Saturday, January 31, 2015

Control... Galatians 3

Galatians 3

It's easy to get confused these days. "Out of control" isn't what we want to be. People who drink too much are said to be "out of control." Those who worry too much become emotionally "out of control." The same goes for those who go too far with anything: prescription drugs, food, fitness, sex, work—you name it.

But wait. Does this mean we're supposed to be "in control"? Is that our goal? I know a boss (in fact I know several) who is definitely "in control." Folks who work for him either grin and bear it or jump ship as soon as another job surfaces. Some fathers are, without question, "in control." They intimidate, dominate, moderate, and manipulate.

But being "in control" doesn't necessarily mean "controlling." A healthy, happy life requires being in control of ourselves. To be punctual, we must control the use of our time. To be prepared and ready, we must be in control of our schedule. To be a good listener, our minds and tongue must be controlled. To get a project completed, our tendency to procrastinate must be under the firm control of our determination.

This means, then, that we need to be in firm control of ourselves . . . but not controlling of others. Our example? Christ, of course. He got the job done. Without wasted effort, personal panic, or extreme demands, He accomplished the objective. Right on schedule, He went to that cross. When He sighed, "It is finished," it was. Absolutely and completely.

Did most believe? Are you kidding? The vast majority back then, as now, didn't give Him the time of day. Could He have grabbed the controls and forced them to sit up and take notice? I hope to shout! Remember what He said? "Do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?" (Matt. 26:53). I'd call 72,000 angels being in charge, wouldn't you? It was His own control that restrained Him from controlling others.

The Christian life boils down to a battle of the wills: Christ's vs. our own. Every day we live we must answer, "Who's in charge here?"

Recently I received a letter from a fine Christian couple, and I smiled understandingly at one line: "Although the Lord has taken good care of my wife and me for the past thirty-eight years, He has taken control of us for the past two and a half."

Tell me, how long has the Lord taken care of you? Be honest now . . . has He also taken control of you? It's easy to get confused these days. It's even easier to take control.

Don't get "out of control" because you're so determined to stay "in control."

 We need to be in firm control of ourselves without controlling others.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Profitable journey... Luke 24:27

Luke 24:27

The two disciples on the road to Emmaus had a most profitable journey. Their companion and teacher was the best of tutors; the interpreter one of a thousand, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. The Lord Jesus condescended to become a preacher of the gospel, and he was not ashamed to exercise his calling before an audience of two persons, neither does he now refuse to become the teacher of even one. Let us court the company of so excellent an Instructor, for till he is made unto us wisdom we shall never be wise unto salvation.

This unrivalled tutor used as his class-book the best of books. Although able to reveal fresh truth, he preferred to expound the old. He knew by his omniscience what was the most instructive way of teaching, and by turning at once to Moses and the prophets, he showed us that the surest road to wisdom is not speculation, reasoning, or reading human books, but meditation upon the Word of God. The readiest way to be spiritually rich in heavenly knowledge is to dig in this mine of diamonds, to gather pearls from this heavenly sea. When Jesus himself sought to enrich others, he wrought in the quarry of Holy Scripture.

The favoured pair were led to consider the best of subjects, for Jesus spake of Jesus, and expounded the things concerning himself. Here the diamond cut the diamond, and what could be more admirable? The Master of the House unlocked his own doors, conducted the guests to his table, and placed his own dainties upon it. He who hid the treasure in the field himself guided the searchers to it. Our Lord would naturally discourse upon the sweetest of topics, and he could find none sweeter than his own person and work: with an eye to these we should always search the Word. O for grace to study the Bible with Jesus as both our teacher and our lesson!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Hidden Hero's part 2... Philippians 2:1-2

Philippians 2:1–2

As we discussed in Part One, Martin Luther, hero of the Protestant Reformation, was a maverick, a classic shaker and mover. Alone . . . independent . . . invincible. He needed no one but God to lean on.

Or did he?

Is that true of any "hero"?

No, indeed not. Back in the shadows, hidden from public view behind the massive personality of Martin Luther, was the real hero . . . the authentic intellectual of the Reformation. Yet to this day, most Christians would be unable to state his name—let alone spell it correctly.

"Below middle size, diffident, hesitating, of frail body . . ." describes one of Philip Melanchthon's biographers. With a "stammering tongue, he carried one shoulder higher than the other."

Not enough public relations "uumph" to make a single head turn, yet it was he who exerted the most powerful influence over Luther when the spokesman carried the torch and shook it in the face of the Church.

It was he who pioneered the first Protestant edition of systematic theology. He was the genius of the educational systems of Europe . . . indeed, "the father of modern scholarship." In his generation, his knowledge of the New Testament Greek was unsurpassed by any scholar in all of Europe. How greatly Luther needed such a friend! Martin consulted Philip on difficult passages of Scripture so often, Luther's translation was really a combined effort rather than a solitary achievement.

Luther had warmth, vigor, and explosive strength; Melanchthon, however, had clarity of thought, discretion, and mildness. Luther energized his quiet friend; Melanchthon tempered his. The stump-moving, thorn-pulling Luther realized the treasure he had in his brilliant compatriot. "Master Philip," he wrote, "comes along gently and softly, sowing and watering with joy, according to the gifts which God has abundantly bestowed upon him."

What a one-two punch! It took Luther to commend the Reformation to the common people. But by his gracious moderation, his quiet love of order, his profound and indisputable scholarship, Melanchthon won for it the support of the learned.

