Monday, May 21, 2018

Five Lessons for Graduates and Others

Truth really is stranger than fiction. Here’s the story, as it is recorded in the Bible, with some commentary along the way by yours truly.

Jehoshaphat got word that three nations were joining forces to come against Jerusalem. So he gathered the people, proclaimed a fast, and prayed, “O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” May I interrupt the story to say, this is a great motto for graduates? “I have no power. I don’t know what to do.” That is true of you and me, whether we believe it or not. Here’s the truth about how God responds to such humility, to all who also say, “My eyes are on God.” He loves it. He gives grace. He runs to show himself strong on our behalf.

I imagine God hearing this prayer of Jehoshaphat and turning to his angels in heaven, saying, “Oh! Did you hear that? This is a man who runs to me for refuge. Stand back and watch this.” God then sent his prophet to Jehoshaphat and said, “Don’t be afraid. The battle is not yours, but the Lord’s.”

Lesson 1: When God is our refuge, our battles become his battles. Are you trying to keep a stiff upper lip and ‘go it alone?’ Why would you do that?

Then the prophet told the king what God had said, that the people were to go to a certain place the next morning. “You will not need to fight in this battle,” God said. “Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf.”

Lesson 2: Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to be still and trust God. It is much harder to stand and see, than it is to run away, or to run and fight. Sometimes we think that standing and trusting isn’t doing anything. We need to remember the words of Jesus in response to the question, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus responded, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” Believe God. Run to him for refuge.

Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah all got up early the next morning.

Lesson 3: When God is moving, much sleep is overrated at best, and a total waste of time at worst.

They went to the place God had told them, sending the praise singers out first.

Lesson 4: When our confidence is in God, we will sing praises to Him. We will not be able to help it.

When the praises started, God rose up and set ambushes against the enemies of Judah. Here’s where the story makes us do a double take. Two of the nations that had come together to attack Jerusalem suddenly attacked the third, utterly destroying it. If that is not strange enough, check this out: The two armies who had combined forces to kill the third army then glared at each other and started killing each other off, until there was no one left. How did that work? I imagine the last two people looked at each other, said, “Ready, set, go!” and each ran his sword into the other at the same time. When the people of Judah got there, they looked at the scene, and all they saw were dead bodies. “None had escaped.”

Lesson 5: We don’t have to pick up after God; he is thorough in everything he does.

There you have it: five lessons to live by, and not just for graduates. These truths apply to all who would humbly follow Jesus Christ, giving daily to him what has been given freely by him: our very lives.

Monday, May 14, 2018

God’s Refrigerator Art of Motherhood

A little boy said to the girl next door, “I wonder what my mother would like for Mother’s Day?” She said, “You could decide to keep your room clean and orderly, and go to bed as soon as she calls you. You could brush your teeth without having to be told, and quit fighting with your brothers and sisters, especially at the dinner table.” He replied, “No, I mean something practical.”

On the eve of Mother’s Day, I offer three practical gifts from Scripture. These are part of God’s refrigerator art if you will, pictures of faithful motherhood.

In Psalm 128, the mother is pictured as a fruitful vine in the very heart of the house. The godly mother has a central place of responsibility in the home that, though she may not see it through diaper pails and dishpan hands, will bear fruit for generations to come.

In 1 Samuel 1, the mother is pictured as the greatest intercessor her son would ever know. It was Hannah’s prayer that touched the hem of God’s garment, and it was Hannah’s spiritual influence on Samuel that shaped and prepared him to fulfill God’s calling on his life.

A London editor once submitted to Winston Churchill a list of all those who had been Churchill’s teachers. Churchill returned the list with this comment: “You have omitted to mention the greatest of my teachers — my mother.” And Charles Spurgeon said, “I cannot tell you how much I owe to the custom on Sunday evenings while we were yet children for Mother to stay home with us, and then we sat around the table and read verse after verse and she explained the Scriptures to us. Then came a mother’s prayer; and some of the words of our mother’s prayer we shall never forget even when our hair is gray.” I don’t know if there is a more powerful force on this earth than a mother’s prayers for her children.

In 2 Timothy 1, the mother is pictured as a woman of genuine faith. Apparently Timothy’s father was not a believer, but God worked through his mother and his grandmother to give him a sound foundation. Is there anything more precious in a mother than genuine faith? The man who would become the most beloved companion of the greatest missionary the world has ever known learned the Word of God as a young child on his mother’s knee. She had genuine faith, not the wishy-washy easy-believism that so many in the church subscribe to today. Genuine faith impacts every person it touches.

