Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Better Way

“Much evangelism today can be characterized as guerilla strikes, where we venture in for a quick moment of sharing before returning home to our safe environment. When Jesus sent out His disciples, they were to trust in God’s care and become directly engaged with those to whom they were ministering. That is why they had to look for a home to stay in. They did not use guerilla tactics of dogging the enemy and being in and out of sight, but used an infiltration strategy, where their presence would be obvious. Evangelism requires engagement. It often requires serving people as well as preaching to them. Telling unbelievers that God cares should be reinforced by evidences of such caring” (Darrell L. Bock, The NIV Application Commentary: Luke, pp. 253-254).

As part of my training in school, I participated in quite a bit of “cold call” evangelism, where I would knock on the door of total strangers and ask for an opportunity to share the gospel with them. I can truthfully say that I dreaded nearly every minute of it. Why? Because the process always seemed so unnnatural. I would think of how suspicious I would be of a total stranger showing up at my door and professing to care for me. I often felt that there had to be a better way.

As I study the life of Jesus, I am more and more impressed with the fact that nearly every opportunity for teaching arose out of His interaction in the lives of those around Him. When Jesus would go to city or a region, He would reach out to those around Him through acts of service. Often He would heal those who were sick; at times He would feed those who were hungry. And those acts of kindness and compassion would nearly always give Jesus an opportunity to share the good news of God.

Is there a place for “cold call” evangelism? Yes. Have people been reached with gospel that way? Yes. But there is a better way – the way of Jesus.

God loves you!
Mike

Monday, December 14, 2009

Am I A "Have" Or A "Have Not?"

Please consider the following global financial statistics from the website of the Financial Times. Although the material is somewhat dated (three years ago), my guess is that the gap separating the “haves” and the “have nots” has probably widened instead of narrowed.

“Personal wealth is distributed so unevenly across the world that the richest two percent of adults own more than fifty percent of the world’s assets while the poorest half hold only one percent of wealth...Adults with more than $2,200 of assets were in the top half of the global wealth league table, while those with more than $61,000 were in the top 10 percent...To belong to the top 1 percent of the world’s wealthiest adults you would need more than $500,000, something that 37 million adults have achieved...Almost 90 percent of the world’s wealth is held in North American, Europe and high-income Asian and Pacific countries, such as Japan and Australia. While North America has 6 percent of the world’s adult population it accounts for 34 percent of household wealth” (“Richest 2% Hold Half The World’s Assets”; ft.com; 12-5-2006).

Let’s put these figures in terms that we can wrap our minds around. If the entire world population was represented by a group of 100 people, only 2 of those people would own or control over half of the world’s assets. I would suggest that by any standard of equity, fairness or compassion you choose to use -- something is amiss. Am I advocating taking from the “haves” and giving to the “have nots” as a way of redistributing wealth? No. Do I realize that some are “have nots” because they refuse to be productive? Yes. But even when we add in those factors, the gap is still startling.

As I grapple with my own place in the allocation of God’s blessings, I need to recall that, according to Jesus, it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:32). I must remember that it is still possible to gain the whole world and lose my own soul (Mark 8:36).

God loves you!
Mike

What Will Man Do To Me?

November 22nd probably started out like any other day in the lives of Mark Renninger, Ronald Owens, Tina Griswold, and Greg Richards. All four were police officers in Lakewood, Washington, a suburb of Seattle. They had gathered at a local coffee shop early Sunday morning just prior to the beginning of their work shifts for the day. One can easily imagine them swapping stories from their previous shift or laughing over a new joke. As they sipped their coffee, maybe the tone was more serious as they discussed a personal problem that was weighing heavily on the one of the group. Regardless of what was running through their minds and conversation, my guess is that they each expected the day ahead of them to be pretty much like any other day.

But all of that changed in an instant. A gunman entered the shop with what appears to be the single purpose of killing the four officers and began firing his weapon. By the time all the shooting was done, all four officers were dead. Two were killed as they sat in their chairs. One was killed as he or she stood to return fire. The last officer managed to engage the shooter in a struggle and fire their own gun, but still died of wounds received.