When Luther died, it was Melanchthon, of course, who pronounced the oration over his tomb. A few short years later, the scholar's body was lowered into the same grave alongside the more famous hero of the Reformation. Appropriately, they now rest side by side in the Old Castle Church at Wittenberg. Death, not life, the equalizer.

Are you the bigger-than-life "hero" . . . the public figure folks want to see and meet and quote? If so, are you big enough to acknowledge the wind beneath your wings? Perhaps you are more like Melanchthon—in the shadows, faithfully and humbly at work, making someone else successful, providing better fuel for an ever greater fire. Be encouraged! It's for you that songs like this are written:


It must have been cold there in my shadow,
To never have the sunlight on your face.
You've been content to see me shine.
You always walked a step behind.

I was the one with all the glory
While you were the one with all strain.
Only a face without a name.
I never once heard you complain.

Did you ever know that you're my hero?
And everything I'd like to be?
I can fly higher than an eagle,
But you are the wind beneath my wings.

—Larry Henley and Jeff Silbar

Up-front heroes are often seen as being larger than life. Overstated. That's unfortunate. Hidden heroes are often seen as being smaller than life. Underrated. That's most unfortunate.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Hidden Hero's... Mark 10:35-45

Mark 10:35–45

Up-front heroes are often seen as being larger than life. Overstated. That's unfortunate.

Because they are public figures, folks think of them as broad-shouldered giants who can leap tall buildings in a single bound. They are thought of as superpeople possessing endless strength, limitless vision, relentless determination, effortless skills, and matchless charisma. Their courage is legendary. Their words drip with eloquence. Their endorsements carry weight. Their presence, well, it's like a touch o' magic. It's an exaggeration, you understand, but . . .

So it goes with certain callings . . . strong-voiced, often multitalented leaders, whose names become quotable points of reference. Their opinions and their decisions stand out, almost as if they possess an inside track to pristine truth. Agree with it or not, we still need some who can take the lead and set the pace. Big shoes must be filled.

And that is certainly the way it was with Martin Luther.

You and I cannot think of the Reformation without mentioning that name. What Henry Ford was to the auto industry, what Ben Franklin was to electricity, what George Halas was to professional football, what Albert Einstein was to nuclear physics, Martin Luther was to the Protestant Reformation. What a man. What a model! What a maverick! The classic shaker and mover.

I am born to fight against innumerable monsters and devils. I must remove stumps and stones, cut away thistles and thorns, and clear the wild forest.

Vintage Luther. Prophetlike hero talk. With sweeping statements to match his gestures, the mighty monk of Wittenberg set fire to slumbering saints all across Germany as he vigorously fanned the flame, shouting, "Heresy . . . heresy!" While prelates frowned and popes condemned, the hero kept them buzzing and forever off balance. Brushfires from his abusive language, his private debates and public disputes resulted finally in Luther's excommunication. But his exit was like his entrance, alone . . . independent . . . invincible. He needed no one but God to lean on.

Or did he?

We'll discover the surprising answer to that question in Part Two.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Tension part 2... Romans 5:3-5

Romans 5:3–5

In the northeastern United States, codfish are not only delectable, they are a big commercial business. There's a market for eastern cod all over, especially in sections farthest removed from the northeast coastline. But the public demand posed a problem to the shippers. At first they froze the cod, then shipped them elsewhere, but the freeze took away much of the flavor. So they experimented with shipping them alive, in tanks of seawater, but that proved even worse. Not only was it more expensive, the cod still lost its flavor, and in addition, became soft and mushy. The texture was seriously affected.

Finally, some creative soul solved the problem in a most innovative manner. The codfish were placed in the tank of water along with their natural enemy—the catfish. From the time the cod left the East Coast until it arrived in its westernmost destination, those ornery catfish chased the cod all over the tank! And you guessed it, when the cod arrived at the market, they were as fresh as when they were first caught. There was no loss of flavor nor was the texture affected. If anything, it was better than before.

A couple of questions seem worth asking. First, can you name some catfish swimming in your tank? Maybe you live with one of them. Or it's somebody at work whose irritating presence drives you to your knees several times a week. Every church has a few catfish as well! They're there to keep all the cod from getting soft, mushy, and tasteless. Second, have you given thanks for them lately? Yesterday, we talked about God's mission being to shape you into the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). Just think, it's that tension in the tank that helps "the image" emerge. With the right attitude, we can learn how to keep from resenting them as intruders as the chase continues.

To do so we'll need to put an end to pity parties and whine clubs and gripe gatherings in the tank. When we do, it is nothing short of remarkable how closely the chase begins to resemble "the race" mentioned in Hebrews 12 . . . but whoever heard of Hebrews 12 since Hebrews 11 is so much more popular? It's one of those passages I told you I feel sorry for, one that is overshadowed by its neighbor.

If you haven't heard of it, it's you I feel sorry for.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Tension... Part 1... Romans 8:28-30

Romans 8:28–30

Ever felt sorry for certain Scriptures? I sure have. I'm talking about passages like John 3:17, Hebrews 4:13, 1 John 1:10, and Philippians 4:14. Great verses, all . . . yet the popularity of their next-door neighbors has resulted in their being virtually ignored.

Everybody who spends even a little while in the Family can quote Proverbs 3:5–6, but unfortunately, an equally significant verse 7 goes begging. And take Galatians 2:20. It is so powerful, so magnificent, it's often viewed as the final climactic verse of the chapter, yet it's actually the next-to-last verse. But who in the world knows Galatians 2:21 by heart? The twenty-third Psalm is the most famous of all in the ancient hymnal, but it's sandwiched between two other psalms that, when studied, yield fruit that is succulent to the soul and actually far more vital, theologically, than the popular and picturesque "shepherd psalm."

