Ever Wonder?

Ever wonder about the people who question you because you had your eyes open while praying?

How did they know?

Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to Heaven and said …” (John 17:1).

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Are You Listening?

As a pastor and a blogger, I’m often concerned that people aren’t actually listening to what I’m saying or writing. Am I rolling out words that are going off into space somewhere, or garnering “likes” from people who don’t even read? American president Franklin Roosevelt (1933-1945) had the same concern.

One day Roosevelt decided to make an experiment. While receiving a lengthy line of visitors to the White House, the President greeted each person by saying, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.” Visitors eagerly shook the President’s hand and responded with words like “Marvelous! Keep up the good work,” “We are proud of you,” or “God bless you, sir.

One of the last visitors that morning was the Bolivian ambassador. When Mr Roosevelt offered his odd greeting, the ambassador whispered back to the president, “I’m sure she had it coming.” Dozens of men and women, but only one was actually listening.

The Bible says,

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world (Psalm 19:1-4).

Today you’ve seen the light of the sun, and on a cloudless night the billions of stars that light the vastness of space. Flowers turn their heads, trees wave their arms, and birds sing their songs of praise. In all these words of nature, declaring the glory of God, have you heard? Have you stopped to honor Him with the praise of thanks?

Grace, Mercy, and Forgiveness

My mother and me when I was a year old, 1968.

“Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:19, 21).

The other day I watched a mother pushing her two young children in a shopping cart. One child accidentally poked the other in the tight space and the mother told the crying girl to hit her brother back. Revenge was this mother’s solution. Vengeance always feels like a tonic to the sinful soul.

By the time my mother was in her mid-twenties, she was basically raising her 4 children by herself. As a kid, I didn’t think she was an awful parent, but as I’ve become older, I think she was pretty close to a perfect parent.

I have a sister a year younger than myself, and growing up we had our share of disagreements (all of which were her fault). She’d allegedly bump me by accident, so I’d poke her back. She’d sock me in the arm and I’d kick her. Then she’d clobber me. It was sweet vengeance all the way. We lived an Old Testament eye-for-an-eye and a tooth-for-a-tooth justice.

My mother’s solution was for us to say we were sorry “and mean it“, hug each other, and then get back to playing together. She taught us the Christian virtues of practicing grace, mercy, and forgiveness. Yes, there were times she intervened with sovereign and wise judgment, applying fair justice, but it was always at her hand, not the revenge-hungry hand of my sister or me. Grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

The popular perception is that children are angels, but children naturally practice the sinful art of revenge. Getting even is what the sin nature longs after, and what we re-enforce in our children.

God, however, teaches His children to leave revenge in His hand and rather be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you (Ephesians 4:32).

 

What’s Missing?

Many years ago I parked my car and walked a few blocks to take care of some business. When I returned to my car, I found that someone had broken off the door handle. The whole handle was missing. The keyhole for unlocking the car door was in the handle, like you see in the photo. Without the door handle, I couldn’t unlock the car to get home.

I stood next to the car for the longest time contemplating my every choice, like breaking the window or sitting down on the curb and crying. Finally I decided that I had no choice but to find a telephone and call for help.

As I walked to the nearest business, I looked back at the car and realized there was a keyed door handle on the passenger side of the car; I only needed to enter through the passenger door.

All that time I stood there trying to figure out how to get into the car, and the solution was so simple. I already had access, I just need to use what was already available to me.

Ephesians 1:3 says that God the Father has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. When I was born again, God gave me every spiritual blessing He had in Heaven. I can’t ask for more than He’s already given to me. My problem is that I fail to use what He’s provided.

Watch and Pray

George Washington praying before going into Battle at Valley Forge, painted by Arnold Friberg

Watch and pray (Matthew 26:41).

Many years ago I worked as a manager of a real estate company. One of our very successful agents was an elderly man who had spent much of his life in the mountains of Arkansas. Virgil had been raised in a Baptist church and knew a few things about the Bible, but he didn’t know the Bible.

Once in a while he’d have a prospective buyer of a piece of land or a house, but when it came to making a decision the purchaser would hesitate. The person would say he needed to pray about it before committing to anything. Virgil told me the people always seemed so pious that he expected a halo to appear over their heads, but he knew it was either an excuse for indecision or a polite way of saying “no.”

Without missing a beat, Virgil would get up, move the furniture out of the way, get down on his knees and bow in front of the chair. The prospective buyer, befuddled, would ask what Virgil was doing. He’d answer, “If you need to pray about it, let’s do it right now!Not one person ever got down to pray with Virgil.

How often we act like those people and use prayer as a polite excuse to dilly-dally around. Don’t misunderstand me. Prayer is vital to the life of the Christian … as long as it’s real prayer. Prayer is how you talk to God; He talks to you through the pages of Holy Scripture. And when you’re done praying, you’d better be ready to do something.

On the night of His betrayal, Jesus told His disciples to watch and pray. Whatever the issue is, pray and be ready to act! The spiritual life begins on your knees but always turns to marching orders.

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you (Matthew 7:7).

The Parable of the Snail’s Tale

 

Herbert and Hobart were twins. Almost.

They’d spent every minute of the three months of their lives together. They liked the same things, did the same things and went to the same places.

Every morning when the sun came up, Herbert opened his eyes, moved to the bright pink wheel in the center of his home, and began running around and around and around.

Hobart would wake at the same time as Herbert, only he didn’t have a wheel, he’d just move to the edge of his house and swim around and around and around.

The two best friends, a hamster and a goldfish, kept busy going. They had so many places to go and things to see in their little world.