We just never know what a day will bring, do we? Our lives can change in an instant. We could be victims of a violent crime. We could be involved in a terrible accident. We could be diagnosed with a fatal disease. Any number of events could prove to us that our lives are just a vapor (James 4:14).

What, then, are we to do? Are we to live in constant fear of something terrible happening to us? Of course not. But we can face an unknown future with the calm assurance that, whatever happens, God will never abandon us. With confidence we can affirm: “The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man to do me?” (Hebrews. 13:6).

God loves you!
Mike

Monday, November 30, 2009

To God Be The Glory

The praise of men can be intoxicating. When it is not held in check by a healthy dose of reality regarding our own limitations and faults, it can lead to our destruction. A good example of this is King Herod in Acts 12. A rift had arisen between the king and the people of Tyre and Sidon, prompting them to send a delegation to Caesarea to make an effort to win back the king’s favor (v. 20). Part of their strategy included heaping praises upon him for his oratory skills (v. 22). Herod made the mistake of accepting the praise for himself rather than giving God the glory and he paid a steep price for his prideful arrogance (v. 23).

It is much better to remain humble and maintain a proper sense of priorities when we are blessed with the praise of others. In his book “Expository Reflections on the Gospel of John,” Leon Morris shares a story from the life of Marian Anderson, one of the most celebrated singers of the twentieth century. He writes: “I have read that the singer Marian Anderson was once told by Toscanini that she had the voice of the century. On one occasion she gave a concert at the White House for the King and Queen of England and the Roosevelts. On one Easter Day she sang beneath the Lincoln statue in Washington to a crowd of more than 75,000, including many of this world’s great ones. So, when a reporter asked her what was the greatest moment of her life, she had plenty to choose from. But her answer was, ‘The day I went home and told my mother that she needn’t take in washing anymore.’ For all her greatness, Marian Anderson had her sense of values right” (pg. 160).

The wise counsel of the apostle Paul is still appropriate today: “For through the grace given to me I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think…” (Romans 12:3).

God loves you!
Mike

Monday, November 16, 2009

Tearing Down Walls

This past Monday, November 9, marked the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in Germany. How did the wall come to be? Following the fall of Nazi Germany near the end of WWII, most German territory, including the city of Berlin, was split into 4 parts, with each area coming under the control of one of the four Allied forces (United States, Soviet Union, Britain, and France). As time passed, tensions grew between the Soviets and the west, ultimately resulting in what became known as the “Cold War.” The city of Berlin became a flashpoint in the ideological battle. In the early 1950’s, multiplied thousands began to emigrate from areas under communist control in East Germany for freedom in the West. The resulting loss of human economic and intellectual capital became a serious problem for East Germany. Eventually, in an effort to stem the tide of those leaving, a physical wall began to be constructed in Berlin in 1961. With the completion of the wall, most East Germans were no longer permitted to travel freely. For the next three decades, the Berlin Wall was a highly visible symbol of battle between communism and capitalism. But due to the internal strain and ultimate collapse of Soviet domination of Eastern Bloc countries, the Berlin Wall eventually came crashing down. November 9, 1989 is commemorated as the day to celebrate its historic collapse.

The Bible speaks of another wall that needed to be torn down. I’m speaking, of course, of the wall separating the Jews and the Gentiles. This division had been fostered by centuries of exclusivism and hatred. Most Jews had built a mental boundary that excluded Gentiles from participation in God’s kingdom. But Jesus Christ (through His death, burial, and resurrection) completely demolished this carefully constructed wall (Ephesians 2:11-16).

In honor of our Lord’s accomplishment, can you think of any walls separating you from a brother or sister in Christ that need to be destroyed? Like our Savior, let’s be known for tearing down dividing walls instead of building them.

God loves you!
Mike

Monday, November 9, 2009

Witnessing

In a devotional titled “Flunking Witnessing,” John Fischer shares some valuable insights into a task that frightens many followers of Jesus. Please let me share some of what He says with you (note: if you are uncomfortable with the term “witnessing,” then feel free to substitute the words “sharing the gospel” or “evangelism” whenever you see “witnessing”).

