Monday, July 16, 2018

Miscellaneous Thoughts on Runners and Drivers

Milton Berle used to say, “My doctor told me that jogging could add years to my life. I think he was right. I feel ten years older already.”

Many of you would agree with the late comedian. You are the same ones who respond when I talk about going for a run: “Was someone chasing you?”

The truth is, yes. I am being chased by an old man, by my geriatric future self who can’t walk to the mailbox without oxygen. I am being chased by the image of me, ten years from now, tired and out of shape, unable to take a walk with my grandsons, much less go for a run with them. I am being chased by obesity, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Edward Stanley said, “Those who think they don’t have time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness.”
Do I like to run? The answer to that question really doesn’t matter; the bottom line is that I need to run. I need to “discipline my body and bring it into subjection,” as Paul said. He also said, “While bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and for the life to come.” There are three ways physical exercise profits. First, it helps me feel better and have more energy for the work God has called me to do for the days I have left. Second, it is one way I provide for my family. Think about it. If you die early because you were not a good steward of your physical health, are you being the best possible provider and protector for your family? Third, I run because discipline begets discipline. In other words, if I get self-indulgent with my physical appetites, I get lazy with my spiritual disciplines as well. Anybody who runs will understand this: the battle is not with your body but with your mind. Discipline your mind in physical exercise and you are strengthening your mind to follow the Lord and obey His commands as well.

And to answer the question, yes, I love to run. I didn’t at first, but the more you run, I promise, the more you will grow to love it.

General George S. Patton, U.S. Army General in World War II and Olympian (pentathlon) in 1912, said, “Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. It is always tired morning, noon, and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired.”

I run in town, and I run on the rural roads around my house. I always face the traffic, as runners should do. Here is what kills me, and thankfully, it hasn’t yet: drivers who seem to be playing chicken, seeing how close they can get without hitting me. Most of the time, there is no one coming in the other direction, so there is no reason why the driver barreling down on me could not move over into the other lane. I am hugging the white line, or moving onto the shoulder if there is one, but they pass by within a foot of me anyway. I always wonder why anyone would take such a risk: a sudden sneeze or a spasm or a bee in the car could mean death for one or both of us.

Go for a run or a walk this morning after you finish reading the paper. It will be good for you. And if you drive past me while I am running sometime, please wave as you motor by … in the other lane.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Broken by Forgiveness

When Stakwell Yurenimo, a Samburu in northern Kenya, did well on his 8th grade exams, the Kenyan government informed him that he had qualified to go to a high school that they would choose. They also chose his roommate, a young man named Paul, who was a member of the enemy tribe, the Turkana. Stakwell determined in his mind that there was no way he would room with a Turkana. In fact, part of his culture demanded that in order to be respected as a man, he needed to kill a Turkana.

Stakwell poured water on Paul’s bed every night so that his roommate was forced to sleep somewhere else. Paul did not react in anger, but slept on the ground without complaint. This went on for several months. Meanwhile, there was friction on the soccer field as well. Stakwell was an excellent midfielder. Paul was the team’s star forward, a striker with considerable skill. But the team kept losing because Stakwell would not pass the ball to his roommate. The coach finally confronted Stakwell, who told the coach that there was nothing he could do. “You will just have to put one of us on another team,” he said.

That’s what the coach did, and the first time the two teams played each other, Stakwell threw himself into Paul, trying his best to kill him. He broke Paul’s leg and knocked out several teeth. Because it was an intentional penalty, Stakwell was expelled from school, and sent home a hero to his fellow Samburu tribesmen for injuring a hated Turkana. He did not care about being expelled, but then the school told Stakwell that he would have to repay Paul for all of his medical expenses. Stakwell, a Samburu shepherd, faced an insurmountable debt. That’s when his life changed.

Paul came to Stakwell offering forgiveness. He did not want to be paid back. Paul explained that he did not retaliate all the time his roommate was persecuting him, “not because I am weak, but because I am a Christian. When you were pouring water on my bed and forcing me to sleep on the ground, I was praying for you.” Stakwell’s heart was broken by this demonstration of the Gospel. He became a Christian, and after finishing high school and attending Bible School, he began working to bring reconciliation between the two warring tribes, the Samburu and the Turkana.

With the help of New Directions International (now, Feed the Hunger), Stakwell opened a Sports Camp in the Kurungu, Kenya region. He brings hundreds of young people together three times a year for friendly competition. More than a dozen tribes are represented at the camps, and the ministry is changing the climate of the region. Stakwell told the team from Antioch Church that visited several years ago, “There has not been one killing in the past two years between the Samburu and the Turkana.” There is even a Turkana village now in the Samburu region, something that would have been unheard of just a few years ago.