Perhaps the most obvious case in point is found in one of the greatest chapters Paul ever penned, Romans 8. From our mother's knee we have been nourished by the twenty-eighth verse. It brings comfort when our world crushes in. It softens the blows of calamity. It calms us when panic would otherwise steal our peace. It reassures us when wrong temporarily triumphs . . . when the fever doesn't break . . . when the brook dries up . . . when death strikes. I hardly need to write it out.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

Great words! But left alone, they're incomplete. Anyone who has taken the time to look discovers that this verse starts a chain reaction that doesn't end before the magnificent statement found in the final two verses of Romans 8, which assure us of our inseparable love-relationship with the living God.

Woven into the fabric of this elegant garment of truth is an often-forgotten, easily overlooked thread that adds richness and color. Because it lacks the eloquence of verse 28, because it doesn't roll off the tongue quite as easily, it tends to get lost amidst other more obvious and more attractive phrases. I'm referring to the verse that follows verse 28, the one that explains why "all things work together for good to those who love God." Why?

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.

Put simply, we are God's personal project. He is committed to the task of working in us, developing us, rearranging, firming up, and deepening us so that the character traits of His Son—called here "the image"—begin to take shape. The emerging of the Son's image in us is of primary importance to the Father. In fact, it is impossible to thwart His commitment to the project. His work goes on even though we scream and squirm, doubt and debate, run and shun. There's no denying it, the tools He uses hurt, but it all "works together for good." It takes tension to develop the right texture. Without it, forget it. I've got a "fishy" story that'll explain what I mean. I'll tell you about it in Part Two.

 The emerging of the Son's image in us is of primary importance to the Father.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Sorrow & Hope...1 John 3:1-5

1 John 3:1–5

If tears were indelible ink instead of clear fluid, all of us would be stained for life. The heartbreaking circumstances, the painful encounters with calamities, the brutal verbal blows we receive from the surgeon or an angry mate, the sudden loss of someone we simply adored, riding out the consequences of a stupid decision—ah! Such is the groan and grind of life.

At the time of this writing, there are families less than one hour away from me with no homes to return to tonight. A freakish landslide swept them away like a sand castle at high tide. Not a fire. Not an earthquake. Not even a warning tremor. Just an unheard-of sudden slippage of soil and fifteen million dollars of damage . . . and unerasable memories. I dare you to ponder their plight for two minutes without being ripped apart inside.

A letter arrived today from Portland. Nicely typed. Carefully worded. But behind the print, bone-deep grief:

My life has been turned upside down in the last two years and God has not left me much time to catch my breath! My husband was killed in a military plane crash in Greenland a year ago, and I have two young sons, 7 and 9, who are my responsibility alone now.

My phone rang in the middle of the night a few weeks ago. With a quivering voice the young man who chose not to identify himself began:

I have a gun. It is loaded. I plan to use it on myself tonight. Somebody told me you could help me. I don't see any reason to keep on living and failing. Tell me why I shouldn't kill myself. [He began to sob.] Talk to me, fast . . .

Dear old Joseph Parker, a fervid pulpit orator and fine pastor and author for several decades, said it well three years before he died:

There's a broken heart in every pew. Preach to the sorrowing and you will never lack for a congregation.

Percy Bysshe Shelley was right. He personified Sorrow as a mother "with her family of Sighs." And so she is. Stooped and weary of the monotony, yet ever bearing more children only to sigh and cry and die.

Without God—end of message. Finis. Termination of misery. Curtains. It is here humanism puts its final period. It is here philosophy takes its last bow. The only encore to death, to borrow from Robert Ingersoll's words of horror, is:

"the echo of a wailing cry."

But that need not be the end. Life, with all its pressures and inequities, tears and tragedies, can be lived on a level above its miseries. If it could not, Christianity has little to offer. Jesus is reduced to nothing more than an apologetic beggar at the back door with His hat in His hands and a hard-luck story you can take or leave.

No—don't you believe it! It is upon the platform of pressure that our Lord does His best work . . . those times when tragedy joins hands with calamity . . . when Satan and a host of demons prompt us to doubt God's goodness and deny His justice. At such times Christ unsheathes His sword of truth, silencing the doubts and offering grace to accept, hope to continue.

Hear Him well:

For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. (1 John 5:4)

Not a reluctant hunch. Not some fairy-tale dream . . . but an accomplished fact as solid as granite and twice as sure—overcoming victory claimed by faith!

Is it for everyone? No. The majority? No. Read it again. It's only for those who are "born of God" . . . only God's born-ones are the overcomers.

Does it mean, then, that we won't have sorrow? No. It means we'll be able to overcome it . . . live in His victory in spite of it. How? By faith, just as He promised. By staking my hope on the absolute assurance that He is aware of my situation. He is in charge of it . . . and He will give all the grace I need to sail through it, rough seas and all, one stormy day at a time.

Sorrow and her grim family of sighs may drop by for a visit, but they won't stay long when they realize faith got there first . . . and doesn't plan to leave.

 Life, with its tears and tragedies, can be lived on a level above its miseries.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Perspective... Hebrews 12:13

Hebrews 12:13; Psalm 91:12

What is perspective?

Well, it's obviously related to the way we view something. The term literally suggests "looking through . . . seeing clearly." One who views life through perspective lenses has the capacity to see things in their true relations or relative importance. He sees the big picture. She is able to distinguish the incidental from the essential . . . the temporary from the eternal . . . the partial from the whole . . . the trees from the forest.