“Why do we often find this so hard?…(Witnessing) is usually presented as if we were at a sales conference getting pumped to sell our product.. I don’t know about you, but I’m a very poor salesman. I’m the kind of guy whose sales pitch would be, “You don’t want to buy this, do you?” I don’t like interrupting people. I don’t like infringing on their space. I hate it when people do that to me, so why would I engage in it myself? Plus, I don’t like pretense. I don’t like being nice to someone just to make a deal. I wouldn’t want anyone to think they are a means to an end.

“That’s why I’ve been very encouraged to find out that true witnessing doesn’t involve any of these things. It doesn’t even involve having a memorized speech. Witnessing is really nothing more than befriending people and telling them your story at the right time (usually when they ask you).

“Witnessing is being so in love with God that you eventually end up talking about Him. Witnessing is being so overwhelmed by the undeserved nature of your salvation that you can’t contain your joy. Witnessing isn’t coercing anyone; it’s quite the opposite. It’s having someone coerce the gospel out of you, because they can’t stand not knowing what’s going on with you anymore.

“If you want to prepare for anything, think about your own story, how you can tell it, and how you can connect it to the events that are happening around you…But don’t worry about not being prepared. Probably some of the best witnesses around are people who would flunk a witnessing course, but make excellent friends.”

God loves you!
Mike

Monday, November 2, 2009

How Would Jesus Handle It?

"A North Carolina pastor plans to host a Halloween event at his church to burn heretical books. At the top of the list — the Bible. Pastor Marc Grizzard claims the King James version of the Bible is the only true word of God, and that all other versions are "satanic" and "perversions" of God's word. On Halloween night, Grizzard and the 14 members of the Amazing Grace Baptist Church will set fire to other versions of the scripture, as well as music and books by Christian authors. "We are burning books that we believe to be Satanic," Grizzard said. The list will include books written by "a lot of different authors who we consider heretics, such as Billy Graham, Rick Warren… the list goes on and on,” Pastor Grizzard said. Also on the pastor's list of heretical authors — Mother Teresa…" ("Pastor To Host Halloween Bible-Burning Event," foxnews.com, 10-22-09).

The purpose of this article is not to debate the pros and cons of various versions of the Bible. I'm not here to promote or criticize certain religious authors. I'm more concerned about the message this kind of thing sends about "Christianity" in general. I realize that faithful disciples of Jesus will never totally fit in to their surrounding culture, but can't some care be taken not to give any unnecessary ammunition to critics?

Pastor Grizzard and the members of Amazing Grace Baptist Church are certainly free to express their convictions on these matters in the particular way they have chosen. That is a privilege, at least for the time being, that we still have in this country. I doubt that anything I or anyone else could say would sway them from their course of action. But if given the opportunity, I would encourage them to think carefully about the kind of attention they are attracting. Is this how Jesus Christ would handle it?

By the way, the article does say that "…the book-burning is being promoted as
a social event with a barbecue dinner." And God must shed a tear…

God loves you!
Mike

Vision

“Vision” is a hot topic in leadership circles. Men and women who desire to make a difference in the business world are often told that they must be visionaries – those who can look beyond the present, set concrete and measurable goals, and then motivate those around them to strive to reach for those goals. Businesses compete for visionary leaders who can lead their company to greater and greater success. Churches have adopted this popular business model as their blueprint for growth as well. Congregations also compete for driven, visionary leaders who have the potential to lead them to success in the spiritual marketplace. Is this wise?

Jim McGuiggan has some words of caution for the body of Christ in this area. He writes: “It’s critically important that the Church sees itself in God’s terms; not as the world sees it, not as it sees itself but as he sees it. It’s nature and mission is what he says it is and what we dream after that – our goals and programs and “vision” – must be in line with and completely identified with what we are in his sight. Too soon our own (often) fleshly desires (“growth,” “acceptability,” “feeling blessed,” “happy” and such) become our “vision” and who we truly are in Jesus is forgotten or yawned at” (“God’s Vision and Our Vision”; www.jimmcguiggan.com)

When you boil it all down, our “vision” really doesn’t matter. What matters is God’s vision for us individually and corporately. He sets the agenda; he provides the goals; he gives the motivation. We are called to follow His visionary leadership.

“A system of ministry leadership may be organizationally efficient, impressively accomplished, and statistically amazing, but if those who work within it are not being changed into the likeness of Christ and increasing their awareness of and participation in what really matters to him, it is spiritually lacking” (Carlus Gupton).