One day as the two brothers were making the circuit around the world, Hobart noticed something odd outside his glassy home. He stopped swimming to stare. Herbert stopped running in his wheel and tumbled to the wood shavings on the floor of his home.

“Hey, what’s up?” the hamster protested as he turned to see what his twin was so interested in.

Hobart ignored his brother and rose to the top of his fishbowl. Taking a big gulp of air he called out, “You! On the wall! What are you doing?”

The snail on the wall stood still in his thin trail of slime. Turning his antennae, he saw the two twins on the table, each peering over the edges of their glass houses.

“I didn’t see you fellas there. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Solomon and I’m on my way up the wall to the window. I’ve dreamed about a big-wide world out there just waiting to be discovered. More snails than I could ever imagine. This adventure has taken me three days so far, but I’m on my way. See, I spend the day climbing up the wall and then each night I slide down a bit, but I’m certain to reach the window sill in a few days.” Solomon couldn’t resist adding, “Then the world’s my … oyster!”

The twins looked at each other and sneered. “Up the wall.” They both laughed simultaneously, Hobart’s gills choking on a wave stirred up from laughing so hard. “That’s nonsense! A world waiting to be discovered. We’ve seen and done everything there is to see and do.”

Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him (1 Corinthians 2:9).

True and Righteous Justice

Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful (Luke 6:36).

There was an old preacher who hated to get his photograph taken. Every year he was required to get his picture taken for his new pastor’s identification card, and every year he refused. Finally the organization had enough of his disobedience and told him that if he didn’t get his picture taken, they wouldn’t renew his license to preach.

The old man reluctantly made an appointment for a new photograph. When the day came, he arrived at the photographer’s studio with a scowl etched on his face.

The photographer did all he could to make the preacher smile. Nothing worked. Finally the photographer sat down and asked, “Sir, why are you so grouchy today?

I don’t like to get my picture taken” he groused.

I’m sorry to hear that. So what’s the problem with getting your picture taken?” asked the photographer.

The preacher gnarled, “Pictures never seem to do me justice.

The photographer looked carefully at the preacher, then stood back up behind the camera. “Sir, it’s my professional opinion that you don’t need justice … you need mercy.”

You are mistaken if you believe you will ever find justice in this world. Flawed and sinful man will only ever dispense flawed and sinful justice; true and righteous justice comes only from God.

To this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: “Who committed no sin, nor was guile found in His mouth”; who when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously (1 Peter 2:21-23).

I’m the Sexiest Man Alive

Jesus said to them, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15).

If I claimed to be . . . ohhhhh, let’s say . . . the sexiest man alive . . . at some point I’d have to either put up the proof or give up the fantasy.

Let’s also say that a group of children became my social media fans and took to devoting their lives to me.  Soon parents, the public school system, and the federal government determine I need to be stopped. I’m arrested, put on trial, found guilty, and scheduled for death.

By this point one of three things would happen: I’d either change my story and admit I’d made up my claims, everyone would know that I’m mentally insane, or people would accept my testimony as true.

Jesus didn’t hide or run away from the claims He made about Himself. In fact, he was tried, convicted, and then executed for His claims. He never walked back His claims. His press secretary never suggested, “Oops! Did He say He was the Messiah? He meant ‘Carpenter’.”

Accepting Christ means accepting who He claimed to be. Who did He claim to be? Almighty God, the Creator, in human flesh! “I Am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8).

Curiosity Killed the Cat

curiosityYou’ve heard the phrase “curiosity killed the cat.” I think we own that cat, only she’s not dead … yet.

Fluffy is into everything, especially if it’s food. She can be at the opposite end of the house, asleep, and still hear the bag of Cheetos being opened.

Sometimes while I’m cooking she stands next to me with her paws reaching up my legs and sniffing the air. I tell her, “This isn’t for you,” but she doesn’t seem to believe me. I’ll take a bit of whatever I have and offer it to her: onion, black pepper, marinara sauce, broccoli; then she turns and walks away.

Fluffy wants all kinds of things that won’t satisfy her taste buds or stomach. In fact, the things she thinks she wants almost always turn out to be things she can’t really stand, things which leave her empty and unsatisfied.

Jesus, the greatest story-teller of all time, talked about a man who always wanted more.  Didn’t matter what it was, he wanted it. He lived his life for the things everyone else had. He was going to gain the whole world, if that was possible. The story ends with an important question we all must ponder: What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? (Mark 8:36).

Mean Ol’ Sin Dogs

What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of trangressions (Galatians 3:19).

Growing up, we had a neighbor with a big, mean dog. The dog was kept on a heavy chain staked in the middle of the yard. It would wander around and around, as it wore a circular pathway in the grass at the limit the chain allowed. Looking at that worn pathway, we knew exactly how far that mean ol’ dog could get before the chain snapped it back.

Sometimes for fun, and to prove our bravery and speed, we’d approach the sleeping dog with a stick. When in range, we’d tap the dog with the stick and then run away as fast as we could.

That mean ol’ dog did exactly what was in its heart: growl, bark, and then chase the stupid boy who’d entered its domain. Neither the stick nor the boy made the dog act like a dog, we both merely revealed the dog’s nature.

The Bible says that God gave the Law of Moses – including those famous Ten Commandments – because of transgressions, or better, to reveal what’s really in your heart deep down. The Law pokes at us and what do we do? We obey our sinful nature and disobey God. We act like mean ol’ sin dogs. The Law reveals what’s already in us … S – I – N.

What every mean old dog needs is a new nature. We need God to change our hearts so that rather than love sin, we despise it and desire to please God. He does this by giving the sinner a new nature (saves us) through faith in Jesus.

What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions. … Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith (Galatians 3:24).