Monday, May 30, 2016

Pride is the subtlest enemy of all

The new Marine Corps colonel, wanting to make a good impression on his first day on the base, got his opportunity when there was a knock on his office door. He immediately grabbed the phone (though it was not ringing) and said, “Come in!” to the Marine outside his door. He waved the private in with a scowl as he said into the phone, “Yes, general, I understand. Thank you for your confidence in me, sir. I will not let you down.” The colonel hung up the phone, looking smug and feeling great. He snapped at the Marine who stood waiting: “Well? What do you want, private?”

“Uhh, sir, I came to hook up your phone.”

Ravi Zacharias tells the story in his book, “Can Man Live Without God?”, of Muhammad Ali, flying to one of his engagements. “During the flight the aircraft ran into foul weather, and mild to moderate turbulence began to toss it about. All nervous fliers well know that when a pilot signals ‘moderate turbulence,’ he is implying, ‘if you have any religious beliefs, it is time to start expressing them.’ The passengers were accordingly instructed to fasten their seatbelts immediately. Everyone complied but Ali. Noticing this, the flight attendant approached him and requested that he observe the captain’s order, only to hear Ali audaciously respond, “Superman don’t need no seat belt.” The flight attendant did not miss a beat and replied, “Superman don’t need no airplane either.”

The late Ronald Reagan recalled a time as governor of California when he gave a speech in Mexico City: “After I had finished speaking, I sat down to rather unenthusiastic applause, and I was a little embarrassed. The speaker who followed me spoke in Spanish — which I didn’t understand — and he was being applauded about every paragraph. To hide my embarrassment, I started clapping before everyone else and longer than anyone else until our ambassador leaned over and said, ‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you. He’s interpreting your speech.’”

These examples all make us laugh, and pride really can be a source of humor — especially when it is other people’s pride. But let’s not kid ourselves. Pride is a deadly enemy. Pride delights in helping husbands and wives smolder and sulk after a fight, rather than seek forgiveness. It puffs up powerful businessmen until they think they are too big to fail. It whispers to writers that they can spin the story any way they want to ‘help the cause,” while kicking truth to the corner. It hisses to misses and misters that what they believe and think and feel is all that matters, and all this nonsense about “Jesus and the cross’ is for the weak. It relishes the pontificating professor’s upturned nose at the Bible. It rubs its hands in glee at the child who says to his unbelieving parents, “I don’t believe in God, either!” It leads by the nose the ones it possesses to their destruction, laughing all the way at their claims to be the masters of their fate and the captains of their soul.

C.S. Lewis said, “It is pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began.”

The Bible says, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

Pride is the subtlest enemy of all because we see it clearly in others and are blind to it in ourselves. I say this with experience and with many memories of words and actions I am not proud of, and wish I could go back in time and erase.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Validity of belief tested by slippery areas

One night Cindy and I were reading in bed and suddenly heard a noise coming from the kitchen. We looked at each other, and then back toward the family room, trying to figure out what it was. It sounded like water spraying, so I walked into the kitchen with my head cocked, trying to locate the source of the sound that grew louder as I approached the refrigerator.

I had already made up my mind that the noise was coming from the laundry room, so I hurried past the refrigerator. As I did, my feet hit a wet spot on the hardwood floor and flew out from under me, and I landed flat on my back in a puddle of water. The tube for the ice maker had come loose behind the refrigerator and water was spraying everywhere. I had placed my faith (and my feet) on that floor, expecting it to hold me up as it always had, but this time I was wrong. Something had changed the floor that I did not know about or see, and a sore back was my punishment.

I am reminded of the story about a man wanting to paint his shutters, but in order to get to the highest ones on the back of the house, he had to rig a support system. He tied a rope to the bumper of his car which was parked in the front drive, and ran the rope over the roof. He tied the rope around his waist and began to paint the back shutters, secure in the knowledge that the car would support his weight should he slip on the steep roof. What he had not figured into the equation was that his wife may decide to go to the store. She got in the car, didn’t see the rope tied to the back bumper, and began to drive off, wondering why the car seemed so sluggish!

Both of these stories illustrate a point: our faith is only as valid as the object in which it is placed. There are many who say they believe in Jesus Christ, but only the Jesus who was a “good man,” not the Jesus who was and is the only hope for mankind, for “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Some even try to change Jesus to fit their politics, claiming that He “evolved in His understanding of human nature,’ or that He became more “tolerant of sin.” That’s not just slippery ground, but dangerous and heretical teaching that denies the truth and gives false hope to those who take a stand there. Of course, there are countless others whose faith is placed in their intellect, their money, their political party, their own ‘goodness,’ or in something else that is equally slippery.