Consider Susanna Wesley, who was the youngest of twenty-five children and who gave birth to nineteen herself. Eleven of her children died in childhood. Her husband left her for a time, even serving extended sentences in debtor’s prison. O, how God used Susanna Wesley to give away her faith to her children. As each child turned five, she tutored them in the alphabet and then, beginning in Genesis, she taught them to read, word by word, from the Scriptures. “I wonder at your patience,” her husband Samuel once said. “You have told that child twenty times the same thing.” “If I had satisfied myself by mentioning it only nineteen times,” Susanna Wesley answered, “I should have lost all my labor. It was the twentieth time that crowned it!”

I am thankful for the mother who raised me and for the wife and mother I love and live with. Happy Mother’s Day to all of you who serve so faithfully. You are a gift that could never be repaid in this lifetime.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Spring Clearance at WTS!

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Just letting you all know about some great deals going down over at the WTS bookstore right now. All of their spring clearance titles are 50-70% off, and here's just a few of my favorites (just click on the book cover to go the the product page and see the discount!) :

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Monday, May 7, 2018

If God is in the Boat, We Should Be Able to Trust

There was a time when my wife and kids could write about a family vacation in their journal even before we left. Day One: “Dad got frustrated today in traffic and yelled, ‘What in the world are you doing, dude?’ to the guy in front of us.” Day Two: Dad couldn’t believe the cost of admission at the Revolutionary War site. Much grumbling ensued. Day Three: Mom and Dad are in a cold war. It started when Dad was tailgating a guy who wouldn’t move into the right lane, and Mom asked him to back off a little.

It wasn’t always that way, but even one time would have been too many. And it wasn’t always with my family that I showed how immature I could be. It even happened a few times on mission trips when the unexpected occurred.

When the 4-man mission team from our church had a 12-hour layover in London a number of years ago, we had a blast, got along great and enjoyed every minute of it. I remember witnessing to some people I sat next to on the train from the airport. I was in a great mood, the sun was shining, we were touring a world-famous city, and life was good! Then it happened. We were about to go find the train that would take us back to the airport to catch our flight, when the bottom dropped out. The mother of all thunderstorms hit, knocking out the power, stopping the trains from running. We were stuck, stranded for an hour, waiting and worrying about getting back to Heathrow.

Guess what I don’t remember about the ride on the train back to the airport, wondering the whole way if we would miss our flight? I don’t remember witnessing to a soul. I wasn’t telling anybody about Jesus. I am ashamed to admit that I was too busy fretting and grumbling. When we got to the airport, I led the way, running with all my might through the terminal, yelling at the other guys to keep up. When we finally arrived at the gate, the attendant shook her head sadly. It was too late. Our plane for Kenya had taken off without us.

Every time I read the story about Jesus and his disciples caught in a storm on the Sea of Galilee, I am reminded of this truth: God orchestrates the storms of our lives. He plans every one of them for our good and for his glory. Each one teaches us how to trust him.

Jesus was asleep in the boat when the storm broke out. The disciples, who were no slouches when it came to handling a boat in tempestuous waters, panicked. They cried out to Jesus, who awoke, rebuked the wind and the waves, and the storm instantly ceased. His question for the disciples was a question for the ages: “Where is your faith?”

If our faith is in the modern gurus (Chopra, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and others), then I would humbly suggest that we have no hope of weathering the storms of life successfully. We will eventually run into a storm for which our ability and their ‘counsel’ is simply not sufficient, especially when we face the inevitable storm of death. You can trust the Lord, and him alone, to take you to the other side. No one else can. No one else will.

Those who follow Jesus will have to go through storms. Many of them. I would guess that every person reading this column right now is either in the middle of a storm, coming out of a storm, or getting ready to enter a storm. Here’s the truth we need to remember. God does not promise to deliver us from the storms. He promises to deliver us through them.

If God is in the boat, in the car, on the plane, or anywhere else I happen to be, then I should be able to trust, and be at peace. Those riding with me are glad to hear it.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Jesus Had a Word For Religious Windbags

A rather pompous-looking deacon trying to impress a class of boys on the importance of living the Christian life said, “Why do people call me a Christian?” After a moment’s pause, one youngster said, “Maybe it’s because they don’t know you.” Ouch. Someone needs to clean that kid’s mouth out with soap. Or maybe it’s the deacon who needs to take a good long look at his life.

In dealing with the religious leaders of his day, Jesus did not mince words or hold any punches. He called them what they were: hypocrites. The Greek word was used to refer to actors because they played a part, wore a mask, pretended to be something they were not. How many times have we seen someone in a movie play a part that moved us to tears because of their sacrificial love or their selfless stand for goodness and integrity — only to hear the next week that the actor who moved us to tears was arrested for drunk driving or accused of an adulterous affair, or worse? We shake our heads at that, but we know that the character we see on the movie screen is fiction. The actor is playing a role, performing a part that has nothing to do with who he really is. He is, technically, a hypocrite.

