The preacher went to his pulpit and one hundred faces looked up, and in those faces the entire world was captured. As he began to speak, he smiled the smile of those who see but do not understand.
"Let us give thanks for all His promises and for all He has given us." He continued …
"Thank you for our bodies: for legs that run, for ears that hear songs, for eyes that see beauty, for arms that hug and hands that hold."
Sadly, without a word, ten people left the service: those who were blind or deaf or crippled or paralyzed or without a limb or who lived in constant pain or with a crippling disease.
"Thank you for the comforts of this world and for the rivers of wealth that have flowed on us."
And another ten left: those suffering from malnutrition, those who saw their children die of starvation and those without adequate resources to protect against the winter cold. But the preacher saw none of this.
"Thank you for our wonderful minds through which we understand art and science and with which we probe the mysteries of the universe."
And several people of average intelligence blushed and a mentally impaired boy looked bewildered and a brain damaged girl stared blankly. But another ten walked to the door.
And the preacher continued thanking God for friends, for beauty and health of the worshipper’s bodies, for their correct behavior, for peace, for justice and for family.
And ten by ten they left: those who knew they were less than virtuous; those who were the victims of injustice and war, the lonely, those alienated from family.
Then the preacher looked at the congregation and saw that no one was left. "O Lord, where have they gone?"
God answered, "You have exalted what I never promised. When did I promise friendships, perfect health, justice and peace? Remember my servant Job. Remember my Son, Jesus."
"Then Lord, what have You promised us? What have You given us?
And the preacher ran to the doorway of the church and there sitting outside, in the shadows, were the one hundred.
"Oh my friends, I have deceived you. Some may have health, Some may have friends. Some may have justice, but all we REALLY have is God. It was said by Job: ‘Though He slay me, yet will it trust Him.’ For this is all that is certain: God gives to us—Himself."
Reaching for each other’s hands, they all came back inside. Once again the preacher came to the pulpit. "Let us give thanks that God himself is with us, world without end."
And one hundred voices shouted "Amen!" And there was joy in heaven!
Those words--all we really have is God Himself--can sound on the surface like we only have God Himself. In reality, if all we really have is God Himself than we really have ALL there is!
"Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent" (John 17:3).
Belonging to God
In Disney's animated movie Toy Story, Woody (a toy cowboy) confronts Buzz Lightyear (a toy astronaut) with the fact that he is only an action figure and not really a space hero. Early in the movie Woody shouts, "You're not a space ranger! You're an action figure—a child's plaything."
Only after failing to fly, Buzz realizes the truth of Woody's statement. Grief-stricken and disillusioned, Buzz hangs his head in resignation, declaring, "I'm just a stupid, little, insignificant toy."
Woody later seeks to comfort his friend by underscoring the love of the boy who owns them both. "You must not be thinking clearly. Look, over in that house. There's a kid who thinks you're the greatest, and it's not because you're a space ranger; it's because you're his."
As Buzz lifts his foot, he sees a label affixed to the bottom of his little shoe. There in black permanent ink is the name of the little boy to whom he belongs. Seeing the name of his owner, Buzz breaks into a smile and takes on a new determination.
Oftentimes, we mistakenly get our sense of self-worth from our place in life. We look at our careers, our societal status, accomplishments, and when we don't see the great things we may have once imagined for ourselves, we become discouraged.
But as Christians, we're branded with the name of Christ. Our value is determined not by who we are or what we've accomplished, but by the price that was paid for us on the cross. We're His, and that's all that matters.
"And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God's promise to Abraham belongs to you" (Galatians 3:29).
The Proactive Replay of Bitterness
BBC correspondent Matt McGrath reports:
The importance of video evidence in courtrooms has grown in tandem with its supply in recent years. As well as the mountains of smartphone recordings, CCTV also routinely captures assaults, robberies and even murders. Some police officers even wear on-body cameras.
Courts all over the world are willing to accept these recordings in evidence and they are sometimes shown in slow motion, to help juries make up their minds about what really happened within the often chaotic environment of a crime scene.
