“Though even thinking on the subject of time may prove discomforting, it is not a bad idea—especially at the beginning of a new year," says devotional writer Stephen B. Cloud:
As we look into the new year we look at a block of time. We see 12 months, 52 weeks, 365 days, 8,760 hours, 525,600 minutes, 31,536,000 seconds. And all is a gift from God. We have done nothing to deserve it, earn it, or purchased it. Like the air we breathe, time comes to us as a part of life.
The gift of time is not ours alone. It is given equally to each person. Rich and poor, educated and ignorant, strong and weak—every man, woman and child has the same twenty-four hours every day.
Another important thing about time is that you cannot stop it. There is no way to slow it down, turn it off, or adjust it. Time marches on.
And you cannot bring back time. Once it is gone, it is gone. Yesterday is lost forever. If yesterday is lost, tomorrow is uncertain. We may look ahead at a full year’s block of time, but we really have no guarantee that we will experience any of it."
"Obviously," Cloud concludes, "time is one of our most precious possessions. We can waste it. We can worry over it. We can spend it on ourselves. Or, as good stewards, we can invest it in the kingdom of God.
"The new year is full of time. As the seconds tick away, will you be tossing time out the window, or will you make every minute count?"
"Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil" (Ephesians 5:15-16).
VOLUME VI, Number 52
Jesus Is My Stunt Double
Actor Kevin Bacon gave this account of a conversation with his 6-year-old son after he viewed Footloose for the first time:
"Hey, Dad, you know that thing in the movie where you swing from the rafters of that building? That's really cool, how did you do that?"
I said, "Well, I didn't do that part--it was a stunt man."
"What's a stunt man?" he asked.
"That's someone who dresses like me and does things I can't do."
"Oh," he replied and walked out of the room looking a little confused.
A little later he said, "Hey, Dad, you know that thing in the movie where you spin around on that gym bar and land on your feet? How did you do that?"
I said, "Well, I didn't do that. It was a gymnastics double."
"What's a gymnastics double?" he asked.
"That's a guy who dresses in my clothes and does things I can't do."
There was silence from my son, then he asked in a concerned voice, "Dad, what did you do?" "I got all the glory," I sheepishly replied.
Jesus dressed in my clothes when He took on human flesh, and then He did things I couldn’t do by fulfilling all of the righteous requirements of the law. And what did I do? I accepted the credit.
"God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21).
VOLUME VI, Number 51
Gary Thomas writes: A businessman in a service industry grew weary of being yelled at. He tired of getting sprayed with angry spittle from dissatisfied customers who expected five-star service at Motel 6 prices. One day, he became oddly detached during yet another customer tirade; he felt as though he were watching a movie. In fact, he couldn't help but think that the angry woman's antics made her look like a monkey. That observation gave him a brilliant idea. He posted a giant mirror behind the front desk—and the customer tirades all but ceased. When people saw how rude and hateful they looked while yelling and screaming, they stopped yelling and screaming.
The Word of God provides a mirror to our souls. By gazing into it, we are exposed to the shocking and sometimes very disturbing truth about ourselves. For many of us, this may be the first step to repentance and spiritual transformation.
In James 1:22-24 we read, "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like."
VOLUME VI, Number 50
October 25, 1999, golfer Payne Stewart, his flight companions and both pilots were killed when their chartered twin engine Learjet fell from the sky. All seemed fine upon take off. Not long after takeoff, air traffic control lost all radio contact with the pilots. Apparently on autopilot, the plane cruised silently across the country. Two Air Force jets were dispatched to investigate. Pulling within 20 yards or so of the private jet, the Air Force Pilots could see no movement inside the cabin, and there appeared to be no one at the controls. "It's a very helpless feeling to pull up alongside another aircraft and realize the people inside that aircraft potentially are unconscious or in some other way incapacitated, and there's nothing I can do physically from my aircraft -- even though I'm 50 to 100 feet away -- to help them at all," said Capt. Chris Hamilton. Hamilton noted that the windows were frosted over, suggesting that the cabin had become depressurized. According to air safety investigators, the occupants probably never knew what came over them. The effects of the depressurization can be very subtle. It seems the plane’s passengers and crew were lulled into a stupor and finally into unconsciousness or even death before the craft finally ran out of fuel, nose-diving into the South Dakota countryside. Those who have been awakened to the truth of the Gospel know the frustration of watching so many souls race toward a Christless eternity. The lies of the world are subtle but overpowering and have lulled the vast majority of people into a spiritual state of unconsciousness. As the Apostle Paul wrote, "And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" (2 Corinthians 2:3-4).
VOLUME VI, Number 49
A Not So Great Way To Get to Heaven
In June of 2006, Warren Buffet announced that he would donate 85% of his 44 billion fortune to five charitable foundations. In response to questions about his generosity, Buffet said: "There is more than one way to get to heaven, but this is a great way." This one falls under what the Reformers would call the "good works are detrimental to salvation" category. Jesus never said, "No one comes to the Father except through good deeds." Rather, He said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except throughme" (John 14:6, NIV). Jesus words contradict Mr. Buffet's on two counts. First, Buffet's false assumption that there "is more than one way to get to heaven." Second, that given away large sums of money to charity is one of those ways. In all due respect to Mr. Buffet, there is only one way for anyone to get into heaven and giving away a lot of money isn't it. If getting to heaven is really his goal, then Mr. Buffer should accept Jesus as his personal Savior, receive the assurance that he is going to heaven regardless of what else he may or may not do, and then he would be free to give large sums of money away as an act of gratitude and service to his Master and King!
VOLUME VI, Number 48
Life I Needed
A favorite book for many is Cormac McCarthy’s The Sunset Limited. It’s a novel written in dramatic form (feels like a screen play). It captures the conversation of two characters: Black and White. Black is a recovered addict and former inmate who found Jesus, and White is an atheist professor who tries to kill himself. The whole book is a conversation in Black’s kitchen after he’s rescued White from a failed suicide attempt. The conversation ultimately is a theological one that centers on the hope or hopelessness with or without God in the equation of life. And it’s written in McCarthy’s terse, sparse language that gets straight to the heart. Here’s one point of dialogue: Black: If this ain’t the life you had in mind, what was? White: I don’t know. Not this. Is your life the one you’d planned? Black: No, it ain’t. I got what I needed instead of what I wanted and that’s just about the best kind of luck you can have. So often we try to define and control what we want life to look like… the life we’d plan for ourselves. But for some reason, it doesn’t turn out that way. And there’s a tension in perspective here. In McCarthy’s story, White didn’t get the life he’d planned so he gave up. Yet Black, shaped by a far different perspective, sees the grace of God in giving him the life he needed. Jesus said in the Gospel of John, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). And in the abundance of life that Jesus gives, it may not be the life we planned, but it’s always the life we truly need.
VOLUME VI, Number 47
Thankful For Light Switches
In the movie Castaway, the main character – played by Tom Hanks – is the sole survivor of a plane crash that leaves him stranded on a remote island. He spends four years alone on the island before finally escaping on a makeshift raft. He’s eventually picked up by a passing freighter and returns to his old life. But having spent so much time away from civilization he finds himself awestruck by little things.
There’s a scene near the end of the movie where he’s lying in bed, flipping the light switch on and off repeatedly. After years of wood-gathering and fire-lighting on the island, the simplicity and power of the light switch leaves him mesmerized.
We live a life of tremendous luxury. We have roofs over our heads, food in our stomachs, refrigerators, running water, air conditioning, switches that instantly light up the room, and a thousand other things designed to make our lives more comfortable and efficient. Yet in the midst of all this luxury, what we lack is appreciation. We’ve become so spoiled that it never even occurs to us just how blessed we are. We flip on light switches a dozen times a day without ever stopping to think about their significance and the role they play in making our lives easier.
Tom Hanks’ character had to be stranded on an island for four years before he could really appreciate the value of electric power. Without a doubt, we’re just like he was before the plane crash left him stranded on that island. We go through life numb to the blessings and luxuries around us. We need to change that. We need to express thanks for what we have, and pray that God would continually remind us of just how blessed we really are.
"And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 5:20).
VOLUME VI, Number 46
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).
VOLUME VI, Number 45
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).
VOLUME VI, Number 44
Longing for a Break in this World
Some days are hard. Some days are so full of stress and anxiety and fear and heartache that you long to get away.
And sometimes we do. We take a long vacation to get away from everything that’s hectic in our lives. It’s a week where stress is left behind. No bills to pay. No deadlines to meet. Only an opportunity to commune with God, nature and each other.
But then the week ended. And as soon as you arrived back home you could feel it again. The things that needed to be done. The concern about projects. The relational tensions. Back to a world where it seemed as if Satan might be winning. But for a moment you had a tiny taste of what could be.
The Book of Revelation is an authentic taste of what will be. It is the promise that in the end God wins. Life may be hard now. Life may be unfair now. There may be challenges now. But in the end, God will demonstrate he is the Victor.
And he will give us a life in Paradise. The Apostle John was given a vision of the New Jerusalem that comes down from heaven. It is an immense place. Some get caught up in the dimensions outlined in Scripture. But I believe the purpose we are told of the size of heaven is to give us the assurance that there is room for everyone.
“All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). The end will be much like the beginning. The God who shaped Eden out of chaos will take the chaos of our world and shape it into something new. A New Heaven and a New Earth.
So call on his name and make your reservation. It’s all inclusive.
VOLUME VI, Number 43
When You are Holding on for Dear Life
One day in the late Spring they came to his cell in the Mamertine Prison in Rome and opened the door. His executioners led him out of the city on the Ostian Road.
As they were walking out, other travelers would have been walking into Rome. They would have paid him little attention. No one would have recognized his face. No one would have known his crime. He was just another prisoner, just another “dead man walking.”
After traveling a few miles out, the executioners would have stopped. A block would be laid down. His head would be placed upon it. A sword would be raised. And in an instant the head of the most influential writer of all times would roll upon the ground.
