He pronounces as hearty a “Well done” upon, as upon him who has received ten. I have often erred here. I will try to remember in future that all I have is all He wants.—Catherine Booth.

He couldn’t sing and he couldn’t play,

He couldn’t speak and he couldn’t pray.

He’d try to read, but he’d break right down,

Then sadly grieve at smile or frown.

While some with talents ten begun,

He started out with only one.

“With this,” he said, “I’ll do my best,

And trust the Lord to do the rest.”

His trembling hand and tearful eye

Gave forth a world of sympathy;

When all alone with one distressed,

He whispered words that calmed that breast.

And little children learned to know,

When grieved and troubled, where to go.

He loved the birds, the flowers, the trees,

And, loving him, his friends loved these.

His homely features lost each trace

Of homeliness, and in his face

There beamed a kind and tender light

That made surrounding features bright.

When illness came, he smiled at fears,

And bade his friends to dry their tears.

He said, “Good-bye,” and all confess

He made of life a grand success.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Criticism...2 Timothy 1:7

2 Timothy 1:7

Looking for a role model on how to handle criticism? It would be worth your while to check out the book of Nehemiah. On several occasions this great-hearted statesman was openly criticized, falsely accused, and grossly misunderstood. Each time he kept his cool . . . he rolled with the punch . . . he considered the source . . . he refused to get discouraged . . . he went to God in prayer . . . he kept building the wall (Nehemiah 2:19–20; 4:1–5).

One of the occupational hazards of being a leader is receiving criticism (not all of it constructive, by the way). In the face of that kind of heat, there's a strong temptation to "go under," "throw in the towel," "bail out." Many have faded out of leadership because of intense criticism. I firmly believe that the leader who does anything that is different or worthwhile or visionary can count on criticism.

Along this line, I appreciate the remarks made by the fiery president of a past generation, Theodore Roosevelt:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who does actually try to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

To those words I add a resounding amen.

A sense of humor is of paramount importance to the leader. Many of God's servants are simply too serious! There are at least two tests we face that determine the extent of our sense of humor:

the ability to laugh at ourselves

the ability to take criticism

Believe me, no leader can continue effectively if he or she fails these tests! Equally important, of course, is the ability to sift from any criticism that which is true, that which is fact. We are foolish if we respond angrily to every criticism. Who knows, God may be using those words to teach us some essential lessons, painful though they may be.

Isn't this what Proverbs 27:5–6 is saying?

Better is open rebuke
Than love that is concealed.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend,
But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.

And let me call to your attention the word friend in these verses. Friendship is not threatened but strengthened by honest criticism. But—when you are criticized by one who hardly knows you, filter out what is fact . . . and ignore the rest!

Nehemiah did that . . . and he got the wall built.

 The leader who does anything different or visionary can count on criticism.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Tough days part 2... Galatians 6:9-18

Galatians 6:9–18

Tough days. We all have them. And most of us, if we're honest, must admit we don't handle them well. Others who love us try to help, but they tend to complicate matters.

Take the four guys who decided to go mountain climbing one weekend. In the middle of the climb, one fella slipped over a cliff, dropped about sixty feet, and landed with a thud on the ledge below. The other three, hoping to rescue him, yelled, "Joe, are you okay?"

"I'm alive . . . but I think I broke both my arms!"
"We'll toss a rope down to you and pull you up. Just lie still!" said the three.
"Fine," answered Joe.

A couple of minutes after dropping one end of the rope, they started tugging and grunting together, working feverishly to pull their wounded companion to safety. When they had him about three-fourths of the way up, they suddenly remembered he said he had broken both of his arms.

"Joe! If you broke both your arms, how in the world are you hanging on?"
Joe responded, "With my TEEEEEEEEEEEETH . . ."

No, other people can't help much on tough days. They may be good companions, but they sure can't stop the pain. Holding hands and singing during an earthquake is small comfort.

Some would advise, "Just get in there and keep busy—work harder." But that doesn't help much either. When the barn's on fire, slapping a coat of paint on the other side doesn't make much sense. If the tires are flat, driving faster is pretty dumb.

So—what's the answer? How can we handle tough days when the Enemy works overtime to persuade us that God doesn't care? I have found solid encouragement from four threads woven into the fabric of Galatians 6. See if you don't agree.

1. Let us not lose heart (v. 9). On tough days, you gotta have heart. Don't quit, whatever you do. Persevere. Stand firm. Be strong, resilient, determined to see it through. Ask God to build a protective shield around your heart, stabilizing you.