A key point in many murder cases is the intention or otherwise of the accused. So the researchers carried out a number of experiments to determine the impact of slowing down the replay on observers.
In their first study, participants acting as jurors watched a video recording of an attempted robbery of a store, which ended with the shop assistant being shot dead. They were shown either a regular speed or a slowed down version. Watching the slow-motion version quadrupled the odds that these mock jurors would begin their deliberations ready to convict.
The researchers believe that the slow motion version is giving observers the sense that those carrying out the violent acts on tape have more time to think and deliberate - and the observers therefore believe there is more intent in the violent actions.
Watch a tennis match on TV and notice how, just before a commercial break, they will often show one of the players glaring over the net at their opponent. At least that’s the way it appears. Apparently, even sports film crews have learned that a quick glance can be turned into a menacing stare by simply slowing it down.
Don't allow what ought to be a quick glance to become a long stare down. Deal with life in real time, rather than in the protracted replay of bitterness and resent. Handle disputes quickly. Do what needs to be done to put it behind you. Don’t spend too much time thinking about an insult or a slight. Don’t allow the sun to set on your anger. Such delays only serve to exaggerate the effect, making reconciliation even more difficult.
"In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry” (Ephesians 4:26).
Flex Your Spiritual Muscles
Robert Preidt, of HealthDay reports in a study suggesting that clenching your muscles may help you to boost your willpower to resist temptation or fortify your resolve to attain personal goals. According to Iris W. Hung, of the National University of Singapore, "Participants who were instructed to tighten their muscles, regardless of which muscles they tightened—hand, finger, calf or biceps—while trying to exert self-control demonstrated greater ability to withstand the pain, consume the unpleasant medicine, or overcome tempting foods.” The study found that clenching at the moment of temptation or testing provided the extra boost. It is thought that the mind perceives the resolve required in physical exertion as a subconscious cue to be tough in the moment. The Apostle Paul knew what it was to flex his spiritual muscles in his personal pursuit of holiness. “Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing” (1 Corinthians 9:24-26). The next time you are faced with a temptation or are challenged to take a step of faith, go ahead and flex your spiritual muscle, and maybe even clench your fist, or bicep or glutes as a trigger to help fortify you in the moment of challenge or temptation. Like Paul, engage your whole being as you strive to "win a prize that will not fade."
All the Gold in the World
According to the World Gold Council, to date (up until 2009) only about 165,000 metric tons of gold have been mined in all of human history. This amount of gold, if consolidated, would fit into a cube measuring just some 70x70x70 feet (give or take a few cubic feet)-- a space not much longer than an average tractor trailer rig, not much wider than an average ranch style home, and not much taller than a six story building! Yet, its total value, in the modern market, would exceed $5 trillion. Few things have held their value over time like gold. This is due to the fact that gold is not only very rare, it is also a very useful metal. From jewelry to electronics, the unique qualities of this metal cause it to be in constant demand. Rarity and practical usefulness combine to give gold its lasting value. There are two things that add value to a person’s life, and they happen to be the same things that add value to gold. 1) Their intrinsic helpfulness. 2) Their relative rarity. These qualities combine to make the child of God invaluable to the world. Self-serving, self-consumed people are of little value to others or to God's purposes in the world. They are also quite common. God has called us and set us apart to be a special people. Why be common when you can be rare? God has also commissioned us to share His love with the world. Why live for yourself when you can live for God? Those who live for God are more helpful and more rare. They make themselves priceless! "You have been set apart as holy to the LORD your God, and he has chosen you from all the nations of the earth to be his own special treasure" (Deuteronomy 14:2, NLT).
What Shamu Taught Me About Marriage
Amy Sutherland, in an article she wrote for the New York Times called, "What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage," expresses her frustration over her husband’s irritating habits:
These minor annoyances are not the stuff of separation and divorce, but in sum they began to dull my love for Scott. I wanted—needed—to nudge him a little closer to perfect, to make him into a mate who might annoy me a little less, who wouldn't keep me waiting at restaurants, a mate who would be easier to love.