Truly visionary leaders will always point others away from themselves and toward God and His vision for their lives. Remember, it’s God’s will that is to be done and not our own.

God loves you!
Mike

Monday, October 19, 2009

Rebuild or Retreat

One of the newest additions to the U.S. Naval fleet launched out on its maiden voyage Tuesday morning. The U.S.S. New York, an amphibious transport dock ship, left Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding's yard in southern Louisiana for its official commissioning in New York in November. While new naval vessels are built and commissioned on a regular basis, this one is different. What sets the U.S.S. New York apart is that almost 8 tons of steel salvaged from the wreckage of the World Trade Center towers was used in its construction. The ship was named to honor the victims of the terrorist attacks of eight years ago (www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,565141,00.html).

Following the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, about all that remained was mangled and twisted piles of structural steel. Those piles of misshapen metal became a symbol of weakness and vulnerability for our nation. But now some of that same metal, re-forged and re-formed, becomes a symbol of strength and preparedness. Something useless became something useful. A painful reminder became a motivation for renewed effort.

It is possible that each of us may face times of devastation in our own lives – times with the potential to leave us standing among the twisted wreckage, staring at smoldering piles that once were our personal hopes and dreams. When such times come, we have a choice to make. We can allow the wreckage of life to become a monument that forever haunts us and reminds us of our defeats and failures or we can take remnants of the wreckage, re-forge them in the furnace of affliction, and use them to rebuild what Satan seeks to permanently destroy.

The time to make the choice is now, before difficult times come. In the heat of the moment, with tears of pain and grief clouding our vision, we may be tempted to give up. So we must determine now, with God’s help, to expose Satan for the terrorist he is and to refuse to allow him to defeat us. May we resolve to rebuild instead of retreat.

God loves you!
Mike

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Secret To Long Life

It seems that the search for the proverbial “fountain of youth” has always been a human obsession. Modern society is no exception. Various ‘miracle’ treatments of all kinds are promoted as the latest discovery to slow the advance of time. But when you sort through all the hype, the keys to living a long life are really quite simple.

In a recent Yahoo! Health article, Dr. Maoshing Ni shared his insights on how to live to be 100 years old. First, he listed the bad habits that contribute to premature aging. That list included poor diet, lack of exercise, stress and worry, exhaustion, unhappiness, lack of love, toxic overload, and blockages \ congestion of the transportation highways within our bodies. Not surprisingly, the keys to living a long life are mostly a reversal of the bad habits. The 6 healthy habits that Dr. Ni mentions are: drink more water, eat like a centenarian, restore regular rest, take the stairs, manage your stress, and detoxify your surroundings (health.yahoo.com/experts/drmao/19787/how-to-live-to-100/).

Can I share a secret with you? And if I tell you, will you promise to share it? I know how you can live forever! There is no long list of key principles to memorize. Just remember one thing: Eternal life is a gift of grace received through faith in Jesus Christ, the son of God. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40). “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).

The only thing that stands between you and eternal life is a living faith in Jesus Christ. Nothing more. Nothing less.

God loves you!
Mike

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Pondering Our Priorities

“Tickets for one Broadway play had to be purchased months in advance. One couple even planned their entire vacation around the availability of tickets. But, to their surprise, they discovered an empty seat next to them when they arrived for the show. It was the only vacant seat in the theater. “This is amazing,” the man said to a woman seated across from the empty seat. “We had to buy our tickets eight months in advance, and we get here and find an empty seat.” The woman replied, “Well, that seat belongs to me, too. It was my husband’s seat,” she continued with a shrug. “He died.” The man said, “I’m terribly sorry. But couldn’t you have invited a friend to come with you?” She thought about it a second before answering. “No, I couldn’t do that; they are all at his funeral!” Now that is a woman who has clear priorities!” (Don Humphrey, Hearts On Fire, pp. 6-7).

This humorous (and fictional!) story highlights a common human struggle – that of choosing and maintaining our priorities in life. There is much in our world that shouts for our attention. Nearly everything is presented as an urgent matter. How, then, do we discern what is truly important?