Paul had known his share of suffering, but he did not shrink back from his calling. If we could look closer, we would see how scars spread across his back like a windshield crack and how wounds stiffened his joints. His own account of his hardships included floggings, lashings, beatings with rods, pelting with stones, shipwrecks, dangers from rivers and bandits and Jews and Gentiles, danger in the city and in the country, danger at sea and from false believers. He knew hard labor, lack of sleep, hunger, thirst, cold and nakedness (2 Cor. 11:23-29).
It’s a wonder that he could move at all, but move he did. From Corinth to Ephesus, from Thessalonica to Colossae, he left his footprints all over the known world of his day. His visits to these cities were not for sightseeing. He worked. Long days of preaching and establishing churches.
When he wasn’t walking, he was writing. He wrote letters to the church in Rome and Corinth and Galatia and Ephesus. He wrote to Titus and he wrote to Timothy. Letters that continue to bless. God’s grace turned his world upside down and his life was spent telling others about it. Until that day on the Ostian Road, when he drew his last breath.
When you face struggles because of your faith, remember Paul. He anchored himself to a purpose that was higher and greater than his life. There are many fights you can fight, but Paul trained himself for the “good fight” (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
His fight did not end at death. His writings have encouraged, exhorted, and educated followers of Christ till today and for all the tomorrows to come. He gave himself totally to eternal things.
So, can you. Fight the good fight. And like Paul, finish the race well.
VOLUME VI, Number 42
God Chooses Unlikely Candidates to be His Messengers
If you saw her backstage, you never would have imagined what fame was soon to come her way. She walked out on the stage in a frumpy dress. Slightly mussed up hair. Bushy eyebrows. Seemingly a bit old and odd for the competition. But the moment she began to sing on Britain’s Got Talent she took the world by storm. By the final note she was receiving a standing ovation from the crowd and a broad smile from Simon Cowell. The video of her performance immediately hit YouTube and within a week had been viewed 66 million times.
She eventually won second place in the competition but that did not stop her. An album was released in November of 2009 and by the end of the year she had the top selling record world wide of any releases, selling a total of 8.3 million copies.
You probably would never have picked him either. One first century writing describes him this way: “Bald-headed, bowlegged, strongly built, a man small in size, with meeting eyebrows, and a rather large nose.”
Appearances aside, he had been spending his days with a singular purpose: persecuting Christians. Pulling them from their houses. Throwing them in prison. Even having some killed.
And yet God chose him to take his story to the Gentiles. Jesus arranged a face-to-face meeting with Saul while he was on his way to Damascus to persecute his followers (Acts 9). Jesus slammed on the stadium lights and Saul began to see the light. And by the end of the encounter his name is changed from Saul to Paul as he is given a new purpose and a new lease on life.
The rest is history. Paul, a Jew, took the gospel message to the Gentiles. Paul, the “chief of sinners” spoke as a gracious firsthand recipient of God’s mercy. Paul, the well-schooled expert on the Law, became the most outspoken voice for the principle of grace.
And aren’t you glad he did? Most of us would not know Christ had Paul not traveled the world telling others about him. And most of us would not know Christ if some modern-day “Paul” not walked across the yard or the cubicle or the classroom to introduce him to us.
Susan’s look changed. So did Paul’s. The description of Paul ends by saying he was “. . . full of grace, for sometimes he looked like a man and sometimes he had the face of an angel.”
An “angel.” The word means “messenger.” God wants to use you to take his message to your world. Your street. Your workplace. Your school. You might not think he’d choose you either. But you might just need to think again, no matter your appearance.
VOLUME VI, Number 41
God’s Search and Rescue Plan Involves You
William Pilkenton was one month away from turning eight years old. His family had traveled from Bellingham, Washington, to Tofino, British Columbia for a vacation. He and his father were walking up from the beach when his father turned to look for him and realized he was gone.
When children go missing, fathers start looking. And so did this one. Before long, the entire community was helping him search for this missing child. Search and rescue crews scoured the area. Search coordinator Garth Cameron said, “I don’t think there’s a square foot in this town that doesn’t have footprints.”
When children go missing, parents go looking. And that’s what God has done. There’s not a square foot on earth that doesn’t have his footprints. He began searching for them the moment Adam and Eve made a choice and lost their way. He sent the nation of Israel looking. He sent his Son to “seek and save what was lost” (Luke 19:10).
Today he sends his church. In Acts 1:8 we find his search and rescue plan: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Jesus sent the disciples into the middle of Jerusalem and told them to wait. While they were waiting a crowd gathered for Pentecost. Some estimate Jerusalem swelled to over one million people during this time. The Holy Spirit came on them, Peter preached, and the church swelled from 120 to over three thousand.
It didn’t stop there. The devoted themselves to “the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). That first church in Jerusalem grounded its people in the Word, in deep community, to sharing meals and sharing Christ, and to prayer. They had to. The task at hand was too big for them to accomplish on their own. They needed each other. Mostly they needed God.
That hasn’t changed, has it? We still have the same commission to be witnesses for Jesus in our Jerusalems and in our world. We are still called to the Word, to love each other, to share life, and to prayer. And we are still searching for those who have lost their way.
We are still searching because the Father still has children who are missing. So go to your Jerusalem and wait. God will bring you power as you serve him there. Let’s not leave a square foot without our footprints.
VOLUME VI, Number 40
A Rich Man Brings a Suitcase to Heaven
There once was a rich man who was near death. He was very grieved because he had worked so hard for his money and he wanted to be able to take it with him to heaven. So he began to pray that he might be able to take some of his wealth with him. An angel hears his plea and appears to him. "Sorry, but you can't take your wealth with you." The man implores the angel to speak to God to see if He might bend the rules. The man continues to pray that his wealth could follow him. The angel reappears and informs the man that God has decided to allow him to take one suitcase with him. Overjoyed, the man gathers his largest suitcase and fills it with pure gold bars and places it beside his bed. Soon afterward the man dies and shows up at the Gates of Heaven to greet St. Peter. St. Peter, seeing the suitcase says, "Hold on, you can't bring that in here!" But, the man explains to St. Peter that he has permission and asks him to verify his story with the Lord. Sure enough, St. Peter checks and comes back saying, "You're right. You are allowed one suitcase, but I'm supposed to check its contents before letting it through." St. Peter opens the suitcase to inspect the worldly items that the man found too precious to leave behind and exclaims, "You brought pavement?!!!" It's difficult for us to comprehend just how worthless the things we value in this life will be in heaven. This story puts the real value of our so-called "wealth" in perspective. Stop clinging to mere pavement! Use this life to accumulate those things that you can take with you, things that will matter in heaven. "Jesus looked at him and loved him. 'One thing you lack,' he said. 'Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me'" (Mark 10:21).
VOLUME VI, Number 39
Finding the Door to an Eternity of Sundays
In the spring of 2010 archaeologists unearthed a 3,500-year-old door to the afterlife from the tomb of a high-ranking Egyptian official near Karnak temple in Luxor. This door was meant to take the official from death to the afterworld.
Jack found another door to the afterlife. He taught English literature at Oxford and spent many evenings walking the gardens of Magdalene College. And it was one evening while walking with his friend John that Jack discovered his way.
His door seems to have found a way into his writings as a wardrobe through which his characters could enter Narnia, a kind of medieval version of Paradise. Jack, or C.S. Lewis as we know him today, went on to become one of the great apologists for the Christian faith in the 20th century. He wrote of death in this way: “If we really think that home is elsewhere and that this life is a ‘wandering to find home,’ why should we not look forward to the arrival?”
How would you write about that time you take your last breath and the moment right after? Will you look forward to it? Or will it be a terrifying moment for you? And would you want to be able to face your death unafraid?
Jesus enables us to do that, you know. He moves us from a Friday and Saturday of death and disillusionment to a Sunday of victory. Your way into that victory is through a door. Jesus Christ.
Jesus said of himself, “I am the door; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture” (John 10:9). And all of the Easter stories tell this.
In another garden, another Magdalene—Mary—was looking for Jesus’ dead body to anoint, but it was missing from the tomb (John 20). Two angels speak to her but she is so upset she misses them. She keeps talking about her “Lord” and that he had been taken away. It took Jesus coming to her and calling her by name before she recognized what had happened.
You’ll have your Fridays and Saturdays. Days that are dark and days that are lost. In those days when you can’t find the door out, do as Mary did. Keep calling Jesus “Lord.” Keep calling and keep looking for him.
Because if you keep calling him Lord, he’ll call you by name. And when he does, you will turn and find the door to an eternity of Sundays.
VOLUME VI, Number 38
Eliminate the Shanks From Your Life Swing
Butch Harmon, who has instructed professional golfers from Fred Couples to Tiger Woods, tells the story of the club member who was having problems with the shanks. That is, a poorly played golf shot. He spent 20 minutes trying to get him to work his stance, his weight transfer, his wrists, his arms and shoulders, his chin. He tried everything but the man still shanked every shot.
He went into the pro shop and told his father the problem. Claude Harmon went out to the man, watched him swing one time, and told him to keep his clubface square. Five minutes later the guy was hitting the ball down the middle of the fairway.
Butch asked him how he knew what the problem was after one swing. Claude said, “I knew what he was doing before I stood up from behind my desk. . . . A shank is a shank. I knew the guy was hitting it with a shut clubface before I walked out here. The only question left was, what did I need to tell him to get him to stop?”
Jesus already knows what is causing the “shanks” in your life. He knows why your life “swing” is off. And he knows the solution before you even know to ask for help. He knows because he corrected your problem on the cross. It is there he uttered these words: “’It is finished!’ With that he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:30).
On the cross Jesus paid a debt that was owed by those (us) who were unable to pay it. He finished the work of satisfying both the holiness of God and the love of God. The fact that God is holy is foundational to Scripture. Holy means he is “above,” he is “higher than.” He is not just better. He is not just an improved version of us, but that he is “set apart.” Way apart.