What happens, though, when hypocrisy shows up in the church? Matthew 23 is a frightening passage of Scripture for me and maybe for you, too, because I think Jesus is warning us about how easy it is to slip into playing the part, especially if you are in a position of leadership. Perhaps the greater the commitment you have made to follow Jesus and to serve Him, the greater the temptation to slip on the mask when you fail or when you aren’t looking so good.

Here’s one place we can do a heart-check. How much of what we do as Christians is done so that we can be seen, be appreciated, be applauded by men? Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You love the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.” The chief seat in the synagogue was up front, on the platform, facing the congregation. And the greatest honor was to be ushered up to the front, walking past all the “regular people,” to take the seat where you could best be seen. That’s the key, Jesus said, “You are most interested in being seen.” I am reminded of a recent “Babylon Bee” headline: “If a man reads his Bible, but fails to post pictures of it on the Internet, did it really happen?” Yes, we love to be seen, Jesus said, and we love to be greeted in the marketplace. Oh, this one cuts me to the heart, because I love the rare occasion when someone says, “Hey, are you the one who writes that column in the paper?” I confess it. But God has been gracious to give me children who are not impressed. They say things like, “Yeah, Dad, we were able to find you in the crowd: we saw your bald spot.” Or they grin and say, “Hey, Dad, I knew you were up there somewhere in the crowd, but all the people of normal height were blocking you from view. I thought, why doesn’t Dad stand up? But then I realized that you were.”

Someone said, “Character is who we are in the dark. It’s who we are when no one is looking.” I like that, but I would add that someone is always looking. No matter where we go, God will see and hear what we do and what we say. Perhaps this is the key to avoiding hypocrisy. If I live every minute with the knowledge that God is watching and listening, perhaps God will keep me from becoming a religious windbag. I pray so.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Biblical Illiteracy Carries a High Price Tag

A candidate for church membership was asked, “What part of the Bible do you like best?” He said, “I like the New Testament best.” Then he was asked, “Which book in the New Testament is your favorite?” He answered, “The Book of Parables,” and began to recite his favorite to the members of the committee.

“Once upon a time a man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves; and the thorns grew up and choked the man. And he went on and met the Queen of Sheba, and she gave that man a thousand talents of silver and a hundred changes of raiment. And he got in his chariot and drove furiously, and as he was driving along under a big tree, his hair got caught in a limb and left him hanging there. And he hung there many days and many nights. The ravens brought him food to eat and water to drink. And one night while he was hanging there asleep, his wife Delilah came along and cut off his hair, and he fell on stony ground. And it began to rain, and rained forty days and forty nights. And he hid himself in a cave. Later he went on and met a man who said, ‘Come in and take supper with me.’ But he said, ‘I can’t come in, for I have married a wife.’ And the man went out into the highways and hedges and compelled him to come in. He then came to Jerusalem, and saw Queen Jezebel sitting high and lifted up in a window of the wall. When she saw him she laughed, and he said, ‘Throw her down from there,’ and they threw her down. And he said, ‘Throw her down again,’ and they threw her down seventy-times-seven. And the fragments which they picked up filled twelve baskets full. Now, whose wife will she be in the day of the Judgment?”

The membership committee agreed that this was indeed a knowledgeable candidate.

That fictional story illustrates a sad truth: more Americans than ever before are biblically illiterate. Jay Leno once asked members of his audience about the Bible while taping his late night show.

“Name one of the Ten Commandments,” he said.

“God helps those who help themselves?” someone ventured. (Uh…wrong)

“Name one of the apostles,” Leno asked. No one could.

“Name the Beatles,” Leno said. Without hesitation, the answers came from many, shouted almost in unison: “George, Paul, John and Ringo!”

The numbers are staggering. According to the Barna Research Group, 41 percent of Americans read the Bible once a year or never. Only 16 percent of Christians say they read their Bible daily. The numbers are also embarrassing. Twelve percent of Americans think Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. Fifty percent of graduating high school seniors, in one survey, thought Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife.

Just wondering…how much of our language is foreign to those who don’t know the Bible? Phrases like these, “A house divided,” “Blind leading the blind,” and “Can a leopard change his spots?” all have their origin in the Bible. That’s just three phrases, the ABC’s if you will, but there are hundreds, thousands of biblical references that have become commonplace in our language, and the power of their meaning has been lost.

That’s not the greatest cost of biblical illiteracy on our nation, however. David wrote, “I have hidden Your word in my heart, that I might not sin against You.” Those who throw away the compass are bound to get lost. Those who become “a law unto themselves” (another biblical reference) are headed for destruction.

We need the Bible. Not just on our shelves, but in our hearts.