2. Let us do good (v. 10). Our tendency will be anything but that. Instead of good, we will feel like doing evil. Fume. Swear. Scream. Fight. Pout. Get irritated. Burn up all kinds of emotional BTU's. Rather than parading through that shop-worn routine, stay quiet and consciously turn it all over to the Lord.

3. Let no one cause you trouble (v. 17). Superb advice! Refuse to allow anyone (or anything) to gain mastery over you. That throne within you belongs only to the Lord Jesus Christ. Stop leasing it out!

4. Let grace be with your spirit (v. 18). Allow the full impact of grace to flow through your thoughts, your attitudes, your responses, your words. Open the gates and let those good things stampede freely across your tough day. You sit on the fence and relax.

It works. It really does.

 Refuse to let anything gain mastery over you. That throne belongs only to Jesus.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Tough days part 1... James 1:2-4

James 1:2–4

You've heard them. Those all-too-familiar cries of exasperation. Maybe a couple have crossed your mind today sometime between the too-early clang of the alarm and the too-late racket of the neighbors next door.

Going from bad to worse.
Jumping from the frying pan into the fire.
Between a rock and a hard place.
He said, "Cheer up, things could get worse." So I cheered up—and sure enough, things got worse!
My mother told me there would be days like these, but she never said they would run in packs.

Tough days. We all have them. Some are worse than others. Like the one the hard-hat employee reported when he tried to be helpful. Maybe you heard about it too; the account actually appeared on a company accident form. Bruised and bandaged, the workman related this experience:

When I got to the building I found that the hurricane had knocked off some bricks around the top. So I rigged up a beam with a pulley at the top of the building and hoisted up a couple barrels full of bricks. When I had fixed the damaged area, there were a lot of bricks left over. Then I went to the bottom and began releasing the line. Unfortunately, the barrel of bricks was much heavier than I was—and before I knew what was happening the barrel started coming down, jerking me up.

I decided to hang on since I was too far off the ground by then to jump, and halfway up I met the barrel of bricks coming down fast. I received a hard blow on my shoulder. I then continued to the top, banging my head against the beam and getting my fingers pinched and jammed in the pulley. When the barrel hit the ground hard, it burst its bottom, allowing the bricks to spill out.

I was now heavier than the barrel. So I started down again at high speed. Halfway down I met the barrel coming up fast and received severe injuries to my shins. When I hit the ground, I landed on the pile of spilled bricks, getting several painful cuts and deep bruises. At this point I must have lost my presence of mind, because I let go of my grip on the line. The barrel came down fast—giving me another blow on my head and putting me in the hospital.

I respectfully request sick leave.

Yeah! I would imagine! Some days you honestly wonder why you ever crawled out from under the covers that morning . . . and later, if you will ever make it back to bed that night. Most of us have little difficulty fielding a couple or three problems during the day, but when they start coming down like hail, with no relief, rhyme, or reason, we get jumpy. More often than not we also get grumpy. Invariably there are those who love us and really want to help. But try all they like, tough days are usually solo flights.

Think about your most recent tough day. How did you handle it? What could you have done differently, according to God's Word? We'll talk about that tomorrow.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Lord is Great...Psalm 135:5

Psalm 135:5
For I know that the Lord is great, and that our Lord is above all gods.

Brooke had tried everything. She had started in business, done quite well, then the bottom dropped out. Broke and disillusioned, she moved home with her parents. There she began attending church and studying the Word. Then she was offered a job with a large corporation, and she jumped at the chance. It didn't work out the way she expected, nor did the relationship she got involved in with one of her co-workers. Disillusioned once more, she returned to her hometown. Once more she involved herself with the church, and she was amazed to realize how much she had missed it. The problems she'd been having didn't seem so great anymore. Without even realizing it, Brooke had been developing a faith that helped her through. While everything else in her life changed, mostly for the worse, God stayed the same, and He was waiting to embrace His prodigal daughter the minute she returned.

Our Lord is great, and His love is far beyond our comprehension. No earthly temptation that we try to elevate to the status of a god can ever compare with the one true God. He alone can make our lives worthwhile.

Prayer: You have changed my life for the better, Father, and I will never again turn from the blessings You alone can supply. Please let nothing ever come between me and Your love. Amen.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Determination...1 Corinthians 16:13

1 Corinthians 16:13

Years ago a certain issue of Sports Illustrated featured a lengthy article on Tom Landry, former coach of the Dallas Cowboys. Those who know me won't be surprised to hear that I read every word of it.