Being at the camp with Stakwell and his family (including seven children they rescued from abandonment) gave our mission team a picture in living color of what is only possible through the power of the Gospel. “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”

Stakwell Yurenimo, the Samburu warrior once committed to destroy the Turkana, was broken by the forgiveness shown to him by a Turkana follower of Jesus Christ. Now he lives to help others find that forgiveness as well.

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Upside-Down Power of Weakness

I got some good advice from a spiritual mentor years ago, right after I became a pastor. JL Williams told me that he knew of several men who started the same way I did. These men believed the Gospel, and were determined to faithfully preach it. “But,” JL said, “now, ten years later, or 20 years later, they are presiding over a congregation that is not a church, and making converts who aren’t Christians. They have given up preaching the Word and replaced it with preaching what people want to hear. Don’t do that, Mark. Don’t ever do that.”

The man who told me that was faithful to preach the truth until the day he was called home, and by God’s grace, I will do the same. The question is, why do so many drift? Why would anyone replace the Gospel message, which the Bible tells us is “the power of God for salvation,” with a message that cannot save? Why would someone choose to tell people what they want to hear, instead of what they need to hear?

Part of the answer is clearly explained in the Bible. Paul wrote, “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles.” Christ crucified. That is the message of the Gospel.

Alistair Begg says the drift happens because the preacher himself begins to doubt the message of the cross. Think of it. A Galilean carpenter, claiming to be the incarnate Son of God, nailed to a Roman cross, who died to take away your sins and mine? “That’s just too much,” some preachers say. “I can’t believe it.” Begg says the preacher wants to have intelligent people in his church, and he believes that no intelligent person would believe that stuff. “So in order to keep the intelligent, he lets go of the apparently foolish, and fills his church with a bunch of foolish people who are apparently intelligent.”

The message of salvation reveals the upside-down power of weakness. The Savior did not ride into Jerusalem on a horse, followed by an army, to overtake the Romans and bring political freedom to the Jews. He was beaten with a cat-o-nine tails, forced to wear a crown of thorns, stripped of his clothing and nailed to a tree outside of town, in order to bring forgiveness and eternal life and spiritual freedom now to all who will believe in Him. Stephen Um writes that at the cross, “The ultimately powerful one becomes the ultimately weak one. The ultimately wise one condescended to our level. By this great wisdom and power he has rewritten the storyline.”

The message of the cross, when believed, should produce great boasting in the believer. That’s what the Bible says. Christians should boast more than anybody else. In fact, I challenged the congregation last Sunday to try and become the biggest boasters in the tri-county area. Or, hey, if you aim at the stars, you might hit the moon, right? So, make it your goal, I told them, to become the biggest boasters in the whole state. Oh, one more thing I told them that is important. When we come to the cross, we can no longer boast about ourselves. But as Paul said, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” And as God said to the prophet Jeremiah, “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”

Let the boasting begin. At the cross.

Monday, June 18, 2018

There’s a Way Out of the Pit

Charlie was walking through the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya when his worst nightmare happened. He lost his footing and fell into the side ditch, which was filled with raw sewage. Charlie managed to spare the Bible he was carrying by holding it over his head, but the rest of him was covered. When he got back to the room where we were staying, I smelled him before I saw him. The pit he had been in, even for an instant, messed him up.

Prisons of old were sometimes just pits filled with muck and mud. Jeremiah the prophet was thrown into one, and would have died there had men not come and rescued him.

We have all been in a pit, and will most likely be in one again. Maybe our pit is not filled with mud or muck or raw sewage, but pits come in all sizes and shapes and substances. Fear or anxiety can become a pit. So can greed. Gluttony. Even self-righteousness, with proud hearts praying, “Thank God that I am not like other men.”

The real danger in being in a pit is that you can become numb to it and get to where you don’t care anymore that you are there. The people living in Jerusalem after the Babylonians had leveled the city were living in that condition. It took someone from the outside, Nehemiah, coming in and seeing the rubble, the walls broken down and the gates burned with fire to say, “Hey, you cannot live like this!” The people had grown numb to the pit.

Cold can become a pit that demoralizes men. It happened in Germany in the winter of 1944, as some of our soldiers lost heart and gave up hope in the bitter and brutal cold.

There are all kinds of pits. Tony Evans, a pastor in Dallas, said once that a few folks came to him and said, “You got some people we don’t care for coming to the church right now and we want you to know that if things don’t change, we’re out of here.” Tony said, “Bye!” Then he added, “If you stay around, I can help you deal with your heart problem, but to do that, we have to fix your feet right now.” They were convinced the pit of prejudice was a good place to stay.