The artist without perspective is, in Shakespeare's words, "weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable." The leader without it is visionless, intimidated, vulnerable, and overly concerned with public opinion.

Perspective, you see, adds a breath of fresh air to the otherwise suffocating demands of life. It opens new dimensions that enable us to cope with the predictable . . . it eases the tyranny of the urgent. Perspective provides needed space.

Perspective encourages the new mother: "Life is more than changing diapers, warming bottles, and rocking babies to sleep." It helps convince the young medical intern "these long months of training and sleepless nights are worth it all. Stay alert. Your whole future is at stake."

To the struggling businessman who has a tough series of weeks, perspective brings hope and the promise of a brighter day tomorrow.

And who needs perspective more than teachers? Day in and day out, the endless grind of the classroom can drain the river of determination and creativity until it becomes a mere trickle of frustration and discouragement. But let that educator catch a renewed glimpse of the impact his or her life is having upon students and the ultimate difference it will make in their future . . . and the flow of new ideas will likely return in torrents.

Many things help prompt perspective. Quietness. A walk in a forest. Time spent along the roaring surf. A view from a mountain. Poetry. Travel. A stroll through an old graveyard. An evening beside a fireplace. Camping out under the stars. A visit to historical landmarks. Protracted times of prayer. Deep, profound strains of music. Meaningful worship. Meditation upon Scriptures. A leisurely drive at sunset.

On such occasions time stands still. The chips of insignificance fall away as the broad images of truth emerge in the monuments of our minds. We begin to see more clearly as the fog lifts . . . and we are running no longer. Or confused. Or angry. Or overwhelmed. Or afraid.

Could such places of perspective be considered "shelters of the Most High"? When we are there, could we be "abiding in the shadow of the Almighty" which David mentions in Psalm 91?

If so, isn't it about time you found a shelter of perspective in His shadow?

 Perspective adds a breath of fresh air to the suffocating demands of  life.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Sting part 2...1 John 2:15-17

1 John 2:15–17; Mark 4:19

We've been talking about Jesus's parable in Mark 4:1–20 about the farmer who sows seeds in four different types of soil. As I mentioned in Part One, I'm bothered by the third group because thorns come in and destroy the healthy growth of the Christian.

It is interesting that the thorns were already present at the time the seed entered, and that the thorns were never completely out of the picture even though the seeds began to take root (Mark 4:7).

And what do the thorns represent? Again, we have Jesus's own words to answer that question. They represent "the worries of the world," "the deceitfulness of riches," and "the desires for other things" (4:19). When these thorns enter, spiritual growth and production slip out the rear exit. Our Lord doesn't say they might cause trouble, nor does He suggest they have been known to hinder us. He says that they . . . enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful (v. 19).

Period. No ifs, ands, or maybes. The thorns are dictators. They know nothing of peaceful coexistence with the life of freedom and victory. Shunning a brash frontal attack, these enemies of our soul employ a more subtle strategy. Slipping under the back door, their long tentacles advance so slowly, so silently, the victim hardly realizes he or she's being strangled. Demanding first place, they ultimately siphon off every ounce of spiritual interest and emotional energy.

Are you a compulsive worrier? The term worry is derived from the old German word wurgen, which means "to choke." Somehow, by extension, the word came to denote "mental strangulation," and finally to describe the condition of being harrassed with anxiety. All of that and more are in Jesus's mind as He presents this parable.

It's the thorns that bug us. Always growing, forever aggressive and ready to "choke the word" right out of our minds. Like worry—a thin stream of fear trickles through our minds. If entertained, it cuts a deeper channel into which other thoughts are drained—often good thoughts, God-given thoughts gleaned directly from His Book.

The same is true of "the deceitfulness of riches." What a consuming passion . . . yet how empty, how unsatisfying! We rationalize, of course, by saying it doesn't mean that much to us. Like the late heavyweight champ, Joe Louis, who smiled and said, "I don't like money actually, but it quiets my nerves." Yeah, sure, Joe.

But this third species of thorns is the killer—"the desires for other things." Better think that one through. It's the picture of discontent, the plague of pursuit: pushing, straining, stretching, relentlessly reaching while our minds become strangled with the lie, "enough just isn't enough."

Do you find it next to impossible to be satisfied with your present situation? If so, these words are nothing new to you—you've been stuck by those thorns since your soil first received God's seed . . . and if the truth were known, you inwardly enjoy their presence. After all, it's risky to abandon your entire life to God by faith. You'd rather worry, possess, and complain, than rest, release, and rejoice. Thorns inject a powerful anesthesia.

Why do so many Christians live among thorns like these? Because we have a quiet, respectable, secret love for them. I know. I've got the ugly scars to prove it. Each one is a mute reminder of years trapped in the thicket. And periodically I still have to yank
a few.

I've never heard of such, but I'd like to proclaim today as Thorn Pulling Day. We may bleed and it may hurt . . . but, oh, the beauty of a thornless day!

 One stream of worry can cut a deep channel and drain away good thoughts.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Sting part 1...Mark 4:1-20

Mark 4:1–20

Give the Reverend Dullard Drydust enough time and he will manage to confuse most sections of the Bible. Because we preachers are notorious for getting hung up on Greek tenses and purpose clauses and theological trivia, we often shy away from those passages that appear nontechnical and plain.

Like the parables, to be specific. Like Mark 4, to be exact. Not only is that particular parable simple and straightforward, it's even interpreted for us by Jesus, the One who thought up the story in the first place. And since it has to do with a farmer-type who pitches some seed on different kinds of soil, it doesn't seem to have the sophisticated ingredients needed for homiletical hash. After all, there's not a lot you can say about the story of a farmer who drops little seeds here and there in haphazard fashion—or is there?