The Bible has something to say about our priorities as a child of God. Jesus had a message for some who were anxious about meeting even the basic needs of life. We are not talking about luxuries here. In context, Jesus is talking about food and clothing. Surely such necessities ought to rank as a top priority in our lives. But, according to Jesus, there is an even greater priority. “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). God’s program is to have first place in our lives!

Does that mean we can safely ignore other important commitments, such as our families, jobs, etc.? Of course not. But all other priorities should be subservient to our over-arching priority – seeking the kingdom and righteousness of God.

God loves you!
Mike

Monday, September 28, 2009

Playing Favorites

“One day the famous orator Henry Ward Beecher had to be absent from the Plymouth church where he usually preached. His brother was invited to speak for him. The auditorium was crowded, but when it became evident that the eloquent Henry Ward Beecher was not going to appear, many started to leave the building. The brother of Beecher was not disturbed. He stood up before the murmuring crowd, called for silence and said, “All who came this morning to worship Henry W. Beecher may leave now. The rest will remain to worship God.” No one left after that” (David Lusk, The Beacon, Pensacola, FL.).

It is so easy to let our assembly times be driven by personalities rather than praise. The church of God in Corinth battled this very problem. “For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:11-12). The apostle Paul would have none of their “preacher-itis” (even if they favored him, by the way!). With strong words, he calls them to re-focus. “Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one would say you were baptized in my name” (1 Corinthians 1:13-15).

If we are not vigilant, we can develop the same problem as Corinth. Our gatherings should be an opportunity for joy instead of judgmentalism. Lord, please help us never to be divisive over personalities, abilities, or status. Help us never to “play favorites.” May we take to heart the exhortation of James: “My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism…But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:1,9).

God loves you!
Mike

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Team Effort

I had the opportunity last night to watch a professional baseball game between the San Francisco Giants and the Colorado Rockies. The tickets were a birthday gift from my family. I was reminded once again that baseball truly is a team sport. While the focus is usually on the battle between pitcher and the batter, a whole lot more is going on. Fielders are constantly adjusting their positions. If a runner is on base, the defensive baseman is working to keep him from getting too big of a lead. The field coaches are constantly relaying signs to key people. A relief pitcher may be warming up in the event he is needed. In anticipation of a throw to a particular base, someone is assigned to back up the play in case the initial catch is missed. When everyone on the team is doing their part, it really is amazing to watch. Many individual players and coaches, working together, make a very difficult task look very easy.

Periodically, I need to remind myself that serving God is also a team effort. The apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 12:14-20 help me out: “For the body (team) is not one member, but many. If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body (team),” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body (team). And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body (team),” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body (team). If the whole body (team) were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body (team), just as He desired. If they were all one member, where would the body (team) be? But now there are many members, but one body (team).” Go team!!!

God loves you!
Mike

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Prisoner Of The Body

Rachel Todd was a normal teenager with grand plans for her future. But that changed a few months ago. A rare medical condition has caused the 18-year-old to become what some are describing as “a prisoner in her own body.” Here is one account of Rachel’s story: “The British teenager suffered a stroke last December, which left her paralyzed from head-to-toe. She can hear and think, but can only communicate by blinking and rolling her eyes. The condition, known as locked-in syndrome, has been described by doctors as "the closest thing to being buried alive”…The condition is a rare neurological disorder characterized by complete paralysis of voluntary muscles in all parts of the body except for those that control eye movement, the National Institute of Neurological Disorder said on its Web site. There is no cure for locked-in syndrome or a standard course of treatment” (www.foxnews.com, 9-8-09).

It seems that the apostle Paul suffered from a spiritual strain of this same illness. As he writes to Christians in Rome, he speaks of an intense battle with his own body. Listen to his words: “I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death” (Romans 7:21-24)?

While there is no known cure for Rachel’s physical condition, Paul goes on to tell us that there is hope in the spiritual battle with the flesh. “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (Romans 8:1-2). Praise God that we no longer have to be prisoners of our own body!

