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!

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!) :

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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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.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Welcome Home, Billy Graham

I had breakfast with my mom last Friday, two days after Billy Graham met Jesus face to face. While we were eating, Mom said, “Wouldn’t you loved to have been in heaven on Wednesday morning?” Yes. I am sure that was a sight to see, as it is anytime one who belongs to the Lord crosses over from death to life.

My great-grandma Hauser was a powerful spiritual influence on me when I was a child. She never knew it, and I didn’t recognize it at the time, but she was. I spent a lot of time with her and remember with fondness the normal lunch she fixed for my brothers and me: a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of tomato soup. Campbell’s, of course. I also remember this little lady with her gray hair in a bun and her wire rim glasses perched on her nose, reading intently from her dog-eared Bible with the pages yellowed from years of loving attention. And close to the Bible, there was always a copy of “Decision” magazine. Every now and then I would read that magazine and find Billy Graham’s articles there, news about his preaching campaigns all over the world, and testimonies from people who had heard the Gospel through this native North Carolinian. Maybe that’s why when I was just a little guy of 8 or 9 years old, I told people that one day I would be a preacher. Those who knew me and the rascal that I was scoffed at the idea, but not Grandma Hauser. She saw with eyes of faith, perhaps, that God could use even me, this middle son with the hot temper and the quick tongue. As one pastor told me years ago, “Hey, God can hit a straight lick with a crooked stick.”

Sherwood Wirt, who was editor of “Decision,” said this about Billy Graham: "My first impression of the man at close quarters was not of his good looks but of his goodness; not of his extraordinary range of commitments, but of his own 'committedness' to his Lord and Master. To be with him even for a short time is to get a sense of a single-minded man; it shames one and shakes one as no amount of ability and cleverness can do." That’s the Billy Graham I grew up admiring, the man who was singularly focused on the Lord Jesus Christ, the Gospel message, and his desire that every person hear the truth about their greatest need: to be saved from sin. He was a counselor to Presidents, he preached to Kings and Queens and Dictators and Prime Ministers. He wrote books and newspaper columns. He encouraged evangelists all over the world and brought them together for training. But mostly, Billy Graham was a preacher. He believed the Bible is truth from God and he spent his life telling millions that truth.

Woody Allen interviewed Billy years ago and introduced him by saying with a smile that there’s a lot that he doesn’t agree with Graham about. The first thing Billy said with a big smile was, “It’s very nice to be with you, Woody, and I would like to say that there are a lot of things I don’t agree with you on.” After the laughter, Woody asked Billy what his favorite commandment was. He replied, “Well, right now, with a lot of teenagers, it’s to honor thy father and thy mother.” Woody said that was his least favorite commandment, and that he was saving his money so when he got a little older, he could put his parents in a home. After the laughter died down, Billy said, “That’s very good; I hope it will be in a home with you.”

The world will miss Billy Graham. But he is finally home.

Monday, February 26, 2018

No Discipline is Pleasant

I heard about a man who put himself through veterinary school by doing taxidermy, you know, stuffing dead animals so people could mount them on the wall. When he finished school he decided to open a business where he could do both, a combination vet hospital and taxidermy shop. The sign outside said, “Either way, you get your dog back!”

One of the younger men in our church spoke at our men’s breakfast last Sunday and shared that he didn’t remember a time growing up when he turned around and thanked his father for the spanking he had just administered. He laughed and said, “But looking back on it, I know that what he was doing for me was good, and God used it to build my character. ‘For the moment, all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.’” He was quoting from the book of Hebrews, which explains that God disciplines us because he loves us, and because we are his sons and daughters. So, we are not to take it lightly, nor are we to be discouraged by his corrections. The end result, as we are trained by the discipline of the Lord, is well worth the momentary pain. What does that have to do with the taxiderm-a-vet? Nothing, really, I just liked the story. No, I believe we can take courage as followers of Christ that he will change us and grow us up, but not always in the ways we would prefer. That’s why the Scripture says, “It is for discipline that you have to endure.”

Joseph went through several years of discipline as he sat in a prison cell for a crime he didn’t commit. He believed that this was part of God’s plan for him, just as being sold into slavery had been, and he trusted the Lord to work through his trial for his good and for the benefit of others. Instead of sitting in the cell for years complaining, or feeling sorry for himself, or growing bitter and hardened, Joseph served. The keeper of the prison, seeing Joseph’s character, put him in charge of all the prisoners.

Peter went through the hardest trial of his life when he denied Jesus three times, just as the Lord had told him he would. The rough and tumble fisherman trusted in himself, even proudly crowing just hours earlier, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Hey, Jesus, I know these other guys are weak, but not this guy. I’ve got your back; you just turn around, and I will be right behind you.

The crushing weight of Peter’s failure did not destroy him. Just the opposite. It broke his pride and prepared his heart for that day on the beach, a few days later, when Jesus would ask him three times, “Do you love me, Peter?” For each time Peter denied Jesus, he was able to look his Savior in the eye and tell him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Then Jesus did the unthinkable: he restored Peter to a place of ministry. He told him three times, “Feed my sheep.”

Does the need for discipline disqualify you to be useful to the Lord? No, it proves that you are his. Does failure put you on the sidelines? No, it puts you in a place to be restored to usefulness. Does undeserved punishment mean that God has forgotten you? No, it makes you a recipient of an even greater measure of his grace.

So, welcome the discipline God brings, and take your life, every part of it, to him.

But don’t take your dog to a vet who is also a taxidermist.