So, like many wives before me, I ignored a library of advice books and set about improving him. By nagging, of course, which only made his behavior worse: he'd drive faster instead of slower; shave less frequently, not more; and leave his reeking bike garb on the bedroom floor longer than ever.
A breakthrough came when Amy began traveling to a school for exotic animal trainers in California in order to research a book she wanted to write:
I listened, rapt, as professional trainers explained how they taught dolphins to flip and elephants to paint. Eventually it hit me that the same techniques might work on that stubborn but loveable species, the American husband.
Ms. Sutherland concludes:
The central lesson I learned from exotic animal trainers is that I should reward behavior I like and ignore behavior I don't. After all, you don't get a sea lion to balance a ball on the end of its nose by nagging. The same goes for the American husband. Back in Maine, I began thanking Scott if he threw one dirty shirt into the hamper. If he threw in two, I'd kiss him. Meanwhile, I would step over any soiled clothes on the floor without one sharp word, though I did sometimes kick them under the bed. But as he basked in my appreciation, the piles became smaller.
"Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8).
A Father’s Legacy of Hypocrisy
R.C. Sproul, in his book OBJECTIONS ANSWERED, shares this story of the harmful effects of hypocrisy:
There was a young Jewish boy who grew up in Germany many years ago. The lad had a profound sense of admiration for his father, who saw to it that the life of the family revolved around the religious practices of their faith. The father led them to the synagogue faithfully.
In his teen year’s, however, the boy’s family was forced to move to another town in Germany. This town had no synagogue, only a Lutheran church. The life of the community revolved around the Lutheran church; all the best people belonged to it. Suddenly, the father announced to the family that they were going to abandon their Jewish traditions and join the Lutheran church. When the stunned family asked why, the father explained that it would be good for business. The youngster was bewildered and confused. His deep disappointment soon gave way to anger and a kind of intense bitterness that plagued him throughout his life.
Later he left Germany and went to England to study. Each day found him at the British Museum formulating his ideas and composing a book. In that book he introduced a whole new worldview and conceived a movement that was designed to change the world. He described religion as the “opiate for the masses.” He committed the people who followed him to life without God. His ideas became the norm for the governments of almost half the world’s people. His name? Karl Marx, founder of the Communist movement.
What seem to us like small acts of compromise may, in fact, have a trickledown effect for generations to come. In truth, there are no small acts of compromise. There is no harmless hypocrisy.
"Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded" (James 4:8).
Mom Helps Daughter See Past Her Scars
Jennifer Bankson is a loving, concerned parent who has practically made a career of encouraging her young daughter, Cassandra, who suffers with an extreme case of cystic acne.
Cassandra was mercilessly bullied for the large cysts and deep crater marks that scarred her face, neck, shoulders and back. She did what she could to mask it, but schoolmates would still taunt her, “throwing pennies at her to mimic the large pimples on her face, and pulling up her long, dark hair to expose the acne on her neck.”
Cassandra eventually changed schools, but the bullying and taunting followed her.
Fortunately, the love and encouragement of her Mom, Jennifer, was always there to uphold her. “Despite how bad I felt about myself,” she said, “my mom always saw the best in me. Every day she would see past the acne scars to my real beauty."
All of that encouragement ended up inspiring Cassandra to not only embrace her own inner beauty, but to reach out and help others who similarly struggled to embrace there own. With great courage and humility, Cassandra, at age 19, began filming and posting videos exposing her acne, sharing cover-up tips and tricks, discussing treatment options, and most of all encouraging others to accept themselves as she had learned from her own mom. The videos went viral, with some posting over 3 million views!
With Cassandra’s new found internet celebrity, mom Jennifer realized that she was dispensing lots of truth and encouragement to her young daughter, but she wasn’t practicing what she preached. Filled with self-doubt, Jennifer was still habitually putting her own self down for every little body imperfection, making self-deprecating comments about her “flabby arms” and “muffin top,” and making unsolicited excuses for any extra weight she was carrying.