“Holy” means something that is set apart from us. And this difference is manifested in the way he views sin. He sees it differently than we do. He can have nothing to do with sin. It has to be punished.
But God also loves. The fact that God is love is foundational to Scripture. So he put our sin on his Son and punished it there. In doing so, he took care of sin and he took care of you and me when we embrace him as savior.
And with the “shanks” eliminated, your swing should be full of new life.
VOLUME VI, Number 37
The Greatest Question of All Time
A BBC magazine answered the “101 greatest questions of all time.” What did they include? Well, questions like “What is OK short for?” Answer? “OK comes from ‘oll korrect’, a deliberately misspelled writing of ‘all correct.’ It was popularized in Boston newspapers around the 1840s when it was fashionable to go around spelling things incorrectly for humorous effect.”
The #1 “greatest question” was “Where is the safest place to stand outside in a thunderstorm?” And, in case you must know the answer, it is “A car or other enclosed metal structure is the safest place to be in a thunderstorm.”
Jesus asked a question that should have been first on the list. He and the disciples were in Caesarea Philippi. Call it the shopping mall of religion. It was located in a region known as Paneon, or the home of the Greek god Pan. Once it had been a center of Baal worship. A temple was located there dedicated to the godhead of Caesar. And other temples of Syrian gods dotted the landscape.
Plenty of gods to choose from in Caesarea Philippi. So Jesus asks his disciples this question: "Who do you say I am?" (Mark 8:29). Oh, at first he asked them what others were saying about him. The answers came back in rapid fire: “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
But Jesus was more concerned with their answer to his question, so he asked, “Who do you say I am?” They all looked at this homeless carpenter and thought about that question. We don’t know how long they thought before Peter replied, “You are the Christ.”
Who do you say he is? Have you given it much thought? Some say he was crazy, claiming to be God but just a man. Some say he was just another liar, that he knew exactly what he was saying but was deviously misleading those around him.
But there are those who have said, along with Peter, that Jesus is the Christ. He is “God in the flesh.” He is the King. He is the Savior. You may know where to stand in a thunderstorm. And you may think your life is OK. But this week, if you have not answered this question from Jesus, then go to your own Caesarea Philippi, and let him ask you, “Who do you say that I am?” Your answer will be the greatest one you will ever give.
VOLUME VI, Number 36
Your Identity is the Most Beautiful Thing There Is
Imagine living your life with a false identity. That’s what happened to Francisco Madariaga Quintela. Over 30 years ago his mother Sylvia was kidnapped by Argentine security forces. Her husband Abel last saw his pregnant wife being pushed into a Ford Falcon by army officers dressed as civilians as she walked to catch a train on January 17, 1977.
Sylvia was placed in one of the most notorious torture centers near Buenos Aires—Campo del Mayo. Surviving prisoners later revealed that the baby was taken away after birth and Sylvia disappeared in a short time. The baby was taken by a military intelligence officer and adopted as Alejandro Ramiro Gallo. The adoptive father was eventually put in prison for murder. When he was older, Alejandro’s adoptive mother told him the truth about himself.
In the meantime his real father Abel had joined a group called The Grandmothers of the Plaza del Mayo—a group formed to help return children who had disappeared during the late ‘70’s to their parents. One day Alejandro went to the group. After DNA testing a match was found and a meeting with his father—Abel—was arranged.
Alejandro, after learning his real name was Francisco Madariaga Quintela, said, “For the first time, I know who I was. Who I am. . . . Never again will I use this name. . . . To have your identity is the most beautiful thing there is.”
Maybe you need to know your identity today. A strong sense of identity can take you through the toughest tests. It did for Jesus. Just after his baptism where his lineage was stamped with these words, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased,” Jesus endured tests in the wilderness. Satan attacked his identity three times with the phrase, “If you are the Son of God . . .” Jesus knew who he was and he changed the world so that you can know who you are and have your world changed by your faith in him.
During a news conference where Abel Madariaga told his story, we are told “his chest heaved” as he presented his own son to the world. Like a proud papa, God has presented his one and only Son to the world. He wants you to believe in him so that he can, with “chest heaving full of joy,” present you as his child too. When Satan attacks you can stand firm. And when you need it most, you will feel his hug in a spectacular way and know that you are home.
“To have your identity is the most beautiful thing there is.”
VOLUME VI, Number 35
Breaking Free from the Kingdom of Me
Only 14.3 acres in total land mass, it is a small kingdom unto itself. Located in three separate areas in the United States—part in Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Northern California—you can leave the United States and enter the Republic of Molossia. It is considered to be a micro-nation . . . a “nation within” our nation.
Molossia has its own flag, its own signs, and its own boundary markers. It even has its own tourist attractions. Kevin Baugh is the president, or Sovereign, over his own little kingdom. His space program consists of model rockets. The basic unit of currency in Molossia is the valora. The valora is linked in value to Pillsbury Cookie Dough. Three valora has equal value to one tube of cookie dough.
There is a railroad—model sized. The national sport is broom ball. And although his nation is landlocked, he claims a navy that is merely an inflatable boat. You can visit anytime you like. But—although it sounds fun—don’t think you can move there. He says there is not enough room. Kevin affectionately calls his nation “The Kingdom of Me.”
Don’t laugh too quickly. We may not have gone to the same extremes as Kevin Baugh, but we mostly live our lives as if we are rulers of our own kingdoms. What a surprise it is when we discover that we are living in a kingdom but it is not ours.
That’s the message of Jesus. He came saying, “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15). Literally he says the kingdom is “at hand.” It is that close. All around us. Within reach.
His kingdom is not as a nation with armies and weapons but as a farmer who comes with seed and the seed falls on soil (Mark 4:3-9). Finding his kingdom is like finding a treasure in a field (Matt. 13:44). And his kingdom is worry-free (Matt. 6:25-34). Best of all, this kingdom has a king who is in control (Mark 4:35-39).
Jesus said “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. . .” (28:18). Kings say things like that. Unlike Molassia, if you want to enter and live in this kingdom, there is room for everyone. That’s not the problem. There is plenty of room in this kingdom for everyone.
But you need to know that there is only room enough on the throne of this kingdom for one King.
VOLUME VI, Number 34
When Jesus Comes Knocking
The knock came at the door of the inn. It was late. We can imagine the innkeeper had been burning both ends of the candle. The census crowd had packed Bethlehem and he had finally locked the doors for the night.
Until the knock. He shuffled his feet through the dark and made his way to the door. Opening it with the slightest of cracks he peered out to see a young couple. Looking more closely he saw a young woman who was about to give birth to a child.
Rooms were full. It was late. And they didn’t look very special. He had to decide whether he would find room for them or not.
And you will too. John’s rendition of the birth of Christ comes in a few short words: “The Word [logos] became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). Greek hearers understood the word “logos” as the representation of God. The essence of God was found in his Word.
Hebrew readers perked up to John’s message too. John writes: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” He bookends the first sentence of his book with the phrase “in the beginning.” They knew it as the words that began the first book of the Torah, or Genesis.
John writes about beginnings. John writes about God’s very representation dwelling among us. And he writes to tell us that we have the same decision to make as the innkeeper. Will we find a place for Jesus in our lives or will we send him away?
Some send him away because he looks too plain. Nothing special about him. Don’t make that mistake. He comes to common places like your home and common places like your heart.
Some send him away because life is crowded. Many demands and many deadlines. And you’re not sure if you have room for him. But he only comes to give you what he has already done. He desires to give you forgiveness.
And some send him away because they think it’s too late. They’ve already done too much that can’t be forgiven. They’ve already gone too far away.
But it’s never too late. Not with the one who comes and makes his dwelling among us. You need only to open the door.
VOLUME VI, Number 33
The Wisdom of Elders
The Morgan sea gypsies are a small tribe of 181 fishermen who spend much of the year on their boats fishing in the Andaman Sea from India to Indonesia and back to Thailand. In December, though, they live in shelters on the beaches of Thailand. In December 2004, in the hours before the killer Tsunami crashed ashore, the Morgan sea gypsies were living on those beaches. They were in harm's way and would have likely all perished—had they not listened to their elders.
For generations, the elders of the tribe had passed along one piece of wisdom. The tribe's 65-year-old village chief Sarmao Kathalay says, “The elders told us that if the water recedes fast it will reappear in the same quantity in which it disappeared.”
And that is exactly what happened. The sea drained quickly from the beach, leaving stranded fish flopping on the shore. How easy it would have been for those who live off of the sea to run down where the water had been minutes ago and fill every basket available with fish.
Some people did just that in other areas of South Thailand. Not the Morgan sea gypsies. When the water receded from the beach, the tribal chief ordered every one of the 181 tribal members to run to a temple in the mountains of South Surin Island. When the waters crashed ashore, the 181 sea gypsies were safe on high ground.
The book of Proverbs reminds us repeatedly to seek wisdom and to heed the advice of our elders. This story illustrates the very practical benefits of obeying that exhortation. Many of us don't have the life experience to know the signs of upcoming pitfalls, but that doesn't mean we have to learn the hard way. Listen to your elders and actively seek their counsel - only then will you be prepared to run for high ground when the waters in your life recede.
"Whoever heeds life-giving correction will be at home among the wise" (Proverbs 15:31).
VOLUME VI, Number 32
Rebuilding the Walls of Brokenness
Many of you may be familiar with the film critic duo Siskel and Ebert. Gene Siskel died in 1999. Then, in 2006, Robert Ebert lost his lower jaw and his voice to complications from cancer. He has since relied on Post-it notes, his writing, and various automated voices. The kind you find on your laptop. He types in the words and then pushes a button that translates his written words into spoken words that come out of his speakers.
One voice was called Alex. A generic American accent with no emotion. Very robotic. He had used a British accent named Lawrence. But no off-the-shelf automated voice matched his distinctive voice, a voice that millions knew from his show, At the Movies, for so many years. The voice he most wanted was his own.