Sometimes solving the pit problem starts with correcting where we allow our feet to go. The young man in Proverbs 7 fell into a pit of lust because he followed the adulterous woman to her house, “as an ox goes to the slaughter…he did not know that it would cost him his life.” Fix the feet.

Here’s the bad news. Sin always leads us into a pit, and sin is always going to be part of the story. Here’s the good news. Sin is not the end of the story. God is. He can rescue you and me out of the deepest pit. Corrie ten Boom said, “There is no pit that is so deep that God is not deeper still.”

Warning: You may well be in a pit and not realize it because your heart is dull of feeling and hearing. If Charlie had not thrown his clothes away and showered “Kibera” off of him, he would have eventually gotten used to the smell. Maybe you have gotten used to the stench of the sin-filled pit you are living in. I guarantee you that those around you have not. Ask them.

Mostly, cry out to God. He alone can pull you out of the pit and set your feet upon the solid rock. That’s the only safe place for your feet to be.

Monday, June 11, 2018

There is Correction for These Trajectories

I had the privilege to speak twice at a conference last weekend in Winston-Salem. After one of my talks, which was on “Time Management,” a family came up and introduced themselves to me. They live in Thomasville, and though they appreciated what I shared about managing ourselves and stewarding our time wisely, what they really wanted to talk about was the church. Specifically, their desire to be involved in a church that puts the Gospel first, and doesn’t separate the family at the front door. As I thought about that later, I was reminded of another conference I attended several years ago. There, I heard Al Mohler speak about eight trajectories that have led the church away from the Gospel. Here are four of his eight warnings, and then I would like to add one of my own.

The Therapeutic Trajectory: This rests on the belief that we really need a therapist, not a Savior. Most people would rather claim they have a sickness than admit their problem is sin. Recovery and rehab can “cover” a problem, but sin can only be removed by faith in Jesus’ substitutionary death and resurrection.

The Pragmatic Trajectory: This is based on the idea that we should do what works in the church, whether it has biblical support or not. Mohler said, “A pragmatic approach can produce crowds that are not churches, and ‘converts’ who are not Christians.”

The Emotional Trajectory: This tendency puts a premium on what makes a person feel better based on personal preferences and experiences instead of on the Scripture and the way God reveals Himself. This leads to much felt-need, topical preaching, trying to scratch where people itch, or where they think they itch, instead of expository preaching that takes us back to the cross, where our real need can be exposed and taken care of.

The Materialist Trajectory: This trajectory is based on the belief that what we can touch and feel is more important than what is immaterial. This is the prosperity “gospel” that preaches that you can and should live your “best life” now.

Those are four of the eight trajectories Al Mohler presented. I would like to add one of my own that I call the Trained Professional Trajectory. This is based on the belief that programs and church staff are best equipped to disciple families. Timothy Paul Jones writes in his book, Perspectives on Family Ministry: “Suppose I called my wife this afternoon and announced, ‘Honey, guess what? Remember how you asked about a date tonight? Well, I hired a professional dater to take you to dinner and a movie. He’s much better at dating than me — plus, since I’ll be home, we won’t need a babysitter. Have a great time!’” How many nights would you be sleeping on the couch if you pulled that stunt?

Some things are just too important, too significant, to surrender to so-called professionals. So, why have we let that happen in our churches, where fathers have in large part been replaced by programs and staff? Church leaders can equip fathers to disciple their families, but leaders should not do it for them or hire a professional to do it for them. That is what has happened at an alarming rate in this country since World War II. Now, Jones writes, you will be hard pressed to find a church’s youth group that has a mission statement that says anything about the fathers of the youth. Jones read more than 100 mission statements on youth ministry websites before he found one that even mentioned the parents’ role, and that was in a sentence fragment.

The Bible has a correction for this trajectory: “And you fathers…bring (your children) up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” If you don’t know how to do that, you are a wise man if you ask for help. Abdication, letting the “professionals” do it, carries a price tag that is much too high for the families of this generation and the ones to come.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Be Watchful, Men

I remember when my second son was little, probably around 5 months old, and I laid him down on a kitchen countertop, just for a second, while I turned and opened the refrigerator door to get something. Hey, don’t look at me like that. I was training my son to obey. I laid him down and said, “Caleb, stay there.” As I reached into the fridge, just for a second, I heard a sickening thud behind me. I turned around in horror to find my son lying on the kitchen floor, startled for a moment, before he burst into a scream. At that precise moment, I heard another sound, a voice coming from the bedroom, saying, “What happened?” What happened was I took my eye off of my responsibilities, just for a second, and it could have been disastrous.