I was living in Dallas when the Cowboys were formed into a team and Tom Landry was first introduced as the head mentor of that original, rag-tag bag of unknown athletes. The first few years were bleak, to say the least. The crowds were sparse and instead of cheers there were groans. One losing season led to another, and as you can imagine, the public soon made Landry the target of their savage verbal assaults. Sportswriters added insult to injury in their vicious criticisms, as did the broadcasters who implied and stated that the team needed a coach with more outward enthusiasm, more flair, and more creativity. Landry quietly plugged on. Maligned and plagued with misunderstanding, he hung in there with bulldog determination, refusing to succumb to public pressure. Quit wasn't in Landry's vocabulary. The idea of ditching when the going got rough was never a consideration. His disciplined determination paid off—again and again—as his Cowboys rode into pro football legend.

Later they called Landry a legend . . . but he hadn't changed within. With the same inner tenacity of undaunted, untiring determination, Tom Landry gave God the glory and claimed that the life of the apostle Paul is an example we all should follow. How true.

Our day, unfortunately, has made quitting fashionable.

After all, if you can quit a job or a team when the road gets bumpy, why not apply that philosophy to everything. Like a diet or a class or a church or a marriage or parenthood. The fog of failure clouds the issues and the cramp of criticism sucks away the motivation. Conviction is now being viewed as a neurotic tendency. Discipline is considered somewhat sadistic. Determination is, in the minds of the mesmerized masses, that which characterizes a stubborn fool . . . a quality not needed and not wanted by those who seek public approval.

Ah, but what then are we left with?

Take away conviction, discipline, and determination and you have cut the heart out of real living. You have eliminated the challenge that keeps the game of life exciting and rewarding. You have settled for nothing better than a tie with the opponent. You have erased the very things that made the Pattons, the MacArthurs, the Pullers, the Kellers, the Churchills, the Beethovens, the Lombardis, and the Landrys giants amidst dwarfs.

I can assure you that the gospel was laid in the lap of Europe because Paul was ablaze with sufficient determination to proclaim it—no matter the sacrifice or cost. When he wrote to the Corinthians, "Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong" (1 Corinthians 16:13) . . . he knew whereof he spoke! In case you question that, you've not read his autobiography recently . . . written in blood (2 Corinthians 11:22–33). His final words reflect the same heart-throbbing determination:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7)

Show me a company that is efficient, progressive, dynamic, and organized—and I'll be willing to guarantee that behind the scenes, somewhere near or at the top of that company is a well-disciplined, determined leader. The same applies to a Christian organization or a school, a hospital, a home, a ball team, a city, a military outfit, a bank, or any other enterprise.

Let me close by making this personal . . . to you. Are you lagging behind in areas of determination? Are you becoming negligent, for example, in your financial obligations . . . or in some personal discipline . . . or in the quality of work you do . . . or in your study habits . . . or in your correspondence . . . in your promptness . . . or in finishing the tasks you begin? Believe me, this is a rebuke to me as much as anyone . . . and not an easy thing for any of us to fulfill—but it is essential!

The history of man is strewn with the litter of nameless people who faced calamity and hardship, suffering and criticism—and gave up. Or—in the words of Psalm 78:9—"They turned back."

To you who are tempted to turn back . . . I urge you instead to "stand firm . . . act like men, be strong"! The benefits of determination far outweigh the alternate course.

 Take away conviction and determination and you’ve cut the heart out of living.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Trenches...2 Kings 3:16-17

You Make the Trenches

"And he said, Thus saith the LORD, Make this valley full of ditches. For thus saith the LORD, Ye shall not see wind, neither shall ye see rain; yet that valley shall be filled with water, that ye may drink both ye, and your cattle, and your beasts"   (2 Kings 3:16-17)

Three armies were perishing of thirst, and the LORD interposed. Although He sent neither cloud nor rain, yet He supplied an abundance of water. He is not dependent upon ordinary methods but can surprise His people with novelties of wisdom and power. Thus are we made to see more of God than ordinary processes could have revealed. Although the LORD may not appear for us in the way we expect, or desire, or suppose, yet He will in some way or other provide for us. It is a great blessing for us to be raised above looking to secondary causes so that we may gaze into the face of the great First Cause. Have we this day grace enough to make trenches into which the divine blessing may flow? Alas! We too often fail in the exhibition of true and practical faith. Let us this day be on the outlook for answers to prayer. As the child who went to a meeting to pray for rain took an umbrella with her, so let us truly and practically expect the LORD to bless us. Let us make the valley full of ditches and expect to see them

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Jealousy...1 Corinthians 13:4-7

1 Corinthians 13:4–7

Like an anger-blind, half-starved rat prowling in the foul-smelling sewers below street level, so is the person caged within the suffocating radius of selfish jealousy. Trapped by resentment and diseased by rage, he feeds on the filth of his own imagination.