Enter CereProc. A Scottish company that customizes text-to-speech software for voiceless customers. robot. The company custom-builds voices by mining an individual’s own archived voice recordings and piecing together, syllable by syllable, Ebert’s voice. When it finishes its work, Ebert will sound like Ebert. At least more so than Alex or Lawrence do.
Sometimes we don’t miss a voice until it goes silent. At the end of the Old Testament there is a period of 400 years often referred to as “the silent years.” Years without any prophets or leaders whose words or lives were recorded in Scripture. Years where there was no voice from God.
But before the silence Ezra read the word of God to the people. His desire was that they rebuild the wall around Jerusalem for protection. And God’s greater desire was to rebuild the hearts of his people. The men, women and children gathered together. They heard the word. They understood the word. And then they did the word.
You can hear God’s voice in the same way these people did. Through his word. It’s not Alex’s voice. It’s not Lawrence’s voice. It’s his voice. When you hear it there will be a response. The Israelites wept. Others have repented. Still others have heard good news and rejoiced. And you? If you hear it today, it can rebuild your life.
Ebert’s real voice may never be heard “live” again. But God’s is still speaking today. You only need to gather the men, women, and children, open his book, and listen.
VOLUME VI, Number 31
When Life Feels Like It’s On a Roll
Sometimes you may feel like life is a big gamble. Like the outcome of your life is resting on how the dice roll for you. If they roll right, you get “lucky.” If they roll badly, your life goes down the tubes.
There are times when the stars seem to align just right and you find yourself basking in a bundle of blessings. Then there are times when everything seems out of sync and you find yourself drudging through a junkyard of disaster. Some would call this a coincidence. Others would call it pure luck. But another group would say that someone is working behind the scenes working out your destiny. And they’d be right! But is more than just someone. Esther would understand. She is minding her own business as her people are captive in Persia. Meanwhile Haman—who has been given great authority by the King of Persia—is developing a hatred for Jews. In particular, he hates Mordecai. It seems Mordecai will not bow down to Haman whenever he parades through the streets of Susa. Haman decides to teach Mordecai a lesson. He gets King Xerxes to sign a decree that on a certain day all the Jews can be killed. And anyone killing a Hebrew would be allowed to keep the personal possessions of the deceased Hebrew. To determine the exact day when the Hebrews will be exterminated, Haman rolls the dice. Adar the 13th becomes the target date. In the meantime, the king is having some issues with the queen. She refuses the king’s summons so she is released of her queenly duties. Then, because he needs a new queen, he holds the first “Bachelor” contest to find a new wife. The short story is that Esther gets the rose and becomes his queen. Yet Xerxes did not know Esther was a Hebrew. Nor that Esther was kin to Mordecai. The king adds another edict that will allow the Hebrews to defend themselves, which turned out good for the Hebrews and bad for any Persian that attacked a Hebrew on Adar the 13th. And Haman? Well, in a strange twist of events he wound up impaled on a pole he himself had erected for Mordecai. Not sure he got “the point” of the story, but I hope you do. Oddly enough throughout the book of Esther you will never find the name of God mentioned. Not once. There are days you may think he is not around either. But the story of Esther reminds us that he is, sometimes behind the scenes, working things out for “good for those who love him” (Romans 8:28). And when you don’t feel he is around, that’s more your problem than his. He has put you right where you are, right now, so you can make a difference. You can say the words someone needs to hear. You can be the example someone needs to see. You can help someone find freedom from sin. So, let others roll the dice and you let God take care of the rest.
VOLUME VI, Number 30
There are Some Things Worth Finishing
Do you finish everything you start? I imagine not. And to be honest, some things aren’t worth finishing.
But don’t think, even for a second, that you can put God in your collection of unfinished projects. For starters, he isn’t a “project.” Besides, he’s not going to sit on a shelf contentedly waiting for you to give him your attention once the kids are grown or the retirement is funded or other tasks are completed.
The Israelites learned that lesson the hard way. They returned from Babylonian captivity to rebuild the temple. They started strong but in time turned their attention to other endeavors. What was important to God became unimportant to them.
Sixteen years passed without any work being done on the temple. So God allowed drought and downturns and difficulties to come upon them. And he said, “Give careful thought to your ways” (Haggai 1:5, 7).
God is either the main thing in your life or he is nothing. At the end of the day, each of us are responsible for our own schedule. There is really no such thing as partial obedience. God begins as the priority and then we schedule time with him. We schedule the things that are important to him. Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God . . .” (Matthew 6:33).
The Jews eventually got back to God’s priorities and took part in one of the greatest works of heaven. You can too. There are some things worth finishing.
VOLUME VI, Number 29
There Will Be a Day When You Feel Like You “Fit”
Sometime after Adam and Eve committed their world-changing act of disobedience in Garden of Eden, I can imagine Adam walking with his young sons Cain and Abel. They happen to pass by the ruins of the Garden of Eden. One of the boys asked their father, “What’s that?”
Adam replied, “Boys, that’s where your mother ate us out of house and home.”
A lot happens in Scripture following the time Adam and Eve took that bite of fruit that gave mankind perpetual indigestion. As a result, they attempted the first cover up. But since their leaf loincloths were not very practical, God sacrificed an animal to clothe them. The pair was banished from the Garden and began life anew as exiles away from their homeland.
It wasn’t the only time God’s people lived as exiles. They spent a few summers in Egypt. Then more wandering in the wilderness of Sinai. Later, the Babylonians captured the nation of Judah and deported its people to captivity.
The first group deported included the young, elite men who would be trained as leaders. In that group were Daniel and his friends Hananiah, Shadrach, and Azariah. They were given the Babylonian names of Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego. (If you decide to give your child a Babylonian name, you might try “Intobedwego.”)
While in exile these young men lived powerful, purposeful, prayer-filled lives. They remained on a diet that helped them find more energy than other workers. They prayed to their God when they were told not to. They were bold to do what was right regardless of the obstacles placed in their path. And they made a difference.
It may be difficult to put yourself in their shoes, but according to 1 Peter 2:11-12 those who follow God today are exiles too. Peter writes: “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the Gentiles that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”
You may have days when you just don’t seem to “fit” in this world and that’s a good thing. It’s simply because as a child of God you don’t. You were made to live with him. Until we are home in heaven, you and I are exiles. Until then, we have things to do. We can add some good to this life so that others can get a glimpse of God. We can make a difference.
According to Peter there will be a day God will “visit” us. That’s when the exile will end. And that’s when you and I will “fit.”
VOLUME VI, Number 28
Be Available for God’s Assignment for You
Sally Edwards is a highly esteemed third grade teacher at Jacksboro Elementary in Texas. She was preparing her students for the TAKS test and compiled an exam to prepare them for it. There were twenty questions. Number eleven on the test was this question: “List in any order the four seasons.”
A whopping 67% of her 3rd grade students answered: “Dove season, deer season, duck season, and turkey season.”
I don’t know what season of life you are in, but I do know this. God has something for you to do. He did for Jeremiah. He told Jeremiah he had a work for him to do. His assignment? Stand in the rubble of Jerusalem and weep. He was also told the people would not listen to him.
That was it. And oddly enough, Jeremiah did it. As the people of Judah were leaving Jerusalem in single file as captives, Jeremiah stood weeping and reminding them that God would bring them back with these words: “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21-23).
God had something for Jeremiah to do. And he has something for you to do too. In the New Testament book of Ephesians the apostle Paul writes to the church, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God created in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10).
In God’s employment contract for us today, he does not ask us to be successful by the world’s standards but rather to be faithful to him to do good things. God is not so much concerned about your ability as he is your availability.
Just like Jeremiah, God is calling you to play a role in his Grand Story. It may be that this is your time to change the direction of your family. Turning from a focus on you alone to a concerning yourself with the things of God. It may be that God is calling you to reach out to a neighbor. Perhaps he is laying on your heart a ministry where there is a need you can’t even see at the moment.
Whatever season of life you are in God is calling you to make a difference. And he is desiring to equip you to make that difference. Right now. Today. Are you available for his purposes?
VOLUME VI, Number 27
Adopt a Revolutionary Motto for Your Life
In the early formation of our nation George Washington had the opportunity to become king of the burgeoning nation. But given the young nation’s experience with England and because he had a robust prayer life he knew there was only one King, so he declined the offer.
The people of the land apparently knew the same. “In a 1774 report to King George, the Governor of Boston noted: ”If you ask an American, who is his master? He will tell you he has none, nor any governor but Jesus Christ.” The pre-war Colonial Committees of Correspondence soon made this the American motto: "No King but King Jesus."
The story of God’s chosen people might have gone very differently had they chanted the same motto. Instead, they wanted a king. Over the period of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah there were thirty-eight kings. Only five of them were good. Of the others a refrain heard throughout the Old Testament goes like this: “They did evil in the eyes of the Lord.”
Prophets appeared exhorting the people to turn back to God. God spoke through one prophet—Isaiah—to tell the people of Judah that they would be captured and deported to Babylon but afterward he would bring them back home. The purpose? “Then you will know that I am the Lord; those who hope in me will not be disappointed. Then the whole human race will know that I, the Lord, am your Savior, your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob” (Isaiah 49:23).
In Isaiah 53 the prophet depicts the coming Messiah. “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by others, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain” (Isaiah 53: 2, 3). God did not want the people to miss him. But they did. And still do.
Our nation would have gone a much different route had Washington agreed to be king. But he seemed to know what many others didn’t. When we displace God on the throne of our lives, the outcome will go horribly wrong. But when we put God on the throne in our lives, we put ourselves in the best possible position for godly success.
Maybe our American ancestors knew the best way to start a revolution. Adopt the motto “No King but King Jesus” in your life. See what changes that ignites in your life.
VOLUME VI, Number 26
Can You Hear Him Now?