Then there was the time I was 17 years old, driving my father’s Oldsmobile (and it really was my father’s Oldsmobile) in Charlotte. I had gone there with two high school friends to check out the university. I remember it like it was yesterday, driving down Independence Blvd., feeling like I might as well be in New York City, because I had never driven in traffic like that before. It was rush hour, I was nervous, driving with two friends, and not really respecting the seriousness of the moment, when it happened. I turned left at a stoplight, right into oncoming traffic. A city of Charlotte truck hit us broadside and smashed up the Olds, but thankfully we were not hurt.

That wasn’t the worst of it. I ran over to the truck to see if he was OK and the man waved it off. He said, “Yeah, I’m fine,” got out of his truck, assessed the damage to the front end, and got back in. I went back to my car and waited for the police to arrive. As soon as the policeman arrived, the truck driver got out of his car and was limping like he had a compound fracture in his right femur. I told the officer that the man had gotten out of his truck two minutes earlier and walked, not limped, around it, but the officer told me not to worry about it. So, I didn’t.

That wasn’t the worst of it. I had to call my father and tell him that I had a mental lapse while driving, just for a second, and wrecked his car. That wasn’t the worst of it. Six weeks later there was a knock at the door and my father was served with a lawsuit, because of the wreck. I thought I was going to pass out. Again, the whole thing happened because I had taken my eye off of my responsibilities, just for a second.

I can’t tell you how many times in nearly 36 years of marriage I have found my wife crying because I have taken my eye off of my responsibilities, and she has ended up having to carry something or take care of something that I was supposed to do. There is a saying that a woman notices when there is a leak in the roof, but the man doesn’t notice until the roof caves in. That can apply to actual leaks, or it can apply to problems with the finances, child discipline issues, problems with the marriage, and problems with the spiritual environment in the home. That’s why Paul wrote this: “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.”

This is not a passive word that would describe something like watching television. If that is all that God is requiring of men, then the country is ablaze with his glory. Men everywhere are watching, but not in a biblical sense. In fact, watching television is probably the exact opposite of what this word means. The word is a command to wake up, to refrain from sleep, to engage in what is going on around you. You cannot be on autopilot in your spiritual life and be fulfilling this requirement of the Lord.

Be watchful, men. Engage with your family. Stand firm in a growing faith in God.

And don’t lay your 5-month-old on the kitchen counter. Not even for a second.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Don’t Forget the Fire

This past Sunday we had a baptism after our morning service. During the sermon, I had asked for 4 volunteers from among those who would be baptized to come to the front to help me with something. “It’s not going to be painful or embarrassing,” I told them. Three young girls immediately jumped up and started toward the front, and then one boy joined them, after I laughed and said, “Where are the young men?”

I was prepared for this demonstration because I had a conversation the day before with my son-in-law, a captain with the Leavenworth, Kansas fire department. He told me there are four positions on their fire trucks. On each truck there is a driver. You can probably figure out what he does. In the seat next to the driver sits the captain. He is in charge of the scene, whenever the truck arrives at the place to which it has been sent. Then behind these two are the nozzle man and the hydrant man. The nozzle man is in charge of the hoses, getting the pipes unrolled and to the structure that is on fire. The hydrant man is in charge of locating the nearest hydrant, so the pipe can be connected to a water source.

I assigned each of the four children a job, and told them that they were firefighters, on their way to a fire. We all looked out over the congregation, as though we could see the fire in the distance. I asked them to remind me what their jobs were. “Driver! Captain! Nozzle man! Hydrant man!” they shouted, with varying degrees of enthusiasm. I asked them again, “What’s your job?” They answered again, looking intently down the road at the blazing inferno. Then I said, “But wait a minute. What is your job, really? I mean, what are we going down the road to do?” They looked at me with puzzled expressions, and then one of the youngest girls said with authority, “Put out the fire.” Ah, yes. Don’t forget the fire.

Do you remember what Jesus said to his disciples right before he ascended into heaven? In simplest terms he said: Go. Make. Disciples. We live to follow Jesus, and to make disciples of others who will grow as followers of Jesus Christ, and make disciples themselves.

In the same way that God did not design just “certain humans” to be able to reproduce, God did not call only certain Christians to “go, make disciples.” He has given each one of us who belong to him everything we need to be able to do that. If you say, “I can’t do it,” let me remind you that you have the Spirit of the living God in you. If you say, “but evangelism is not my gift,” that is OK, too. It is not most people’s gift. But the gift of evangelism is just an extra empowerment to do what each of us is called to do: be a witness for Jesus Christ.