At first glance, maybe not, but after some thought, I'm convinced there's more here than any of us ever dreamed. And since the Son of God explains its essential meaning, the story cannot be twisted or forced to fit the fancy of some hungry-eyed pulpiteer looking for three points and a poem.

This is a profound story about life—real life—your life and mine. It boils life down to the four basic responses people have toward spiritual things.

The "seed," according to the speaker, is "the word." I believe we're safe in saying that "the word" refers to truth. God's truth. Truth for living. Life-giving words provided for us by the Lord our God. The Scriptures, yes, but also the insights, the perspective, and the wisdom that grow in us when the seed takes root.

The four different "soils" represent people of all ages and interests and backgrounds who respond to the things of the Lord in various ways. Some listen, then immediately reject—instantly they turn it off. Others hear and seem to enjoy it and even respond well on the surface, but soon spin off when their bubble bursts and the going gets rough. Still others grab hold and initially embrace what they hear, but by and by they get sidetracked as their growth is throttled by life's "thorns." Then, as always, there are those who hear, believe, grow, hang in there, and before long begin to reproduce as healthy plants in God's vineyard.

It's obvious that the first two groups are those who are not born again. They are rootless, lifeless, and fruitless. It's obvious that the last group is born-again: submissive, active, and productive. But frankly, I'm bothered by the third group.

They are Christians, because they grow and get right on the verge of bearing fruit, but their growth becomes retarded. These people hear everything the fourth group hears. But those insights and needed truths are never really accepted, never allowed to take root and grow. Why? Because thorns have come in—thorns which suffocate the normal healthy growth of each plant.

Thorns like these trip us up and cause untold misery. They are killers! Tomorrow we'll talk more about the threat each type of thorn represents and about Jesus's solution.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Revolving door...2 Chronicles 7:13-15

2 Chronicles 7:13–15

The history of great civilizations reminds me of a giant revolving door. It turns on the axis of human depravity as its movement is marked by the perimeter of time. With monotonous repetition each civilization has completed the same cycle, having passed through a similar sequence of events. One man summarized it like this:

From bondage to spiritual faith
From spiritual faith to great courage
From great courage to strength
From strength to liberty
From liberty to abundance
From abundance to leisure
From leisure to selfishness
From selfishness to complacency
From complacency to apathy
From apathy to dependency
From dependency to weakness
From weakness back to bondage

Whether Roman or Athenian empires . . . Egyptian or European cultures, the chronicle tells its own tale. Regardless of geography, origin, achievements, or level of prosperity, each one has sunk deeply into the vortex of ruin.

Consider Babylon. It can hardly be found today. It is nothing more than a lonely whistle stop along the Baghdad railroad. Its beauty and significance now lie buried beneath tons of dirt, rocks, and debris in a forlorn and forgotten land. How she has fallen!

Israel can also teach us the same lesson. Inquire at the gate called Judges. That place reaffirms the truth of humanity's cyclical habit. Time after time—for over three hundred years—the Jews went through the succession of events mentioned above. Like pawns on a chessboard, they lived under the bondage of superior powers until God gave them a deliverer, who fired the furnace of spiritual fervor . . . which inflamed their courage . . . which kindled military strength . . . then liberty . . . then abundance . . . then leisure—and then right back down the tube again into bondage. The age-old path of that same revolving door has etched itself upon the tablet of Israel's antiquity.

It was about two hundred years ago, while the thirteen colonies were still part of Great Britain, that Professor Alexander Tyler [sometimes referred to as Alexander Fraser Tytler] addressed himself to the fall of the Athenian Republic. He declared:

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover they can vote themselves excessive gratuities from the public treasury. From that moment on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the treasury, with the result that a democracy collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship.

It's a stunning fact of history that the average age of the world's great civilizations has been approximately two hundred years. According to that reckoning, America may be living on borrowed time. The age-old revolving door is turning and we are—as I see it—somewhere between apathy and dependency on the historical cycle. It doesn't take a meteorologist to predict rain if the sky is black and drops are starting to fall. Neither does it take a prophet to predict future bondage if we are now a majority of apathetic and dependent people!

Hope for our great nation rests upon independent thinking and individual effort. The revival of discipline, integrity, work, determination, and healthy pride is not a national matter but a personal one. Inward change and godliness are not legislated by Congress—they are spawned in the heart and cultivated in the home before they are bred in the land. Frankly—it boils down to one person, you.

A revolving door has to be pushed by those within it. When we stop pushing, it will stop turning . . . but not until.

 The revival of integrity and work is not a national matter but a personal one.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Trust part 2...1 John 4:17-19

1 John 4:17–19

Each morning you awaken to an unpredictable set of hours filled with surprises and trials and anxieties. You know before your feet ever touch the floor you are in for another who-knows-what day. You could be in an accident on the freeway, fired from the job, the victim of a personal attack, mistreated, robbed, slandered, or threatened with a lawsuit. Sounds pretty bleak, but it's true. Happens to hundreds like us daily.

Living in the fear of that brings trauma . . . internal stress prompted by worry. Many a soul starts priming the pump of worry even before they get the morning paper. All sorts of energy is burned up as the mind runs up and down the dark alleys of imaginary dread.