Verizon Wireless created one of the most memorable marketing campaigns ever in 2005. In their commercials a so-called “test man,” accompanied by a crowd of network engineers, travels the country asking the simple question, “Can you hear me now?” in an ongoing exercise to determine the reliability of the mobile phone carrier’s network.
The “catch phrase” caught on. The company’s market share went up and employee turnover went down. It seemed people could relate to the struggle to connect. Folks were tired of dropped calls and unreliable communication systems. And Verizon sent a message that they wanted desperately to connect with its subscribers and wanted its subscribers to be able to connect with each other.
At the risk of selling Him short, God has done the same. Even when the Kingdom had split in two, He kept sending His message. He gave the people of the Divided Kingdom some 208 years to decide whether they would “accept” or “reject” His call. He sent His own “technicians” to get the message out. We call them “prophets.”
The job of the Verizon technician is unique. But not nearly as unique as the task given Hosea. Hosea, himself a prophet, appeared in a down time in the nation of Israel. The reality is that people often hear best when things are at their worst. So Hosea signed on with God. But God gave him a most unusual assignment. Hosea’s life would be his message. He was to marry a prostitute named Gomer and love her. What an incredible request! (Just imagine a young man with a seminary degree in hand trying to explain that one to a pastor search committee.)
The tough assignment was made even more difficult as Gomer left Hosea. She would conduct her ‘transactions’ with customers and all the time in her mind believing they were the ones supporting her. In reality, though, it was Hosea who continued to care for her and provide for her necessities even during her times of unfaithfulness.
God tells Hosea to go and demonstrate his love for her, so he does. Now picture this scene, as ugly as it is: Hosea pays some Hebrew “pimp” for some time with his wife, Gomer. When she enters the room expecting her next customer, she comes face-to-face with her husband. It is then that Hosea tells her again he loves her and wants her to come back home.
It’s the lived-out message that Hosea later gives in words. And it’s the same message God sends today. He loves us—even in our extreme unfaithfulness. And he wants us to come back home, even though we have abandoned him. But much like a call on your cell phone, you can hit the “accept” button or the “reject” button. You have the power to send God to voicemail and make him wait. Or you can answer his call today. The people of Israel had 208 years to pick up and they never did. The network is clear. The message is reliable. Can you hear him now?
VOLUME VI, Number 25
There was a time in our culture when accepting the responsibilities of fatherhood was a given. Not so anymore. Initiatives are rising up all over to draw attention to and rouse commitment from fathers to embrace their role at the heart of the family. Most notably is the President’s National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse which asks you to sign a fatherhood pledge to become a part of a national movement to advance the prominence of the role of father.
Another is the NCF (National Center for Fathering: Engaging fathers. Enriching lives.) which promotes its own initiative, Championship Fathering:
Championship Fathering is an effort to change the culture for today’s children and the children of coming generations. We’re seeking to reach, teach and unleash 6½ million dads, creating a national movement that can reverse the negative trends in our society. This movement is characterized by men who will fulfill a commitment to live out five fundamentals: Research at NCF identified three keys for dads to carry out with their own children: Loving, Coaching, and Modeling. Then, in order to truly make a difference in our culture, fathers also need to Encourage Other Kids and Enlist Other Dads to join the team.
I will enlist other dads as members of the Championship Fathering Team.
All the above pledge points—in fact all the pledges rolled into one—could probably be summarized in the following simple commitment:
“But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15).
When this pledge is kept, all others are as well!
VOLUME VI, Number 24
Pay Attention to the Ripple Effect
The decisions you make and the actions you take affect those around you.
Rehoboam learned that lesson the hard way. Rehoboam followed his father Solomon to the throne of Israel. Solomon had exacted harsh labor on the people. A delegation, led by Jeroboam, went to the new king and asked him to take away the harshness.
In private, Rehoboam asked his elder council what he should do. They advised that he become a servant to the people, lighten their load, and the people would always be faithful servants to the king.
His circle of younger friends gave him just the opposite advice. They told him to work the people harder. He liked that idea, told the delegation his plans, and wound up with a divided kingdom.
At one time or another all of us are impacted by someone else’s decisions or actions. When we suffer the negative consequences of another’s wrongheaded decision, God can redeem the situation. Although Rehoboam wound up ruling only two tribes—Judah and Benjamin (as opposed to Jeroboam’s rule over ten tribes)—it was through Judah that Jesus came to us. God can work, and often does what seems to us as his best work, in situations that seem the most difficult.
We should always consider how our decisions and actions affect those around us. In “systems thinking” it is said that “you are the highest leverage point in any system you are in.” More simply stated, you can make a difference. You are more “powerful” than you think you are––no matter your station in life.
Clint Eastwood’s film Invictus tells the story of Nelson Mandela’s use of the South African rugby team to help heal a nation divided by apartheid. In one scene of the movie he explains to a team member, “Reconciliation starts here. Forgiveness starts here.” He knew his actions would have a ripple effect on those around him. Eventually the blessing of that “ripple” washed across the nation.
Rehoboam made a bad decision, but it was really his father Solomon’s actions that divided the kingdom. He forsook the one true God and chased after other “gods,” he neglected to serve the people and instead forced them to work harder, and he was focused on himself, as reflected in his accumulation of wives, gold, and horses in direct disobedience to God’s counsel. His son Rehoboam was merely living out consequence of those decisions and actions.
Learn from Solomon’s mistake. Love God first. Love others second. And serve those that do not yet know God. You will be surprised to see how far your ripple will travel.
VOLUME VI, Number 23
Don’t Forget to Wish For the Best
One man told about his version of Black Friday shopping. He slept in, had breakfast, took a shower, and then met up with his wife and son who had left the house before 6:30 a.m. He was rested, fresh, and full of energy. After facing the frantic shoppers all morning they . . . well, they didn’t look so good.
At one point of the mall madness he was leaving Sears and saw it. Right there in front of him. A Sears Wish Book. He hadn’t seen one in years and it brought back some memories.
The first Sears Wish Book was printed in 1933. Over time it has diminished in size and was even discontinued at one point. It was revived in 2007, but the one he saw was nothing in size compared to the books he remembers from his youth. Children today don’t really need one. They have the Internet and their high-tech toys to cruise the information highway to identify their holiday “wants.” But “back in the day” the Sears Wish Book helped us answer the seasonal question: “If you could have anything for Christmas, what would you ask for?”
Every year he and his brother would look through the catalogue and either dog-ear a page or circle their choices in pen. They didn’t want Santa to miss our requests.
You may not need the Sears Wish Book today, but you have some wishes too, don’t you? Next Christmas how would you answer the question, “If you could have one thing in the world, what would it be?”
Solomon had to answer that one. He asked for wisdom. And God gave it to him. But by the end of his life he had accumulated more and more: more gold, more horses, more wives. He had it all and wanted more. In the midst of all these gifts he lost sight of the Giver. He turned away from God and lost it all.
Another King gave us another path to follow. He had it all and gave it all . . . for us. In the Christmas season, or any season for that matter, you can guard yourself from the tyranny of too much stuff by giving. Simply give so that others can simply live. That’s what the King born as a baby in the manger did.
And my wish? That you visit the manger and find him.
VOLUME VI, Number 22
What to Do With Your “Third Week of March”
When Pope John Paul died, a man named Rogers Cadenhead quickly registered the web address www.BenedictXVI.com, thinking this might be the name chosen by the new pope. When Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope, he did choose the name Pope Benedict XVI, causing some to question what the Vatican would do to get the rights to that domain name.
Cadenhead didn’t ask the Vatican for money. Instead, in a humorous manner on his blog he suggested a few things he would trade for:
Three days, two nights at the Vatican hotel.
One of those hats (referring to the bishop’s hat).
Complete absolution, no questions asked, for the third week of March 1987.
Wonder what Rogers did the third week of March in 1987? Me too, but does it really matter?. Most of us have at least a week for which we’d love to have total forgiveness.
We discover in The Story that David did. One day when the army is at war, David, who is the commander of the nation’s military, neglects his duties and stays behind. He sees Bathsheba, seduces her, gets her pregnant, murders her husband, and tries to cover up his actions by deceiving his general and soldiers. Then he marries Bathsheba and she bears their child.
It looks as if David will get away with all of this. But he doesn’t. God sends his prophet Nathan to confront David by telling him a story about a poor man with one lamb. David knows something about sheep and shepherds, so he listens. Nathan says that the poor man has a rich neighbor who needs to slaughter a lamb to feed a guest, but instead of taking one of his many sheep he steals the poor’s man’s one lamb.
David is incensed and says that man should be put to death. Nathan then declares, “You are the man!” At that moment David must have wished he had bought a domain name that he could swap for absolution. He may have wanted to make excuses. Explain things away. Blame it on Bathsheba for taking a bath in broad daylight where he could see. But instead of making excuses, David confesses. “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Sam. 12:13).
And God did with David’s sin what he will do with yours and mine. He put it away (Psalm 103:12-13).
You can do what David did. Whatever your “third week of March” might be, sit down with it, yourself and God. Confess your sin. And then let another shepherd from Bethlehem forgive it. That’s better than any domain name you might secure.
VOLUME VI, Number 21
Facing Your Giants When You Feel Small
Imagine the scene: a scrawny sixteen year old shepherd boy takes out a 9’9” tall giant with one rock and a sling.
You may not have a gigantic giant taunting you to come out and fight. But you are probably facing a few giants of your own. Giants like the stack of past-due bills glaring at you. Like the divorce papers waiting on your signature. Or the depression that looms over you like the Hulk. It could be low self-esteem or insecurity or child abuse in your past. But you have your giants. And so do I. And we would do well to learn from David.
He could face his “giant” because he had spent time in the quiet with God. When he arrived at the place of the standoff between the Israelites and the Philistines, he talked about God. He told Saul that “The LORD who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine” (1Sam.17:37). He did not hesitate to confront Goliath, saying he came “in the name of the Lord of host, the God of the armies of Israel.”