God loves you!
Mike

Monday, September 7, 2009

Stockholm Syndrome

As time goes on, more details become available concerning the story of Jaycee Dugard, who was kidnapped at age 11 near her South Lake Tahoe home and has spent the last 18 years as a prisoner of her abductors. I can’t even begin to imagine physical, mental, and emotional torment this woman has endured. Some have wondered why she didn’t escape when she got older and had the opportunity to do so. Psychologists tell us that, over time, a captive can even begin to bond with their captor as a coping mechanism. That may have taken place in Jaycee’s case. There is even a name for it. It is called Stockholm Syndrome. It is “…a psychological shift that occurs in captives when they are threatened gravely but shown acts of kindness by their captors…When subjected to prolonged captivity, these captives can develop a strong bond with their captors” (wikipedia.org).

In our battle against sin in our lives, it is possible to suffer from our own form of Stockholm Syndrome. When we are first taken hostage by a particular sin, we are traumatized and struggle against our captor. But as time goes on and the assaults of sin continue, it becomes easier to rationalize and justify what once terrified us. We can even begin to convince ourselves that the sin somehow benefits us. The will to fight begins to subside and we start to form a bond with the very kidnapper that seeks to enslave us.

I hope that Ms. Dugard is provided with all the help she needs to work through this horrific event in her life. I don’t believe she can be faulted in the least for anything she did, physically or mentally, to cope with her ordeal. But we who are children of the King have no reason to bond with what seeks to hold us hostage. Through Jesus Christ, we have been set “…free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2). And, “…if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

God loves you!
Mike

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Good Places To Grow Up

This past week, I read an article promoting “America’s 10 Best Places to Grow Up” (usnews.com; 8-19-09). The criteria used to compile the list included a low crime rate, a strong school system, lots of other children, expansive green spaces, and an abundance of artistic and recreational activities. Using those factors, the authors came up with the following list of cities: Virginia Beach, VA., Madison, AL., San Jose, CA., Overland Park, KS., Boston, MA., Denver, CO., Rochester, MN., Cedar Rapids, IA., Plano, TX., and Edison, NJ..

Frankly, I’m suspicious of any list of good places to grow up that doesn’t include a single place from Nebraska. How could such a list even pretend to be credible? When you enter the state on any major highway, you will see a sign proclaiming Nebraska as “The Good Life.” The state has thousands upon thousands of acres of various agricultural crops. Doesn’t that count as “expansive green spaces?” Are you telling me that Edison, NJ. is a better place to grow up than Edison, NE.? I don’t think so!

May I let you in on a secret? The absolute best place to bring up children is “…in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). The best thing about this “location” is that it produces the results that God desires regardless of external circumstances. Throughout human history, countless children have grown up in high crime rate areas, attended poor schools, and didn’t have many playmates their age. They didn’t have access to beautiful parks and recreation facilities. Perhaps the only “art” they were exposed to was graffiti. But many of these same children went on to live godly, productive lives because their parents made the choice to raise them according to God’s principles, regardless of their surroundings.

It’s not the physical address where children grow up that determines their destiny. It’s the spiritual address that makes the real difference during their formative years. Whether you live in a gated community or the ghetto, make sure your children come to know and love God.

God loves you!
Mike

Monday, August 24, 2009

Blindsided

The title of the internet news story stood out immediately: “Leaping Antelope Knocks Couple Off Speeding Motorcycle.” Here is the story: “An antelope running across a road knocked a couple off a motorcycle as they drove through Grand Teton National Park. Park officials say 38-year-old Brady Burgess, of Garland, Utah, was driving the bike and had just passed a motorhome at 65 miles an hour when the antelope leaped and struck the motorcycle sideways Saturday. The animal knocked the couple off the bike, which fell over and slid 100 feet down U.S. 26/89/191. Forty-six-year-old Koreen Burgess was transferred Sunday from St. John’s Medical Center in Jackson to University of Utah Health Sciences Center in Salt Lake City. Her condition wasn’t immediately available. Burgess was in good condition at St. John’s. The accident closed the highway for an hour” (FoxNews.com, 6-22-09).

I must admit…my first thought after seeing the title was: “Only in Wyoming…” After all, what are the odds of this kind of a encounter happening in a state that perhaps has more uninhabited space per capita that any other? One tiny antelope and one relatively small motorcycle in a state that includes 97,818 square miles of mostly open space. Who could have expected it? The couple on the motorcycle may have never even saw what hit them until it was over.