When the missionary John G. Paton was translating the Bible in the New Hebrides, he was looking for a word in their language that would work for “believe” or “trust.” He found it in the native word that meant, “to lean your whole weight upon.” That’s what I did in my kitchen that night: I put my whole weight on a floor that would not hold me up because something else had crept in uninvited.

Faith is only as valid as the object in which it is placed. The good news is that Jesus Christ is the solid rock, the cornerstone, the firm foundation. Take a stand there, in the biblical Jesus. Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The freedom of telling the truth

Johnny was visiting his grandparents with his sister and sporting a brand new slingshot. The first thing he did, after hugging grandma, was run into the woods to target practice. But he couldn’t hit a thing. The stone would fly left or right of the soda can every time. Frustrated, Johnny trudged through the woods and into his grandma’s back yard, where he spied her pet duck. On an impulse he took aim and let fly. The stone hit, and the duck fell dead. Johnny was immediately filled with shame and dread. He hurriedly hid the dead duck in the woodpile, only to look up and see his sister watching. Sally had seen it all, but she said nothing.

After lunch that day, Grandma said, “Sally, let’s wash the dishes.” Sally replied, “Johnny told me he wanted to help in the kitchen today. Didn’t you, Johnny?” She cut her eyes at her younger brother as she whispered slyly, “Remember the duck!” Johnny did the dishes.

That afternoon, Grandpa announced that he would like to take the children fishing down at the old mill pond. Grandma said, “I’m sorry, but I need Sally to help make supper.” Sally smiled and said, “That’s all taken care of, Grandma. Johnny wants to do it.” Again she whispered, “Remember the duck.” Johnny stayed behind to peel potatoes while Sally went fishing. This went on for several days. Johnny did his chores and Sally’s as she kept him pinned down with her ominous threats.

Finally, Johnny couldn’t stand it any longer. He was hassled by his sister, but more than that, he was burdened by his guilt. He confessed to his grandma that he’d killed the duck. “I know, Johnny,” she said, giving him a hug. “I was standing at the window and saw the whole thing. Because I love you, I forgave you. I wondered how long you would let Sally make a slave of you.”

I met an inmate once in a youthful offender prison (for men, ages 18-25) who confessed to me that he had committed a crime the authorities didn’t know about. “I will be released in 9 months if I keep my mouth shut,” he told me. “But if I confess to this other crime, I may be here for 5 more years. What should I do?”

My mind immediately went to what the Bible says: “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.” I read that to my new friend (I’ll call him John) and spoke to him about the guilt that was weighing him down. “John, you may be released in 9 months if you cover this sin, but you will not be free.” He looked at me intently. “But if you confess to this crime, even if they keep you here 5 more years, you will be a free man with a clear conscience. Which do you want to do?”

I remember walking out that day, rejoicing over the mercy of God and the fellowship of a new and free brother in Christ. God calls the bound to confess and be made free, while those who think they’re “free” continue to stumble in the darkness of their willful bondage. He asks the sick to come for healing, while those who think they are “well” shrug off their pains and salve their wounds as they sink further into self-righteousness. He exalts the humble while pulling down the exalted. He sets the captives free, and those whom the Lord has set free are free indeed.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Another Killer Bible Sale over at WTS!!!

Okay, everybody, you'd better act fast! The last time I posted about a Bible sale over at WTS, they ran out within 48 hours.

This time, the Gospel Transformation Bible is on sale at over 75% off! There's a great list of contributors involved with the project (Bryan Chapell, Dane Ortlund, Michael Horton, Elyse Fitzpatrick, Bruce A. Ware, Stephen T. Um, Darrin Patrick, Kevin DeYoung, and Jared C. Wilson to name just a few) and I am personally stoked to get one. The only trouble I'm having is deciding which cover I like best (see the bottom of the post for images).

 If you are too, click on any of the images to be taken straight to the Westminster Bookstore page.

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Monday, May 9, 2016

Leadership requires fearless action

As the saying goes, “When the cat’s away, the mice will play.” I’ve never seen mice play, but whenever we’ve had a cat that’s worth anything, we don’t see mice at all. And . . . is there any other reason one would want a cat?