David was God-focused instead of giant-focused. He mentions Goliath two times and God nine times. He knew the giant was there and recognized his presence. But his thoughts were twice as much on God.
That focus led him to confront his giant rather than run away. For forty days Goliath continued to challenge Israel’s army. And for forty days everyone hoped he would just go away. But giants don’t typically go away until we face them. So David stepped into the gap and slung one well-aimed stone at him.
It helps to have someone in your corner that believes in you. David had his Jonathan. You need yours. You need at least one person who believes in you and that also believes in God. Someone who can encourage your faith—give you courage—when you most need it.
And you will need it. Because after you slay one giant, there will be more. You may wonder why David picked up five stones from the river bed. Was he afraid he might miss? Not likely. He was skilled in his use of the sling.
2 Samuel 21:18-22 hints that Goliath may have had four brothers. David was ready. He could take on one giant. You might say knew how to get a head of his giant. And then he was ready for more.
And you can too. Just follow the shepherd from Bethlehem.
VOLUME VI, Number 20
NBA’s Kevin Durant Says Mom is the Real MVP
Kevin Durant's accomplishments in the 2014 season left the NBA league unabashedly bestowing upon him the honor of MVP. Kevin, however, unabashedly proclaims that there is another person who better deserves the honor--his mother!
"I don't think you know what you did. You had my brother when you were 18 years old. Three years later I came out. The odds were stacked against you. Single parent with two boys by the time you were 21 years old.
"Everybody told us we weren't supposed to be here. We moved from apartment to apartment by ourselves. One of the best memories I have is when we moved into our first apartment. No bed, no furniture, and we just all sat in the living room and hugged each other because we thought we made it.
"When something good happens to you, I don't know about you guys, but I tend to look back to what brought me here. You woke me up in the middle of the night in the summer times. Making me run up a hill. Making me do push-ups. Screaming at me from the sidelines at my games at eight or nine years old.
"We weren't supposed to be here. You made us believe. You kept us off the street, put clothes on our backs, food on the table. When you didn't eat, you made sure we ate. You went to sleep hungry. You sacrificed for us. You're the real MVP."
Isn't it true that any real success you experience in your life is due to the sacrifice of someone else? For most of us that someone else was mom. Never underestimate the immense influence of a mother's sacrificial love and care. Kevin Durant certainly doesn't.
"She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed …" (Proverbs 31:27-28).
VOLUME VI, Number 19 Giving an Undistorted View of God Ever since Peter Stuyvesant visited the Palace of Versailles the world has had a distorted view of itself. Peter was the governor of New Amsterdam—later to be renamed New York City—beginning in 1647. He was visiting France to discuss colonial land agreements. While at Versailles he was awed by the Hall of Mirrors. Peter was determined to bring a similarly amazing showcase to his city. In 1651 he founded the Peter Stuyvesant's House of Mirrors. He charged one Dutch gulden for admission. This house of mirrors eventually morphed into what we know as a Fun House of Mirrors seen at many carnivals. For a few tickets the fun begins by walking into a maze of mirrors, both convex and concave. We amuse ourselves by looking at distorted images of our figure. Today you don’t even have to go to the carnival for this experience. A laptop with a webcam and a silly photo feature will allow you to take a picture of yourself that you can manipulate to look odd. It’s all fun. But sometimes distorted pictures can cause trouble. It did in Israel during the time of the prophet Samuel. One of the major distortions was found at the Tabernacle, that portable place of praise for God’s people. It was parked at Shiloh and was meant to be a clear picture of God’s holiness and grace. A system of sacrifices had been established that foreshadowed the coming sacrifice of the Messiah. Yet anything but holiness was found there. Eli the priest had two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, who dishonored God in their treatment of the sacrifices and also engaged in immoral sexual activity with women at the Tabernacle (1 Samuel 2:16, 22). Because the picture of God they were giving was distorted, these two were killed in battle against the Philistines. When news of their death reached Eli, he fell over in his chair, broke his neck, and also died. One preacher told about reading a bedtime Bible story to his three-year-old son. His son asked, “Daddy, what does God look like?” Having no idea how to answer he resorted to a good teaching technique. He threw the question back at him. “You tell me.” He thought for a moment and then said, “He looks like you Daddy.” Talk about a sobering moment! Just like Eli and his sons we are representatives of God. We represent Jesus to others. You may have heard it said that you may be the only Bible those around you will ever ‘read.’ The question is, “Are you giving a clear or distorted picture of the One True God?”
VOLUME VI, Number 18
You Don’t Have to Wait to Be Accepted
Randy Frazee told about his two sons and two rounds of college applications. Most recently their younger son Taylor scoured the literature from several universities, finally narrowing his choices. You know the routine. Visit campuses. Choose a few schools to focus on. Make applications. Fill out forms. Write essays.
For anyone who hasn’t “been there, done that,” the filing of the application and financial aid forms is nothing compared to the waiting. It’s like the first time you look at your girlfriend or boyfriend and say, “I love you.” You’ve made the first move. And then you wait. You wait to see if they respond in turn.
Finally the waiting was over. In their mailbox was a letter informing him that he could enroll as a freshman. Better yet, he received a T-shirt with the word “ACCEPTED!”
They were relieved. I mean, he was relieved. We all have a desire to be accepted, don’t we? In fact, that desire made it into Maslow’s well-known hierarchy of needs. He theorized that acceptance is basic to our nature and to our psychological health.
Ruth had the same need as we do. She was a Moabite living in Bethlehem who we meet in The Story. She ended up there with her mother-in-law Naomi when her husband died. And she found herself picking up the leftovers after the harvest in a field owned by Boaz.
Boaz discovered she was an outsider—a Moabite—the same people who would oppress his nation for eighteen years. You’d expect fireworks when they met. Instead, Boaz tells Ruth, “May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”
His acceptance of Ruth goes a step further. Ruth finds him asleep on the threshing floor and lies down at his feet. When he awakens, Ruth asks him to “spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a family guardian.” The word for “garment” is the same Hebrew word for “wings” in the blessing Boaz had pronounced over Ruth. God’s acceptance came to Ruth through Boaz.
Your acceptance did too. You see, Boaz and Ruth had a son named Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of David. In Matthew’s genealogy the lineage of Jesus is traced through David. Boaz is there too along with his mother Rahab (Matt. 1:5). Yes, that Rahab. The prostitute that lived in Canaan and sheltered the two spies Joshua sent into the land.
VOLUME VI, Number 17
When Your Mistakes Land You Before a Judge
One man told about his ninth grade year at Robert E. Lee Jr. High in San Angelo, Texas. His student council job was to broadcast the morning announcements. It was the first step in his dream of becoming an on-air personality. He and his team added a little spice to the traditionally droll morning litany of announcements.
For awhile things went fine. Then one day Amy Cassles had an idea. Instead of just reading off the list of birthdays, Amy wanted to sing the birthday song. It was his show and he gave her the go-ahead. They imagined their imaginary ratings soaring. But then, halfway through the song, Amy busted out laughing uncontrollably.
At the end of their program there was dead silence. Until their principal, Mr. Snodgrass, asked to see them. A look of terror struck the eyes of his team. He know because their eyes were staring right at him. In a moment of extreme bravery on his part, he led the way into Mr. Snodgrass’ office. Mr. Snodgrass was a retired military commander and they felt like they were going before the judge in a court martial.
Judges elicit a sense of fear, don’t they? They never call you in for something you have done right. We think of them as someone who harshly tells us what we did wrong. And they seem to be everywhere these days on television. There’s Judge Judy and Hatchett. Mathis and Christina. And my favorite—Judge Brown.
Then there are some judges you may not know. They even have a book in the Bible with their name on it. Judges. These judges appeared on the scene to help sort out right and wrong. They also helped people get out of trouble.
God’s people kept putting themselves into a never-ending cycle of disobedience, discipline, declaration of wrong, and deliverance. Judges like Deborah and Gideon and Samson helped them find their way back to God.
What did the people do that was so bad they needed judges? Two things. First, they failed to put God first in their lives (Judges 1:28). And secondly, they did not teach their children to know God (Judges 2:10). These two “sins” led to their downfall and ruin.
Are you making the same mistakes they made? If so, you have a judge that can help you––Jesus. The good news is that when he “calls” you into his office after you’ve messed up, you will look up to see your judge’s face and see your savior there.
VOLUME VI, Number 16
The Woman With Immortal Cells
From Science Alert we read:
Henrietta Lacks' immortal cells are one of the most important and prolific tools in medicine, used in developing the polio vaccine, cloning and gene mapping.
Henrietta Lacks was a 31-year-old mother of five when she died of cervical cancer on 4 October 1951. While the poor tobacco farmer was being treated at the John Hopkins Hospital, two samples of her cervix were removed - a healthy part and a cancerous part - without her permission or knowledge.
These cells were passed onto Dr. George Otto Gey, who discovered they could do something never seen before in humans cells - be kept alive and keep growing indefinitely. Before this, cultured cells had only survived a few days in the lab.
Gey was able to isolate one specific cell and start the first ever immortal cell line, which he named HeLa after Henrietta.
Since then these cells have been exposed to toxins, viruses and radiation, sent into space and replicated countless times. They've been involved in thousands of medical breakthroughs and helped to develop the polio vaccine, cloning and gene mapping.
Scientists have grown around 20 tons of HeLa cells, and there are almost 11,000 patents involving HeLa cells. One researcher has estimated that if you laid all the HeLa cells in existence end-to-end, they'd wrap around the planet at least three times.
The cures and advancements in medicine that have resulted from Henrietta Lacks immortal cells are nothing short of incredible. But while Henrietta’s cells may not die, even those who have been helped by them will.
You probably don’t have immortal cells to offer the world, but you have been given an immortal message, one which promises to cure the root cause of all the world’s maladies—including death itself!
“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28).
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death' or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Matthew 21:4).