Some say, “Well, I witness with my life.” That’s great! But when Paul asked for the Ephesian church to pray for him, he didn’t say, “pray that my life might be more visible to the lost.” He asked them to “pray for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel.” Sometimes people misquote St. Francis of Assisi, who never said, “Preach the Gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.” The closest he got to it was encouragement that we must make sure our lives match what we say. To say “preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary use words” is like saying, “Feed the hungry at all times, if necessary, use food.”

If we are to make disciples, we will need to use words. If you say you don’t have time, you misunderstand the command. Jesus was saying, “As you go,” make disciples. It doesn’t mean you have to stand on a street corner and preach, although you can. It means that your lifestyle intentionally becomes gospel-oriented.

Like the four firefighters, we each have different talents, ministries, and callings. But they all are given by God to serve the same purpose: to make disciples. Don’t forget the fire.

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.

Monday, April 16, 2018

This is Not the Day You Expected

What was a day in your past that you anticipated for weeks or even months? I remember several years growing up when I would wait for my grandmother, Nana, to come on my birthday and pick me up in her convertible Morris Minor. She would take me to a favorite restaurant to eat, and sometimes to a movie. It was a day I looked forward to. What if, instead of stopping to pick me up, she just drove by my house and threw a moldy McDonald’s hamburger out the window at my feet, while singing, “Sad Birthday to you…”? That’s a happy day turned sour.

Let’s raise the stakes much higher. When is the day of the Lord darkness and not light? When is the day of the Lord gloom, and not joy? Answer: It is when the day of the Lord comes for the unbeliever. As I work through the book of Amos in the Old Testament, I have thought about Haman several times. He was the wicked right hand man to the King in the book of Esther. The second feast day for Haman was not festive but disastrous. He came expecting to be honored, but instead he was hanged. Haman’s presumption led to his demise.

That is what was going on in Israel in the 8th century B.C., and we could all learn from it. The people presumed that God would look the other way as they lived any way they chose to live. Instead, God said to Israel that they were like a man who was able to escape from a lion, only to meet a bear, and then a deadly snake. This is a scene from a movie, isn’t it? It’s an Indiana Jones stunt, where he is chased by a lion, and somehow escapes. Only to turn around when he thinks he is in the clear, and a grizzly bear is standing there ready to devour him. Somehow he escapes from the clutches of the bear. Hey, this is Indiana Jones we’re talking about. He barely makes it into his house as the bear crashes into the front door behind him. He breathes a sigh of relief while leaning his hand against the wall to catch his breath, and then a serpent bites him and he dies. End of movie. Credits roll. Rest in peace, Indiana!

Except it’s not a movie. It’s real. God is making it plain to those who do not know him that there is nowhere to hide on the day of the Lord. Even your own home is no longer safe. God is coming to where you live, and there’s nothing that can stand in his way.

You see, the people of Israel thought of God then like many people think of God today. That God is always good. Don’t get me wrong, God is good. But to many people today, an “always good” God never brings judgment on his people. And the day of the Lord for them is when their “always good” God vindicates his people while punishing their enemies. But what God thunders to them through his prophet Isaiah, and Jesus repeats 700 years later to the Pharisees and the scribes is this: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” The people in Amos’s day, and Isaiah’s day, and the people in Jesus’ day thought the same thing then that billions of people think today: “If I say good things about ‘God’ every now and then, and check some of the ‘religious rituals’ off my list now and then, I can live any way I want to. I am home free!”

That presumption results in disaster, and that’s bad news. That track ends with the day of the Lord being the very opposite of what we expected, where a moldy hamburger would be the least of your worries. Here’s the good news. God made a way for us to come to him by grace because he loves us. Start on a different track today, by acknowledging that your presumptions about him have been wrong.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

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Monday, April 9, 2018

He Emerged Triumphant On the Other Side

I know Easter was last week, but let’s face it. The stunning news that Jesus died on Friday and was raised from the dead on Sunday is still fresh, still powerful, and still relevant to every human being on the planet. He beat death, so that we could as well.

I remember as a little boy taking a dare from a friend. He dared me to crawl through a culvert under the road near our house. You couldn’t see from one end to the other because it took a slight turn. The pipe had a little bit of water running through it, and lots of spider webs I would have to fight through. I summoned my courage, took the dare, made the journey, exited triumphantly on the other side and yelled at my friend, “Come on! You can do it, too!”

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the linchpin of Christianity, the absolute cornerstone of our faith, and all of our hopes are built squarely on our belief that Jesus “emerged on the other side,” that he rose from the dead on the third day, just as he said he would. But our belief is not blind faith, my friends. Oh, no.