"We must get rid of Fear!" advised Thomas Carlyle. Sure . . . but how? How do you break the habit? The same way you stay in the dentist's chair when you're tempted to get antsy—you trust. You consciously and willfully abandon yourself to Someone who is trustworthy. It certainly worked for David. He wrote:

When I am afraid,
I will put my trust in You. (Psalm 56:3)

Meaning what? Meaning this: "I will lean on, rely on, rest in, surrender to, depend on, relax." How can I do this? By being convinced that God is totally trustworthy. He cares. He's reliable. He isn't clumsy. Or unskilled. Or out to get me. Or only working part time. Or available just to adults. When He says, "This won't hurt a bit, trust me," He
means it.

 Too much energy is burned up as we run down the dark alleys of imaginary dread.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Trust part 1... Proverbs 3:5-6

Proverbs 3:5–6

Those folks who used to put together Campus Life magazine got my vote. With an incredible regularity they would put the cookies on the lower shelf so that any high schooler in America could thumb through the thing without getting turned off. One of their secrets was frequent humor, lots of jokes. You know, all kinds of stuff to laugh at . . . some a little gross, but all designed to scratch a teenager where he was itching. And most kids I know at that age are never very far from fun.

I'm sure they got as big a laugh out of Stephen Erickson's article when it was published as I did. It's called:

How to Choose a Dentist

Never trust a dentist . . .
. . . who wears dentures.
. . . who has hairy knuckles.
. . . whose drill is driven by a system of pulleys connected to three mice on a treadmill.
. . . who sends you a Christmas card and charges you for it.
. . . who chews tobacco and spits the juice into the sink.
. . . who uses the suction hose to empty your pockets.
. . . who is also a barber.
. . . who sprays his equipment with Lysol to sterilize it.
. . . who uses lead for fillings.

You can always trust a dentist . . .
. . . who has never chewed gum.
. . . who looks like Jack Nicholson.
. . . who doesn't ask you questions when your mouth's full.
. . . who puts you to sleep two weeks before your appointment.
. . . who uses a laser instead of a drill.
. . . who cancels your appointment to play tennis.
. . . who has mellow rock piped into his office instead of elevator music.
. . . who doesn't strap you in the chair.

Anybody—high schooler or not—who has gone through the predental appointment shakes can identify with those crazy comments. How great it would be to find a member of the professional drill team who fits the latter rather than the former list!

As I smiled through the descriptions, I was struck with a sudden rush of insight hidden behind the humor. Basically, it's the trauma of fear that makes us dread getting strapped into the hot seat. Fear of pain, fear of discomfort, brought on by seeing a grown man in a white outfit with a needle behind his back and that "I'm gonna gitcha" look in his eye. Such trauma calls for an antidote equally powerful. In a word, it is trust . . . reliance on character, skill, and competence. It's having confidence. Being assured he knows what he's doing. You don't want some clown jabbing you in the jaw who has to consult a do-it-yourself-dentistry handbook while you're getting numb. You also know you're in for trouble if he comes at you as clumsy as a Sherman tank. The doc has to have class to put your mind at ease; otherwise, your trust is undermined. Trust calms trauma. It's as simple as that.

What is true in the dentist's waiting room and office is also true in everyday life. We must learn to consciously abandon ourselves to Someone who is trustworthy. More on that tomorrow in Part Two.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Thorns... Psalm 62:5-8

Writing with Thorns
Psalm 62:5–8

In pain, grief, affliction, and loss, it often helps to write our feelings . . . not just feel them. Putting words on paper seems to free our feelings from the lonely prison of our souls.

It was C. S. Lewis who wrote:

Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything. . . . No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.

It was William Armstrong who wrote:

Back in the house I moved on leaden feet from chore to chore.

It was Ada Campbell Rose who wrote:

The mantle of grief falls on every hour of the day and covers me while I sleep. Will it ever go away?

It was King David who wrote:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)

It was the apostle Paul who wrote:

Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
(2 Corinthians 12:7–10)

It was George Matheson who wrote:

My God, I have never thanked Thee for my thorn. I have thanked Thee a thousand times for my roses, but not once for my thorns. I have been looking forward to a world where I shall get compensation for my cross, but I have never thought of my cross as itself a present glory. . . . Teach me the glory of my cross, teach me the value of my thorn. Show me that I have climbed to Thee by the path of pain. Show me that my tears have made my rainbow.

As you feel the stinging thorns of pain today, what do you write? Nothing? Healing stands with folded arms waiting to read your words. Small wonder you're still bleeding.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Stop me please part 2... Matthew 11:28-30

Matthew 11:28–30

Strange, isn't it, how we tend toward extremes? What begins as self-improvement becomes self-enslavement . . . what starts as merely a mellow change of pace leads to a marathon of fanaticism. We're nuts! Left to ourselves, we'll opt for extremes most every time. Which explains why God's Book so often stresses moderation, self-control, softening our sharp-cornered lives with more curves that necessitate a slower speed.

The psalmist calmly counsels us to "be still" so we can know that God is God (Psalm 46:10). Jesus Himself found it essential to escape the press of people to get His bearings. On several occasions He arose quite early just to be alone. Immediately after His Twelve returned hot and sweaty from ministry, it was His idea that they retreat and repair. And who can ever forget His gracious invitation? I often return to it just to let the words wash over me.

"Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matthew 11:28–30)

In a high-tech day of high-level pressures, He offers us rest. Twice in one statement. While so many others are demanding, He's gentle. While competition is rugged and being in partnership with hard-charging, bullish leaders is tough, being yoked with Him is easy. Yes, easy. And instead of increasing our load of anxiety, He promises to make it lighter. Is it any wonder Jesus's style and message created such a stir? While so many were piling on more guilt, more "shoulds" and "musts," He quietly offered relief.