VOLUME VI, Number 15
Releasing the Rabbit
In the movie Phenomenon, John Travolta plays an ordinary man (George Malley) who is reborn on his 37th birthday when he begins to suffer from the effects of a rare brain tumor, which actually increases his brain activity. As his capacity to understand things that were once beyond his grasp grows, he sets out to tackle an old problem: stopping the critter that’s been eating the vegetables in his garden. His previous attempts -- building a taller fence, burying the fence deeper into the ground -- both failed. But as George Malley ponders the situation with an expanded genius, he decides to take a radically different approach to the problem. Instead of making the fence more difficult to breach, he leaves the gate wide open. Sure enough, a rabbit creeps out of the open gate and then hops away. While he had been trying to keep the rabbit out, the troublesome critter had been hiding in the garden the entire time! This story illustrates the human tendency to think that what ails us comes from without. We blame our behavior and our problems on life's circumstances. Looking outward, we fail to address the culprit that hides within. But the truth is, regardless of what lies outside the fence, each of us has a sin nature. We need only look inside to our own sinful tendencies to find the real culprit. "Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. So don't be misled, my dear brothers and sisters" (James 1:14-16, NLT).
VOLUME VI, Number 14
In the 1999 American psychological thriller film, "The Sixth Sense," a troubled boy believes he sees and even speaks to dead people. These are troubled souls who are looking for resolution and closure before they can move on. An equally troubled child psychologist, played by Bruce Willis, tries to help the boy, even as he struggles to save his own dying marriage. The film takes several twists and turns, but the biggest twist of all takes place at the end. I don't want to ruin the movie for those who haven't seen it, so I'll leave the big revelation at the end a mystery. But I will say this--the realization that the child psychologist comes to as the movie concludes is shocking. Right at the end, the viewer is confronted with the realization that none of the events he has witnessed were what they appeared to be. By the addition of one vital piece of information at the end, the significance of every scene in the movie is altered. Most people live their lives with one vital piece of information missing. That missing clue is the fact that Jesus Christ is the Lord of glory. When we understand the implications of this truth, it changes how we interpret and understand everything else. Suddenly, we are enabled to look back and find meaning and purpose that we failed to see before. All of the events of our life take on a new context. We finally see things for what they really are. "For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known" (1 Corinthians 13:12).
VOLUME VI, Number 13
Don’t Dread the Unknown
In August of 2010, the Associated Press reported the story of 75 yr. old Ron Sveden of Brewester, Mass., who was suffering from failing health, difficulty breathing, and aggravated coughing spells. Tests showed "an ominous dark spot" on his lung, which he concluded was probably cancer. Though Sveden himself feared the worst, his doctors told him that tests were inconclusive, and only exploratory surgery would prove definitive. Upon removal of the mass, lab work concluded it was nothing more than an aspirated pea which had sprouted in the dark, moist environment of his lung. Needless to say, Sveden was greatly relieved to know the certain doom he'd projected would not come to pass. Don't dread the unknown...wait on God...sometimes what looks like an "ominous dark spot" is really just a pea sprout. Unfounded speculations of what God has in store for us can prove to be the damp, dark environment in which fears and anxieties are left to grow unchecked. "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6-7).
VOLUME VI, Number 12
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).
VOLUME VI, Number 11
Face Your Battles with Strength and Courage
When someone keeps telling you to “be strong and courageous,” you might suspect you are up against something big. And the Israelites were.
About to enter the land that had been promised them 600 years before, they had a giant-sized task awaiting them. Literally. Forty years earlier ten spies had come back and told the Israelites that the inhabitants of the land were so big they felt like they were the size of a grasshopper in comparison. Fear took them captive without a battle and sent them off as a group to wander around in a wilderness where they took their chances against wild animals rather than face their giants.
They wandered so long that those who had grasshopper-sized faith died out. Forty years later their children were ready to take the land. They were physically no taller than their parents had been. The enemies in the land were no smaller than before. But the Israelites’ faith muscles had grown.
There were two spies who had reported the land was theirs for the taking. One of them, Joshua, is now the Israelites’ leader. He was courageous. And God wanted to keep him that way. So God tells him three times in the first nine verses of the first chapter of Joshua: “Be strong and courageous.” He also reminds him “the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
My guess is you have a few giants in your life too. Some uphill battles that appear insurmountable. A task demanding more than you think you have to give. One too many things on your “to do” list than you have the time or energy to do. Unemployment is staring you down. Depression has a grip on you. Bills have raided your bank account and left it empty. An illness hovers in your life like a threatening storm. You’d rather just run and wander.
Instead, be strong and courageous. You have a Joshua that will lead the way. The New Testament equivalent of the name “Joshua” is “Jesus.” And he has promised to be with you always (Matthew 28:20).
Jesus knows how to lead you through battles. He had a few of his own while he was on this earth. Enemies attacking him with accusations (Mark 3:22). No home and no bed (Luke 9:58). Crowds and expectations pressing in on him (Luke 8:45). The religious establishment eventually insuring he was sentenced to a brutal death. (Mark 15:14).
Yet he took on the most barbaric giant there is, death, and lived to tell about it. He can help you do the same. You need only be strong and courageous in your faith.
VOLUME VI, Number 10
Decisions You Make Affect Those Traveling With You
Every parent has been there. The trip ahead is long. The travel schedule is tight. You hit the road with a full tank, confident the plan you have crafted beats anything AAA could muster. But twenty minutes down the highway you hear a small, squeaky voice from the backseat. The artillery begins to bombard you. The questions.
Some you expected. Are we there yet? How much longer? Can we get something to eat?
The next barrage is unexpected. Who was the first person to decide to squeeze those things on a cow and drink whatever came out? Why does our dog get mad at us when we blow in his face but when we take him on a car ride he sticks his head out the window?
Every parent has been there. Questions from the backseat. You come to expect them. Every journey to a destination includes them. The same is true for the journey of faith.
Just like kids on a trip we get tired of the journey. We want to know when we can stop. We get tired of serving. We get tired of waiting. We get tired of the people we’re traveling with.
And we grumble. The Israelites did. They complained about the food, about the place they were traveling, and about their ‘driver’ Moses.
Grumbling does not set well with God.In fact, our grumbling can lead to our wandering.When offered the chance to leave Kadesh and enter the Promised Land, the Israelites listened to the fear-filled report from ten spies instead of the faith-full report of Joshua and Caleb.
Kadesh means “Spring of Decision” and it was time for one.They were in the right place to make the right decision.But the majority made the wrong one.The people wished they had died in the desert.So God told them they would get their wish.They would wander until the unbelieving generation died out.
And they did. They wandered in the Wilderness for forty years. And their children were impacted by their decisions.
The decisions you make affect those around you, just like the decisions the Israelites made at Kadesh. You can decide to grumble or be thankful. You can decide to turn away from God or turn toward God. You can decide to wander without purpose through life or follow God’s vision for your life.
Just don’t forget that those in the backseat will be affected by your decisions.
VOLUME VI, Number 9
The Home God Wants for His Presence
It was perhaps the greatest opportunity ever. God tells Moses that he wants to come to his people and dwell right in the middle of their camp. Not on the outskirts. Not in the ‘burbs. But right in the middle of where they were living.
You might wonder, “What preparations would a people need to make for God to live in their midst?” Would it be like getting ready for weekend guests or someone special coming to dinner? You feel compelled to make sure your home looks as good as possible. You want to make a good impression and you want your guest to feel welcome.
God anticipated the question and told Moses what needed to be in place for his coming. First, he wanted to be close to them but there was the problem of sin that created a breach between them. So God provided Moses with instructions about the practice of sacrificing, offering a covering for the people’s indiscretions before a Holy God. Sin is serious stuff, not to be taken lightly, and the sacrifice of unblemished animals was necessary to give the people a picture of sin.
Second, he wanted to stay close to them. Moses was given the blueprints for the building of the Tabernacle. It’s a big word for “tent.” A portable place of worship. Kind of a mobile Motel 6. And he wanted to camp out right in the middle of where they were camping. God wanted to be close to his people.
But he also wanted them to be close to each other. So he declared a third thing to get ready. He gave them Ten Commandments concerning relationships. The first four commandments focus on how we are to demonstrate our love to God. The second set of six have to do with how to show love to other people. In seeing these relationships of love it was God’s desire that people would come to know Him too.
Jesus said the same in John 13:34: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another. . . By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
God gave the Israelites guidelines so that, when they sought to live by them, other nations would see them as different and know that they were God’s people. God gave us Jesus so that, when we live like him, others will know that we are his people.
For those who know him, God took care of our sin through the sacrifice of Jesus. He tabernacles in the hearts of those who have drawn near to him. Could it be then that the degree to which we are obedient to him in this command to love each other is the degree of his presence we will find among us? It could be our greatest opportunity ever.
VOLUME VI, Number 8
When You Are Walled In, Look for the Way Out
There’s a wall in front of you. Behind you is a past you are running from. Beyond the wall awaits the promise of a new life. But you’re not moving because there is this “wall.” You feel trapped. No way out. This is just the sort of situation in which God does some of his finest work.
You need only ask the Israelites. Behind them was a life of back-breaking work and slavery. Ahead of them was a life in the land of Promise. Behind them was the fierce army of a fanatical Pharaoh coming towards them. Ahead of them was a wall. Their obstruction was made of water.
Your “wall” may be a fear of failure. Or maybe it’s a lack of confidence that has grinded your progress to a halt. Or it could merely be too many problems that have piled up in front of you at the same time. And you have no clue which one to tackle first.
So you stopped. And you aren’t sure if there is a way over, around, or under this imposing impediment.
At this point many people panic. Anxiety courses its way through the body, atrophies the movement muscles, and rigor mortis overtakes their resolve. Eyes which once had clear focus now only focus on the wall just inches away.
But some look elsewhere. The Israelites looked to Moses. They began belting him with blame. Have you done the same? Blame the boss. Blame a co-worker. Blame your dog. Blame God. Maybe even blame yourself? Blame all you want but the wall remains.