There is the evidence of the empty tomb. The bones of Caiaphas, Jesus’ accuser, were discovered in 1990, but Jesus’ body was never found. Had the disciples stolen the body, as the Jewish authorities claimed, then the followers of Christ died for a lie. All but one of the disciples of Jesus was martyred. Peter was even crucified upside down, according to Jewish historians, because he said, “I am not worthy to die as my Lord.” The disciples did not steal the body because they didn’t have to. How about the Romans and the Jews? Did they steal the body? No, because if they had, they would have ended Christianity in its infancy by producing the beaten, bloodied, broken body of the Christ. That would have been the end of it. But they could not produce the body because they did not have it. The tomb was empty because Jesus was resurrected.

There is also the evidence of eyewitness accounts. The resurrected Jesus appeared to friends and enemies, skeptics and believers. He “was seen by over five hundred brethren at once,” Paul wrote. In “The Case for Christ,” Lee Strobel explains that if we were to give each of the 500 witnesses 15 minutes in a courtroom to tell his story, we would be there around the clock Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and all day Friday until 11 p.m., hearing one after another say, “He’s alive! I saw the Lord.” Is it possible that any of you dear readers, after 125 straight hours of eyewitness testimony, would leave the courtroom unconvinced?

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the most successful trial lawyer of modern times was Sir Lionel Luckhoo, “who succeeded in getting his 245th consecutive murder acquittal by January 1, 1985.” The Sydney Morning Herald called Luckhoo the “Perry Mason of the Caribbean.” He was an expert on what constitutes reliable, admissible, persuasive evidence. And his life changed at the age of 63 when he heard about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He analyzed the evidence and came to this conclusion:

“I have spent more than forty-two years as a defense trial lawyer in many parts of the world. I say unequivocally the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is so overwhelming that it compels acceptance by proof which leaves absolutely no room for doubt.”

Nearly 2,000 years ago, Jesus crawled through the culvert of death and emerged triumphant on the other side, conquering death, sin, and the grave. He stands and says to all of us, “Come to me and you will be given life everlasting, too.” The evidence for believing his story is true is overwhelming. The rewards for trusting him with your life are eternal.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Don’t Stop Thinking About the Reason

As the story goes, a man was watching TV with his wife when the doorbell rang. He went to see who it was and found his friend on the doorstep. “What are you doing?” the friend asked. He said, “Watching a movie.” The friend said, “Oh, which one?” The man knit his brow and worked on that thought for a moment, then said, “What’s that flower called that smells good but has thorns?” His friend replied, “Rose?” “Yeah, that’s it.” The man then turned and called back into the house, “Hey Rose, what’s the name of that movie we’re watching?” Now there’s a man with a memory problem. His forgetter is working overtime.

It’s important to remember the names of our loved ones, and diseases that strip that ability away are cruel and unrelenting in their torture. But what about those who forget the very reason for their existence simply because they are consumed with lesser things? Why would Paul write to Timothy, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead”? Surely that is the last thing this young pastor would forget. Not so fast. You might argue that the banner over Israel in the Old Testament was, “They forgot God.” Moses said it this way near the end of his life: “You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you, and you forgot the God who gave you birth.” It is one of the reasons why I believe Jesus gave us the Lord’s Supper. “Do this,” he said, “in remembrance of me.” It is a regular reminder for the body of Christ that employs all of our five senses as we taste, smell, touch and see the elements, and as we hear the Words that he spoke, “This is my body, broken for you…this is my blood, poured out for you.”

The Taj Mahal is perhaps the most beautiful structure in the world. It was built in the 1600s by an Emperor for his favorite wife after she died giving birth to their fourteenth child. It took twenty thousand men more than twenty years to build this magnificent shrine. The sad irony is that by the time the building was completed, the favorite wife had been gone so long that most in the empire did not know her memory and had no idea why the Taj Mahal had been built. They marveled at the edifice, ignorant of the life it celebrated.

It can be true of a church, can’t it? We build magnificent structures and cathedrals that dazzle the eye. We spare no expense to have the finest architecture, the tallest steeple, the largest sanctuary, or the most “cutting-edge” programs. Then we drift away from center. We forget the reason we started the church in the first place. The stained glass windows tell the story of the Gospel that we long since quit preaching. “The Gospel? It is just too exclusive,” some say. “We need a more tolerant message.” The church bells still play the old hymns through the week, songs that many would be embarrassed to sing on Sunday. Songs like, “We’ve a story to tell to the nations, that shall turn their hearts to the right.” Or songs like, “Jesus shall reign wherever the sun does his successive journeys run; his kingdom spread from shore to shore, till moons shall wax and wane no more.” You want to get hissed at, or worse, just stand up on a college campus today and speak the words to either of those two hymns.