Anyway, the idea is that when the cat is gone, the mice reappear. It can happen at school. When the teacher is gone and the substitute is there, the students are much more likely to run the classroom. It can happen at home, as well. When a babysitter replaces the parents, things often go awry. Ask my older daughter. Several years ago while she was babysitting, a boy called her to the bottom of the steps, as he stood out of sight above her. When she looked up, he poured a pitcher of water on her face from the second floor landing. Things went south sometimes at our house, too, when mom and dad would leave. The children knew how to behave; we had worked with them on loving each other and being quick to say they were wrong when they hurt one of their brothers or sisters, and letting others go first, and on and on. Then we would go on a date and leave one of the older ones in charge. Thirty minutes later, we would get a phone call from one of the kids saying the older brother in charge was torturing them, slowly, or that one of the kids was holding the rest for ransom. Not really, but that’s the way I remember it. When the cat’s away, the mice take over.

It was true in Jerusalem. When Nehemiah left, things began to deteriorate. He had served as governor for 12 years, and during that time, the wall was rebuilt, the Word was brought back to the center of the people’s lives, worship and giving were restored, the city was repopulated, families were strengthened, and God was honored. Nehemiah did not take credit for any of that, but his leadership could be summarized with his statement in chapter two: “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we His servants will rise and build.”

When Nehemiah left, the people went back to business as usual, and even worse. The high priest invited Tobiah, the leader of the triumvirate who had opposed the Jews in building the wall around Jerusalem to come and live in the temple. This pagan enemy of the Jews was now living in a room in the house of God, the God he scorned and opposed at every turn!

How do we get to the place where we are inviting the enemy into places in our lives where he doesn’t belong? It happens gradually. You start believing what other people say, that maybe we are taking this ‘Christian thing’ too seriously. And maybe we don’t need to be THAT particular about what the Bible says. And maybe they’re right when they say all religions are the same. And maybe it’s true that there’s really nothing special about Jesus Christ the Nazarene, and . . . when you get to that point, it’s time to turn off the lights and go home. Or take action.

Nehemiah took action immediately and began to set things in order. He threw Tobiah’s furniture into the street and ordered the chambers to be cleansed and used again for their rightful purpose. He replaced unfaithful leaders with people he could trust. He brought back the Levites and restored worship to Jerusalem. And he gave thanks to God.

Leadership involves constant checking and fearless action. Otherwise, the mice take over.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Faithful are the wounds of a friend

“Hey, Fox! What are you readin’?”

I knew that voice. It was coming from two seats behind me in history class. It belonged to a kid in our high school that all of us avoided, I am ashamed to admit, because he was geeky and unattractive in looks and in personality. I slowly turned, my mind spinning with anticipation of what I was about to do. My eyes fixed on my opponent. Actually, he wasn’t trying to pick a fight; Rick was just asking an innocent question, but in that annoying way of his that provoked so many in the school to tease him.

“Why don’t you see for yourself?” I said, as I hurled the paperback I was reading. The missile found its desired target: Rick’s pimply face. The same face that was red with acne turned beet red with rage.

Rick stood up beside his desk, his over-large Adam’s apple moving up and down like a yo-yo, in sync with his breathing. I was mesmerized by it for a moment, and forgot about the book that lay on the floor. But Rick was angry and embarrassed by my attack. In all of the wisdom that I could muster as a tender young scholar of 17, I leaped to my feet and began to shadow box in front of him.

“You want a piece of me, Rick?” I taunted. “You want some of this?” I punched at him playfully, my fists pulling up just inches short of his face. I was in no way looking for an actual fight. I got one anyway.

Rick was tall and as skinny as a toothpick, but his reach was at least a foot longer than mine. While I was floating like a butterfly, he decided to sting like a bee. Rick sent one true jab right to the center of my face. It was a direct hit to the mouth, exactly where I deserved it, and the fight was over just that quick. I was stunned as I reached up to my two front teeth and found they were not hanging out in their usual location.

You see, I had just gotten my braces off about a week earlier. Rick had undone in one second what my orthodontist (and my Dad’s wallet, bless his soul) had taken two-and-a-half years to accomplish.

Not only that, but I was immediately sent to the principal’s office, paddled, and sent home for three days’ suspension for fighting in class. Talk about adding insult to injury.

Two root canals, two crowns, and thousands of dollars later, I was talking to my grandmother about the incident. I will never forget her counsel that day.

“Mark, you don’t know anything about that boy. For all you know, his father beats him every day when he gets home from work. For all you know, that boy cries himself to sleep every night because of the suffering he endures in school and other pain that you know nothing about. What that boy needs is a friend, and you just piled on to his misery. You got what you deserved.”

Nana loved me enough to tell me the truth. She was a friend in every sense of that word. The Bible says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” Even though Nana’s words hurt just about as much as Rick’s punch to the kisser, her counsel that day turned my anger to repentance, and my thoughts of revenge to remorse.

I need all the friends like that I can find.