"Jealousy," says Proverbs 6:34, "enrages a man."

The Hebrews used only one word for jealousy as the Old Testament was being written: qua-nah, which meant "to be intensely red." The term was descriptive of one whose face flushed as a sudden flow of blood announced the surge of emotion. To demonstrate the grim irony of language, "zeal" and "ardor" come from the same word as "jealousy."

Here is the way it works. I love something very much, indeed, too much. I pursue it with zeal. I desire, in fact, to possess it completely. But the thing I love slips out of my hands and passes into another's. I begin to experience the gnawing pangs of jealousy. Strangely, the feelings of zeal and love begin to change. By the dark, transforming power of sin, my love turns to hate. I was open, happy, filled to the brim with exquisite delight, but no longer! Now I am closed within a narrow compass of inner rage, intensely and insanely angry.

Jealousy and envy are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference. Envy begins with empty hands, mourning for what it doesn't have. Jealousy is not quite the same. It begins with full hands but is threatened by the loss of its plenty. It is the pain of losing what I have to someone else, in spite of all my efforts to keep it. Hence, the tortured cry of Othello when he fears that he is losing Desdemona:

I had rather be a toad
And live upon the vapor of a dungeon,
Than keep a corner in the thing I love
For other's uses. (Othello III, iii. 270)

This was Cain's sin. He was jealous of Abel. He resented God's acceptance of his brother. No doubt his face was red with emotion and his eyes filled with rage as God smiled on Abel's sacrifice. Not until Abel's warm blood poured over Cain's cruel hands did jealousy subside. Solomon might well have written the epitaph for Abel's tombstone:

Jealousy is as severe as Sheol;
Its flashes are flashes of fire.
(Song of Solomon 8:6)

Anyone who has experienced deliverance from this damnable parasite knows only too well the extent of its damage. Jealousy will decimate a friendship, dissolve a romance, and destroy a marriage. It will shoot tension through the ranks of professionals. It will nullify unity on a team . . . it will ruin a church . . . it will separate preachers . . . it will foster competition in a choir, bringing bitterness and finger-pointing among talented instrumentalists and capable singers. With squint eyes, jealousy will question motives and deplore another's success. It will become severe, suspicious, narrow, and negative.

I know what I'm saying. I lived many of my earlier years in the dismal, gaseous subterranean pipelines of jealousy, breathing its fumes and obeying its commands. It was gross agony.

But finally, by the grace of Jesus Christ, I realized that I didn't have to live in darkness. I crawled out . . . and the releasing sunlight of freedom captured my heart. The air was so fresh and clean. Oh, the difference it has made! It is utter delight.

Ask my wife.

 Jealousy will question motives suspiciously and deplore another's success.

Source unknown

Monday, November 3, 2014

Pushed Aside...Psalm 132:4,5

Psalm 132:4, 5
I will not give sleep to mine eyes, or slumber to mine eyelids, Until I find a place for the Lord, and habitation for the migh ty God of Jacob.

Rachel closed the door and hung her head. Three o'clock in the morning. She wondered whether the project was ever going to get done. All she wanted to do was collapse in bed, but first there was something she had to do. She dressed for bed, then took the Bible from her dresser and went to the kitchen table to read and to pray. In all of her adult life, she had never gone to sleep without first spending time with God. She was determined that nothing would ever come between her and this special time. It made no difference how tired she was, God came before sleep.

When days become hectic and full, it is easy to allow God to be pushed aside. We need to protect our time with the Lord and give it top priority. If we will keep the Lord close to us, he will sustain us and give us strength in tough times. Without Him, we can never hope to be our best.

Prayer: Convict my heart with the determination to spend time with You. Let nothing come between us, Lord. When other things demand my time, remind me that I gave myself to You first. Amen.