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead. We may forget who is enshrined in the Taj Mahal, because she is long gone. Jesus is not. He is risen from the dead. The living Savior is the very reason for our existence.

Monday, March 26, 2018

A Grain of Wheat Must Die

Joseph Damien was a nineteenth-century missionary who ministered to lepers on the island of Molokai, Hawaii. The people in this colony grew to love him, revering the sacrificial life he lived out before them. But even he did not know the price he would eventually pay.

One morning before he was to lead their daily worship, he was pouring some boiling water into a cup when some splashed out and fell on his bare foot. It took him a moment to realize that he had not felt any pain. Gripped by the sudden fear of what this could mean, he let more boiling water spill onto his foot. No feeling whatsoever. Damien immediately knew what had happened. He walked tearfully to deliver his sermon, and no one at first noticed the difference in his opening line. You see, he normally greeted them, “My fellow believers.” But this morning he began with, “My fellow lepers.”

Oh, my friends! It is one thing to minister and pour your life into others at a distance or when the cost to you is minimal. It is quite another to give of yourself to others in a way that will require all. In the greatest sacrifice imaginable, Jesus came into this world knowing what obedience to the Father would cost him. He was fully aware, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, that it would be his Father’s will to crush him. Still, Jesus came. (adapted from Ravi Zacharias’ “The Price of Sacrifice”)

On what is now known as Palm Sunday, just five days before he was to be crucified, Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey. He explained his coming in this metaphor: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Do you know that grains of wheat have been found in Pharaoh’s tombs from ancient Egypt? They are thousands of years old, but the grains hold the same potential they held when put in the tomb. When those wheat berries have been planted, they have sprouted like they were just plucked off the stalk. An amazing seed, the grain of wheat! But it is absolutely and utterly useless unless it dies, unless it is buried in the cold, unforgiving earth. The sprout comes, then the blade, then the stalk, and finally the head. Then there is not just one tiny grain of wheat, but thousands. When you plant those thousands you can one day stand beside a shimmering field of wheat, rippling in the breeze, golden in the sunshine, and you can say you have seen a grain of wheat. You have seen all the possibilities of it; all of it has been unfolded and now is visible to the eye. That is what Jesus meant. The world would not see the full outcome of his work and his life until he went to the cross.

And so he came. Jesus came into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey. He came through the thronging crowds of people who would sing his praises on Sunday, arrest him on Thursday, and curse him on Friday. He came to die, so that the grain of wheat would produce untold millions.

One of those grains of wheat stood before his congregation more than 1800 years later and said, “My fellow lepers, I am one of you now.” Joseph Damien lived four more years and died of leprosy. But his death was not in vain. There are thousands bearing fruit today because of him.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Is the Lord at Home in You?

When we lived in Graham, we had next-door neighbors who loved our children. Our son, Jesse, had learned that he could knock on their door, and walk away with a fistful of cookies. We told our son, after this happened several times, that we didn’t want him to ask the neighbors for cookies any more. So, our four-year old would go and stand in their carport, looking longingly at the door, until Diane saw him and came out. Jesse then asked, “What have you got in your house?” Hey, he wasn’t begging for cookies! My son knew that whatever she had was his for the asking, because Jim and Diane had made all our children feel at home there.

What happens when somebody feels at home in a place? Or, how does a person act when he does not feel at home? The way I felt at my Grandmother’s was way different than how I feel when I visit the Biltmore House. Whenever I go there, it drives me crazy because I like to experience something. They won’t even let me touch the furniture. They said, “No,” when I asked if I could crawl up into Mr. Vanderbilt’s bed to see how comfy it was. They said, “Forget it,” when I asked if I could swim in his indoor pool, or fix a sandwich in his kitchen, or even play one lousy game of billiards. You can look, they said, but you may not touch. As much as I tried to make suggestions at the Biltmore House about making the place a bit more inviting, they were not interested. When I pulled my grill out of the trunk and set it up on the front yard for a cookout, you should have seen the security guys come running. Whenever I’m there, even though I have to take out a loan to go inside the place, they make it clear that I am not welcome to make myself at home. That’s not the way it was at Nana’s house growing up. I could walk into the kitchen and get something to eat any time. I could use any of the furniture in her house; in fact, Cindy and I ended up with a house full of it when we got married. When I was at Nana’s, I didn’t have to worry about being loved or accepted. I felt it. I knew it. I was at home.

When Paul writes, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly,” it is the same the idea. It means, let the Word of Christ, even Christ himself, be at home in you. Let him have the run of the place and make it his own. Let him change the way you live, the way you think, even the way you feel. Sadly, for some who follow the Lord, that’s not the way it is. He is only welcome to be a guest, but never welcome to call the shots. Some say, “OK, Lord, you can come into this room, because this is where I pray, but don’t look in there. And no way will you look under my bed or in my closet!”