“But seeing Cassie's confidence in exposing her biggest insecurity made me heed my own advice. … Once I stopped putting myself down mentally and verbally, it changed the dynamic of my interactions. I find that people respect me more and I feel more confident.”
“I'm so proud that my mom finally embraced the lesson she taught me: Love yourself."
Moms, you have the power to embolden and encourage your kids like none other. But just like our spouses, our kids can be a window to our own souls. Allow them to reflect back those areas in our own lives where we, as well, need to stretch and grow.
“… take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your child’s eye” (Matthew 7:5, cf Luke 6:42).
The Battle Was Over Before It Had Begun
“Truth matters. We can sincerely believe that human flight is possible by jumping out of a three-story window and flapping our arms, but our sincerity doesn’t make the sidewalk any softer.” – R. Scott Richards
Mr. Richards, in his book, “Myths the World Taught Me,” goes on to describe a deadly example of misplaced sincerity. In November of 1987, fooled by the wiles of a witch doctor, Alice Lakwena, a mob of some 700 anti-government rebels attempted to overtake a Ugandan army post and airstrip. The attackers were armed with little more than their passion, and were bare-chested and covered in oil. Calling themselves the “Holy Spirit Movement,” they marched into a hail storm of bullets fired by the defending government forces.
When all was said and done, some 200 rebels were dead and most of the rest were taken prisoner. The witch doctor had convinced them that the oil they smeared on their bodies was a magical concoction that would protect them from bullets. “The battle was lost before it had begun. No one could fault the ‘Holy Spirit Movement’ for a lack of sincerity. One must be a true believer to face live bullets half naked. Sincere? Yes. But wrong, dead wrong.”
“The battle was over before it had begun.” Let the example of these errant rebels speak to us. Truth does indeed matter. 1 John 4:1 reads, “Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world.”
If we don’t do our homework, if we fail to apply due diligence in seeking genuine truth in which to place our trust, we will find ourselves no less defeated in our spiritual battles than the men of the so-called Holy Spirit Movement. Our battle, too, will be over before it’s begun.
Before we go storming the gates of the Enemy, we'd best follow the Biblical mandate to put on the full armor of God and to "stand firm" with the belt of truth buckled around our waist." (Ephesians 6:10-18)
“How we die is a profound reflection of how we live. A life-threatening crisis somehow distills all our theology into a single, pungent drop.” – Gilbert Beers (former editor, CHRISTIANITY TODAY)
With these words, Gilbert Beers encapsulated the poignant legacy of his great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandmother, Catharine duBois. He recounts that in 1663 a band of Minnisink Indians descended from the Catskill Mountains onto the settlement of New Paltz, NY, and took captive several women and children, including Catharine duBois and her infant daughter, Sara. They were held for 10 weeks before the natives decided to burn them at the stake. Bound there upon that pyre, Catharine, her daughter, and all future generations still just seeds within her, faced certain death.
But Catharine did not despair. She did not curse her captors. She did not curse God. Rather, she broke into song, singing a hymn based on Psalms 137, “There our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’”
Fascinated by her joyous response to her impending fate, they demanded more and more songs of her. As she lifted her voice to heaven, her praises were not only heard by God Himself, but by her husband and the search party who had, for ten long weeks, been in pursuit of her.
“Like each one of us,” says Beers, “Catharine was the narrow neck of the funnel where heritage and legacy meet… She could not have known that her decision about how to die would tell her succeeding generations much about how they should live. Nor can we know how some decision today will affect generations to come. Who cares how one woman chooses to die in a lonely Catskill forest? Who cares, indeed? Eight generations have cared, and I suspect at least another eight will care as well…My concern today is that I will faithfully fulfill my role as that narrow neck of the funnel, for the faith of some young man or woman 324 years from now may come to focus on how Christianly I handle a momentary crisis this afternoon.”