Question: Where do you go to find enough stillness to rediscover that God is God? Where do you turn when your days and nights start running together? What spot becomes your hide-away so that a little perspective is gleaned as a little sanity returns? Where do you get relief from the fever-pitch extremes?

"Won't someone please stop me?"

Someone will, if you'll let Him. As in days of old, He's waiting in that little boat, ready to sail with you to a quieter shore. But getting in first requires some letting go. You can't haul along all of that personal luggage.

There's only room for two.

 While others piled on guilt, shoulds, and musts, Jesus quietly offered relief.

Stop me please part 1... Psalm 46:10-11

Psalm 46:10–11

I laughed my way through Judith Viorst's How Did I Get to Be Forty and Other Atrocities. I've long since passed the half-century mark, so it seemed reasonable that I should at least face the music of being forty. Even though I must admit I feel more like thirty . . . until I think about my schedule of involvements. Then I wish I were eighty and had an excuse for hiding away in a cabin, writing my memoirs . . . as if anybody would ever care to read them.

It's bad enough just meeting the daily and weekly deadlines along with fulfilling some people's expectations—ugh!—but when I include a bunch of other self-assigned projects, the stress level can approach borderline madness. Which explains why, in my reading, I toss in Bombeck along with Steinbeck and Schulz along with Schaft and Pirsig along with Paul. Gotta have that balance! Otherwise, the screws get cinched down so tightly that I revert to nail-biting and fist-slamming and choking down too much food without tasting it.

I've got enough people in my life who frown authoritatively and admonish me to get serious. I need a few who smile relaxingly and encourage me to kick back, loosen up, and laugh a little more. I've got more than my share of "get-with-it" ghosts haunting me already, don't you? Maybe that's why I'll pull Viorst from the shelf on a Saturday afternoon or a Monday morning. She helps Sunday make better sense. Extreme and uptight, she ain't. But she is clever, witty, sometimes subtle, and always real.

In her piece called "Self-improvement Program," Viorst demonstrates how quickly we tend to turn a simple plan into a federal case. Her poem about escalating to-dos and expectations culminates with the desperate cry of, "Won't someone please stop me?"

Strange, isn't it, how we tend toward extremes? What begins as self-improvement becomes self-enslavement . . . what starts as merely a mellow change of pace leads to a marathon of fanaticism. We're nuts! Left to ourselves, we'll opt for extremes most every time. Which explains why God's Book so often stresses moderation, self-control, softening our sharp-cornered lives with more curves that necessitate a slower speed.

Are you spinning out of control on the fast track? How can you slow down? Where can you go to find enough stillness to rediscover that God is God? We'll talk about that tomorrow.

 What begins as self-improvement becomes self-enslavement if we’re not careful.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Home part 2... Ephesians 5:21-6:4

Ephesians 5:21–6:4

If you are involved in church or religious activities to the point that your home life is hurting, you're too involved—and you're heading for trouble. Look at what you're doing in the light of eternity. God is primarily interested in the quality, not quantity, of our spiritual fruit. He looks behind our hurry and hustle . . . to our motive, our inner purpose.

What if He examined your home life today? What would He find about your relationship with your wife, my friend? Are you loving her "as Christ loved the church"? Are you showing honor to her and building up her character? Wives—how's the inner beauty of a "gentle and quiet spirit" progressing? Does the man of your home know you're really behind him? Does he sense your undivided loyalty?

And dare I speak to the children? Do you promote harmony and happiness . . . or have you created a pressure-packed atmosphere? If you are among the younger ones in the home, are you showing respect . . . are you giving your folks the assurance that you're submissive and willing? Look over Ephesians 6:1–4 as a family tonight. Discuss it together.

One final reminder. The church can seldom resurrect what the home puts to death. The very best proof of the genuineness of your Christianity occurs within the framework of your home. If you must become over-involved, become over-involved in your role as a character builder in the home. Believe me—the church will stay healthy and strong as long as its homes are healthy and strong. God's priority system seems to begin at the grassroots level—at home. Cultivate that soil with care.

 The best proof of the genuineness of your Christianity occurs inside your home.

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Home, part 1...1 Corinthians 3:12-15

1 Corinthians 3:12–15

God has ordained and established three great institutions:

1) the home (Genesis 1:27–28; Ephesians 5:22–31),

2) the church (Matthew 16:18; Acts 2:41–47), and

3) government (Romans 13:1–7).

There is no question regarding our belief that the church and state (government) should be separate and distinct. Each is a unique entity, not to be consolidated. Our Lord Jesus Christ stated as much in Mark 12:17 when He said: "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."

But what about the church and the home? Is there cooperation . . . or competition? To be specific: Has your home lost its identity? Has the role or responsibility of your home been lost in the "religious shuffle" of the church?

How very many churches you and I could name that plan a calendar of events so involved for its members that a meaningful home life is virtually impossible! "Something for everyone, every night" is a slogan that must be considered as an enemy to our homes.

If you are involved in church or religious activities to the point that your home life is hurting, you're too involved—and you're heading for trouble. The law of diminishing returns is soon to catch up with you. Somewhere down the busy religious road you're traveling, a dead-end sign will appear, forcing you to stop, turn around, and return to the place of balance and restful blessing . . . at home . . . if it's not too late.