I heard one preacher say a woman bragged that she had been through the Bible 37 times. He smiled and said, “How many times has it been through you?” The question is not, how much Word do you know, but how much has the Word moved in and taken up residence? You have to watch that Jesus of Nazareth. He won’t just take up space; he will take over. That, my friends, is exactly what is supposed to happen. He is Lord.

We moved away from Graham many years ago, but we remember with gratitude the good neighbors we had there. We knew that with them, we were right at home.

Is the Lord at home in you?

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

WTS Sale on Short Studies In Biblical Theology

Okay, so I try my best not to inundate you guys with deals too often, but every once in a while something pops up from WTS that intrigues me enough that I've gotta share it with you all. So if you interested, click on through. If not, I'll try harder next time!


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To read this eNewsletter, click Load Images in your email client. Or visit this link to view a copy the way we intended it to look: http://www.wtsbooks.com/common/enews_archive/short-studies-bt.html
To read this eNewsletter, click Load Images in your email client. Or visit this link to view a copy the way we intended it to look: http://www.wtsbooks.com/common/enews_archive/short-studies-bt.html
To read this eNewsletter, click Load Images in your email client. Or visit this link to view a copy the way we intended it to look: http://www.wtsbooks.com/common/enews_archive/short-studies-bt.html
To read this eNewsletter, click Load Images in your email client. Or visit this link to view a copy the way we intended it to look: http://www.wtsbooks.com/common/enews_archive/short-studies-bt.html
To read this eNewsletter, click Load Images in your email client. Or visit this link to view a copy the way we intended it to look: http://www.wtsbooks.com/common/enews_archive/short-studies-bt.html
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Monday, March 12, 2018

It's a Slow Slide Away From God

There’s something quite contemporary about the book of Amos, even though it was written 760 years before Christ. God sent Amos to speak to the people of Israel, because they had forgotten the Lord.

The people in the capital city of Samaria had winter houses and summer houses. They had houses of ivory. They had great houses. It seems they believed then what we believe today: real property is a safeguard against future troubles. People talk about how investment in real estate is the way to go because, “They’re not making any more of it.” In Samaria in the 8th century B.C., the economy was booming, and the world was their oyster. They slept on couches or beds while most of Israel slept on the ground. They didn’t lack for a thing. When they got tired of living in their summer house, they moved to their winter house. Life was good. They just had one problem, and it was unavoidable: God. Oh, and Amos, this pesky shepherd-turned-prophet. He says, “You like your houses? Well, God is going to destroy every one of them. Your summer house. Winter house. Great house, ivory house. They will all be laid low.”

Is that because God is against people owning a home? Of course not. Is God against people having possessions? No! Is God mad at wealthy people? No. But the question is not how much you own, but whether what you have owns you. For when accumulation of more wealth becomes the trajectory of our lives, we are in trouble. That’s when we pick up our bags at “Consuming to Live Lane” and move to “Living to Consume Court.” That’s when we find ourselves not satisfied with our lifestyle and are willing to do whatever it takes to get to the next level, the next tax bracket, the next social status. What we live for then, as Francis Schaeffer warned us about in the 1960’s, is “personal peace and affluence.” When that is our goal in life, we are sliding away from God and do not even realize it. What God teaches us through the book of Amos is this: wealth can never be our security. Riches cannot protect our souls.

What happens to people, what happens to a nation, that becomes consumed with possessions, and cares only about accumulating more? God answers that question in the book of Amos, as well. He says, “They do not know how to do right.” It is a growing trend in our nation today, isn’t it? Many people no longer ask, “What is the right thing to do?” Instead, they ask, “What is the expedient thing to do? What will be easiest? What will be most pleasurable? What will be most profitable?” When we get to that place in education, only the voices that sing along with what is culturally acceptable are allowed to speak. If current conventional ‘wisdom’ is contrary to what the Bible teaches, you don’t have to guess which one is kicked to the curb. When we stop asking what is the right thing to do in a business, we cut corners on quality, or we underpay our employees, or we lie to our customers about performance or warranty or price. When we arrive at the same place as a family, we may decide that our children need things, or comfort, or fun experiences more than anything else, so we sacrifice doing the hard work of training them and building their character, and only give them what they want. When we get to this place in our own spiritual growth, we may choose to do what is easy and convenient in our Bible reading or prayer. We slowly slide away from worship, giving, and serving. It becomes less important for us even to show up on Sunday morning, though we desperately need to be equipped as followers of Jesus Christ.

It’s a slow slide away from God, and the price we pay is not worth it.