Communication in Marriage
A man and his wife didn’t have any children but they had a Labrador retriever that they loved and adored just like a child. Well, for months the man’s wife had been planning a trip to go overseas. The plan was that she would go to N.Y. first, then fly to London. From London, she would go on to various other cities. When she got to N.Y. she called home and she asked, “How are things?” The husband's reply was shocking. “The dog's dead." "What?!" she exclaimed. “Why would you just come out and say it like that? This is devastating news to me. I mean, couldn’t you have done that a little bit differently? I’m miles from home and you tell me the dog's dead. That’s like telling me our child died.” “I don’t know how else to say it. I mean, he’s dead.” “Well you could have given it to me in stages.” “What do you mean?” “Well for instance, when I first called to check in you could have told me, 'The dog's on the roof.' Then when I called from London you could have said, 'The dog has fallen off the roof.' And when I called you from Paris you could have said, 'The dog had to be taken to the Vet and he’s in the animal hospital and he’s not doing well.' And then when I finally arrived in Rome and called you could have said, 'Honey, sit down and brace yourself. Our darling Labrador retriever has passed away.' You could have done it like that and then I would have taken it better. Then I could have handled it." "I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I’ll try to do better in the future." "Well ok. ok. I just wanted to clear that one up. You know, get it off my chest. Anyway, how’s my mother?" "She’s on the roof." I guess that guy learned to be a little more sensitive in the way he communicated with his wife.
Colossians 3:19 says, "Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them."
Men, we need to be a little more compassionate and understanding of our wives, especially when it comes to communication. We need to speak the truth, but do it tenderly and with love. We need to learn to speak in a language that she understands. We need to be honest, but say things tactfully; carefully; gently, and in a way that our wives will receive and feel loved by.
Relax or Die
Here's TIME's take on the 10 most "Commonly Broken New Year's Resolutions":
Lose Weight and Get Fit Quit Smoking Learn Something New Eat Healthier and Diet Get Out of Debt and Save Money Spend More Time with Family Travel to New Places Be Less Stressed Volunteer Drink Less
Follow this link and click on the individual resolution for an article on each one.
But there's one very important resolution that TIME missed. It's a moral imperative we break all of the time without giving it much thought. Yet, according to the Bible, it's not just a matter of losing a few pounds, but of life and death!
From Exodus 31:15 we read, "You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day must be a Sabbath day of complete rest, a holy day dedicated to the LORD. Anyone who works on the Sabbath must be put to death."
"Relax or die!" Isn't that what God is saying here? Forget about the lists of things you need to do better, what about the resolve to rest from all of your doing?
"Anyone who works on the Sabbath must be put to death" seems like a gross and bizarre overreaction on God's part. In what universe does this punishment fit this crime? It makes sense that doing the wrong things should be a crime, but should failing to do nothing be a punishable offense?
Add to these questions the extreme lengths that some people have gone in their attempts to satisfy the Sabbath laws, and we see how, without an understanding of Jesus, the law quickly becomes absurd. Absent of an understanding of the promised Messiah, the law presents what appears to be a bizarre, rigid, and condemning religion.
"Relax or die!" makes no sense without Jesus; with Jesus, it makes perfect sense. That's because Jesus IS the Sabbath rest we all so desperately need! The free gift of God's grace demands that we place our complete trust in Jesus for salvation, or die in a futile attempt to earn it ourselves. God spoke of observing the Sabbath as a life and death issue because knowing Jesus, the source of real Sabbath rest, is a matter of life and death to the soul.
Once we understand we can't possibly keep God's laws, (we can't even keep our own New Year's resolutions!) our need for Jesus becomes evident.
Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith (Galatians 3:24, NASB).
So, before you concern yourself with all of the things you could do better, make sure you have learned how to do nothing.
Let us therefore give diligence to enter into that rest, that no man fall after the same example of disobedience (Hebrews 4:11, ASV).