One sage put it this way: "Too much of our religious activity today is nothing more than a cheap anesthetic to deaden the pain of an empty life." Does that describe you? If so—if your involvement is an escape from home—stop where you are. Look at what you're doing in the light of eternity. Listen to what God says about activity that is done simply in the energy of the flesh:

Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw; each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality [not quantity] of each man's work. . . . If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss [loss of eternal rewards]; but he himself will be saved. (1 Corinthians 3:12–13, 15)

God, you see, is primarily interested in the quality of our fruit. He looks behind our hurry and hustle . . . He probes and penetrates down to our motive, our inner purpose . . . and on the basis of that discovery, He plans our eternal rewards.

What if He examined your home life today? What quality of fruit would He find? We'll talk about that tomorrow.

 If your many church activities are hurting your home life, you're too involved.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Where is God?...

"Rise up, O God, and defend your cause; remember how fools mock you all day long." (v. 22)
How do we develop trust in the goodness of God when so much that is happening in the world seems to contradict it? If God is good, how can He allow disasters? Dr. M. Scott Peck opens his book The Road Less Travelled with these words: "Life is difficult. This is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it." I have great difficulty with some of Dr. Scott Peck's statements, but I fully endorse these remarks. Once we accept the fact that life is difficult -- that the mystery of why calamities and suffering occur will never be fully solved while we are here on earth -- then we will stop demanding that a satisfactory answer be found and begin to get on with life. Christians go down different routes regarding this matter of calamities and suffering. One is to close their eyes and pretend the tremendous problems are not there. But integrity requires that we face whatever is true. Reality is grim -- innocent children are abused, starved, massacred -- and countless other forms of atrocity are carried out around the world daily. We must not blind our eyes to these facts and pretend they are untrue because they appear to contradict the concept of God?s goodness. Pretense must never be our refuge. We must be willing to look at these things, unpleasant and horrible though they be, and allow ourselves to be jarred by them. When we face life honestly and allow ourselves to be jolted by what we see, then, and only then, are we ready for God to speak.

Gracious and loving heavenly Father, give me the courage not to bury my head in the sand and pretend there are no problems. Help me stand even when I cannot understand. For Your own dear Name's sake. Amen

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Ancient birth... John 18:37

Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world — to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:37)

This is a great Christmas text even though it comes from the end of Jesus’s life on earth, not the beginning.

The uniqueness of his birth is that he did not originate at his birth. He existed before he was born in a manger. The personhood, the character, the personality of Jesus of Nazareth existed before the man Jesus of Nazareth was born.

The theological word to describe this mystery is not creation, but incarnation. The person, not the body, but the essential personhood of Jesus existed before he was born as man. His birth was not a coming into being of a new person, but a coming into the world of an infinitely old person.

Micah 5:2 puts it like this, 700 years before Jesus was born:

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.

The mystery of the birth of Jesus is not merely that he was born of a virgin. That miracle was intended by God to witness to an even greater one — namely, that the child born at Christmas was a person who existed “from of old, from ancient days.”

Friday, January 2, 2015

Finding satisfaction...Philippians 4:11-13

Philippians 4:11-13
God has provided us with many things to enjoy. But too often our lives are filled with turmoil instead of contentment. Four practices that create dissatisfaction are . . .
Busyness. We live in a hurry-up society, dashing from one activity to another. Jesus did not rush anywhere, yet He accomplished whatever God gave Him to do. Not once did He tell His followers to move faster. He even praised Mary for choosing to stop her work and spend time with Him (Luke 10:39, 42).
Earthly perspective. Too often we live focused on our circumstances. Our minds think about what happened earlier in the week, what’s on today’s agenda, and the activities occurring next week, month, or year. No wonder enjoyment of life remains elusive. The solution is to have an eternal perspective, which acknowledges that God is in charge and our goal is to please Him.
Self-imposed pressure. We have all experienced the unavoidable burdens of schoolwork, employment, and relationships. But we bring needless pressure on ourselves when we allow unnecessary “musts” and “shoulds” to rule us. The remedy is to turn to God, acknowledge His right to order our days, and ask for His plan.
Unhealthy attitudes. Perfectionism, false guilt, and apathy all undermine our enjoyment of life.
Satisfaction is found in a life that reflects God’s priorities—and time with Him comes first. Reading His Word, we become mindful of the Father’s great love, learn what He views as important, and experience the joy of belonging to Him. When contentment is elusive, it’s time to examine our priorities.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Finding satisfaction...Philippians 4:11-13

Finding Satisfaction
Philippians 4:11-13
God has provided us with many things to enjoy. But too often our lives are filled with turmoil instead of contentment. Four practices that create dissatisfaction are . . .
Busyness. We live in a hurry-up society, dashing from one activity to another. Jesus did not rush anywhere, yet He accomplished whatever God gave Him to do. Not once did He tell His followers to move faster. He even praised Mary for choosing to stop her work and spend time with Him (Luke 10:39, 42).
Earthly perspective. Too often we live focused on our circumstances. Our minds think about what happened earlier in the week, what’s on today’s agenda, and the activities occurring next week, month, or year. No wonder enjoyment of life remains elusive. The solution is to have an eternal perspective, which acknowledges that God is in charge and our goal is to please Him.
Self-imposed pressure. We have all experienced the unavoidable burdens of schoolwork, employment, and relationships. But we bring needless pressure on ourselves when we allow unnecessary “musts” and “shoulds” to rule us. The remedy is to turn to God, acknowledge His right to order our days, and ask for His plan.
Unhealthy attitudes. Perfectionism, false guilt, and apathy all undermine our enjoyment of life.
Satisfaction is found in a life that reflects God’s priorities—and time with Him comes first. Reading His Word, we become mindful of the Father’s great love, learn what He views as important, and experience the joy of belonging to Him. When contentment is elusive, it’s time to examine our priorities.