While the Israelites were body punching Moses, he opted to look elsewhere. His options? He could have looked at the enemy’s army. He could have looked at the ungrateful people he led. He could have looked at the wall of water spread out before him, sat down, and given up.
Instead he looked to God. And God opened an unlikely route through the wall of water. Safely on the other side, the very wall that had halted their steps closed in on and covered the sources of their fears.
The very name of the book where we find this story serves as a reminder when we face our “walls.” “Exodus” is a compound Greek word meaning “the way out.” And in case you might have missed it, the way out was not a better job, a different spouse, or a victim mentality.
No, the way out is God. Next time you find yourself up against a wall try looking to him.
VOLUME VI, Number 7
Trading in Your Dreams for Another’s
People nearing mid-life often crash into some startling and unexpected observations. For instance, we all dreamed big dreams when we were younger. But as we move at a break-neck pace through our twenties, thirties, and forties, we eventually slam head on into the realization that some of our dreams will never be realized.
That observation throws some people into a mid-life crisis. Some don’t make it that far with their aspirations, having already given them up somewhere along the way. Some run into conflict that makes them weary and they settle for less. Still others make bold decisions to trade one dream in for another.
That’s what Joseph did. Talk about dreams! He had some big ones. At seventeen he dreamed his ten older brothers would bow down to him. It’s enough he dreamed that dream. What makes it worse is that he told his brothers about it.
The older brothers already had issues with the younger son. Their father favored Joseph. He had even given him a valuable, multi-colored coat. That’s the modern-day equivalent of a parent of four teenagers giving one an iPhone and the other three a stack of quarters each for a pay phone (assuming they could find one on their travels). The brothers banded together and tossed the dreamer in a ditch, eventually selling him into slavery at the first opportunity. The next thing Joseph knew he was waking up in Egypt.
From there his life was a rollercoaster thrill ride. One minute a slave. The next in charge of an Egyptian official’s house. The next in prison. The next in charge of the prison. Then he found himself in front of Pharaoh, called upon to interpret the leader’s dreams. With God’s help he was able to warn Pharaoh he would have seven years of abundant crops that he should be put in storehouses in anticipation of seven years of famine. Recognizing his wisdom, Pharaoh put Joseph second in command of all of Egypt.
And because of God’s personal involvement in his life, he was able to save his family. The same family that God was building into a nation. Joseph was in position to bring his family to Egypt and give them the most fertile land to work. And it was definitely fertile. In the time they were there they were “fruitful and increased greatly” (Exodus 1:7).
Joseph could have lost his life getting caught up in the details of his life, chasing his dreams and desires. Instead, he chose a better story. God’s story.
You can do the same. If your life’s dream has stalled, look to God. If your dream now realized is not all you thought it would be, look to God. He can give you another dream. A better one, not according to the world’s standard but God’s criterion. Just like Joseph’s. Then you’ll have a story to tell.
VOLUME VI, Number 5
God’s Great Passion is to Be With You
Some movies start at warp speed. Case in point: Star Trek. From the opening scene to the end it barely lets you breathe. If you slip out for popcorn you were sure to miss something important. And yet, people did.
This disturbs me greatly since I am a movie snob. I think the way to maximize the movie-going experience is to be in your seat at least 20 minutes early. Never done that? Then next time you go to a movie look around and spot the person that is in the prime seat—dead middle, eye level with the center of the screen. That’s what 20 minutes early gets you. Popcorn and drink in hand, nothing will move this person from their secured spot for the duration of the movie.
That’s where you need to be for God’s story. Its opening scene also starts with a relentless pace that doesn’t let up. The first line reads, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).
Right off the bat we find the main character in the story is not you or me. It’s God. And the rest of The Story will unfold out of the nature and person of this character. Just ten words in and there is enough action to leave you breathless.
It doesn’t take long to find out what God’s great passion is. Birds? Nope. Animals? Not quite. Sun, moon or stars? Bright guess. No, in Genesis 3:8 we find that God is walking in the Garden with Adam and Eve in the “cool of the day.”
Sounds nice if you are in a hot, humid climate, doesn’t it? And yet the “cool of the day” is not the focus. God is, and he is near. He is right with Adam and Eve. And he is right here with us. His simple vision for his creation was to spend time with them every day, to take a walk with them. God’s supreme passion is to be with us.
Some of you have lived your life with the idea that God is some angry cosmic kill-joy who sits in the heavens and watches you, waiting for you to make a mistake so he can zap you. Or, you feel he is distant and doesn’t care or has simply forgotten you.
But from the beginning he has shown us this is not the case. He wants to be with you. He has not forgotten you. In fact, this might be the perfect time for you to go for a walk.
VOLUME VI, Number 4
Writing Your Life Chapter into The Story of Life
If you think Genesis is just a band from the ‘80’s . . . If you think it was Dr. Dolittle who took two of each animal into a big boat . . . If you think an epistle is a woman married to an apostle . . .
. . . you may need to know more of The Story.
You may be a bit intimidated by the Bible. You’re not alone; many people are. And no wonder, its pages mention odd names like Jehoshaphat and Nebuchadnezzar. It contains accounts from places you probably never heard of, like Sinai and Samaria. And it seems to be made up of a lot of different, seemingly unrelated stories. But it really is one big, exciting story.
You can see it easily if you open your Bible to the beginning and then flip all the way to the end.
The first words found in Genesis 1:1 read: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Then, if you turn all the way to the back of the book, Revelation 21:1, you find, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away . . .”
In the beginning God is creating the heavens and the earth. At the end he is creating a new heaven and a new earth. So the big question is this: “What on earth happened between the beginning and the end of the Bible?” If you can answer that question you will have uncovered the one seamless story of God.
Why not read God’s story with your family this year? Studies indicate if the extent of your child’s exposure to things of the faith is an only weekly visit to church or Sunday School, the likelihood is very great that when she graduates and leaves home her relationship with the Lord will turn cold.
However, if you as a parent engage your children in the experience of reading and discussing the Bible, chances go up astronomically that they will remain strong in their faith after leaving home. You don’t have to be an expert or have all the answers. You just have to be willing to experience it with them.
Get involved in The Story of God.It will forever transform your life and your family’s life. Every day God is seeking to guide you, forming sentences that flow into paragraphs that over time write the chapter of your life––a life committed to knowing him better.
Will you choose today to take your life chapter and make it a part of the Big Story of what God is doing on earth?
VOLUME VI, Number 3
Finding Your Story in His Story
If you simply judge books by their covers, you might pass this book by. Its title is Ozark Childhood: Stories from a Simpler Time and Place. There are a few faces on the front that are surely unfamiliar to you and an author whose name you would not recognize. On the back cover is a picture of the author who, with his white beard, might remind you of Santa Claus.
And maybe he is. You see, this book is a valued gift to one man. He was hooked as soon as he started reading the “Acknowledgements” page.
He was hooked when he saw the names of people dear to him. Raymond and Gladys Elkins—his deceased grandparents. Betty Elkins Brown—his mother. Bill Elkins—his uncle who has also passed away. Sara, his aunt. Dave and Jody, his cousins. And the author, David Elkins, his uncle.
This is not just any book; this is a book about his family tree. The stories would probably not be of any interest to anyone else, but they are to him. That’s what happens when you hear part of your story. Something that seems lifeless comes to life. Something that looks dull becomes dynamite, firing up your heart and igniting your imagination. You are reminded that you are part of something bigger than you are, that began before you and will continue on after you.
That is why God wants you to know his story. It’s found in another book. He wants to take you into his house where he has framed photos of your ancestors––people you may not know––lining the walls of his house.
Stories of a family patriarch named Abraham whose faith was as great as any. A matriarch named Ruth with courage that would make the most hardened warrior proud. A stubborn Jonah and his improbable fish tale. Impetuous Peter and his big mouth. Persistent Paul and his adventures in preaching.
Yet who he wants most of all for you to meet in his story is his son. He desires for you to look long into the eyes of Jesus Christ and hear his claims that what he began in the first chapter of creation he will realize at the last chapter of the New Creation, where a perfect people can live in a perfect place with their perfect Lord.
The perfect place is on the Storyboard. The question is, “Are you?” You can be there when you find your place in His Story.
VOLUME VI, Number 2
The Bride Who Wears Her Wedding Gown Everyday
Xiang Junfeng says her wedding day was the happiest day of her life and she never wanted it to end. So to keep it going, she decided she would wear her wedding dress every day of her married life. As of this writing, Xiang has been married for 10 years!
Called "Sister Wedding Gown" by her neighbors and friends, Xiang actually has several wedding gowns which she rotates in and out of her wardrobe, even wearing them when she works in the field. She believes they represent how happy and fortunate she feels to have found her husband.
Bridal Guide reports:
Junfeng's wedding day was especially meaningful because it wasn't just a celebration of love - it was a celebration of her freedom. Originally from Jimo, China, she was kidnapped at the age of 18, sold as a slave, and forced to marry an elderly man in Linyi. It took 15 years until she could escape to Liujiazhuang village, where she was helped by a local woman. When she later met the woman's brother, the two immediately hit it off. "I had only ever known a violent and abusive man, and I avoided men until I met my new partner, who brought me truly out of my shell and treated me so differently…I couldn't believe it when he asked me to marry him," she said. "We felt comfortable with each other, so we have been together since then. I am very happy now, as my husband is very good to me."
What a beautiful way for a bride to express her gratitude and deep love for her groom. As the Bride of Christ, we should feel no less wonder and appreciation for having found our Bridegroom--Jesus Himself. We once lived in bondage, but have been rescued and redeemed to live in the freedom of His love. May we wear the joy that we have found in Him everyday, for the whole world to see.
"I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine" (Song of Solomon 6:3) … "He has brought me to his banquet hall, and his banner over me is love" (Song of Solomon 2:4).
VOLUME VI, Number 1 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).