But the more I reflected on it, the more I realized that life is a lot like this motorcycle accident. One minute, we are cruising along smoothly, enjoying the scenery, and then – BAM - we get blindsided. A serious illness or disease, a financial setback, a fractured relationship, the death of a family member or friend, or any number of other struggles knocks us off our feet and we find ourselves in the ditch, bruised and battered.

What then? We put ourselves under the care of God Who, through Christ, can heal our wounds, strengthen our resolve, and get us back on the road. The leaping antelopes of life continue to be no match for the Great Physician!

God loves you!
Mike

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Protecting Your Investments

“An Israeli woman mistakenly threw out a mattress with $1 million inside, setting off a frantic search through tons of garbage at a number of landfill sites, Israeli media reported Wednesday. The woman told Army Radio that she bought her elderly mother a new mattress as a surprise on Monday and threw out the old one, only to discover that her mother had hidden her life savings inside…When she went to look for the mattress, it had already been taken by garbage men, she said. Subsequent searches at three different landfill sites turned up nothing. The Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot published a picture of the woman searching through garbage at a dump in southern Israel. Yitzhak Borba, the dump manager, told the radio station that his staff was helping the woman, saying she appeared “totally desperate.” He said the mattress was hard to find among the 2500 tons of garbage arriving at the site every day. He said he increased security at the site to keep would-be treasure hunters at bay” (“Woman Mistakenly Junks Mattress With $1 Million Inside,” Fox News, 6-10-09).

Where do you store your treasures? Are you keeping them in a safe place? Consider the counsel of Jesus regarding your valuables: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

Most people would view storing a million dollars in a mattress as a very poor choice. But when it comes to protecting what is truly important in life, Fort Knox is no more secure than a lumpy old mattress. Only God can protect your investments for eternity. Let me encourage you to entrust your treasures to the One Who “…is able to guard what (you) have entrusted to Him until that day” (1 Timothy 1:12).

God loves you!
Mike

Monday, July 27, 2009

I Owe How Much??!!

John Muszynski got the surprise of his life recently when he used his Visa debit card to purchase a pack of cigarettes. A few hours after the purchase, he was online and decided to check his account. He discovered that he had been charged $23,148,855,308,184,500 for his smokes. If your math is a bit rusty, that is over 23 quadrillion dollars. Talk about inflation! I’ve heard that smoking is an expensive habit, but that is ridiculous! Obviously, someone had made a mistake somewhere. While being interviewed by a TV station, Muszynski quipped, “I thought my card had been compromised. I thought someone had bought Europe with my credit card.” Thankfully, the billing error was corrected the very next day (Fox News, 7-15-09).

Disciples of Jesus Christ are also familiar with unpayable debts. Prior to being forgiven, our personal sin debt was huge. Our situation was hopeless. Our currency was worthless. In fact, our feeble efforts at repayment were actually useless because we were spiritually dead – dead in our sin. One unalterable rule of spiritual economics is that dead people are incapable of repaying debt. Our only hope, then, was for someone else to step in on our behalf and pay the debt for us. Thankfully, that is exactly what Jesus Christ did for each one of us.

Notice how Paul describes the transaction in his letter to the Colossians: “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14).

The words of the song are true: “He paid a debt He did not owe, I owed a debt I could not pay, I needed someone to wash my sins away. And now I sing a brand new song – “Amazing Grace.” Christ Jesus paid the debt that I could never pay.” Thank you, Jesus!!!

God loves you!
Mike

Monday, July 20, 2009

Is Swearing Good For You?

I suppose, given our human tendency to legitimize our behavior (both good or bad), I shouldn’t have been surprised. But I shook my head in sadness when I read the following LiveScience headline on the Fox News website this past week: “Swearing Makes You Feel Less Pain” (www.foxnews.com; July 13, 2009). The article reports on the efforts of researchers to see if there was any link between swearing and an individual’s tolerance of pain. “The researchers enlisted 64 undergraduate volunteers and had them submerge their hand in a tub of ice water for as long as possible while repeating a swear word of their choice. The experiment was then repeated with the volunteer repeating a more common word that they would use to describe a table. Contrary to what the researcher expected, the volunteers kept their hands submerged longer while repeating the swear word.” So there you have it. Finally – proof that swearing is good for you! Didn’t you just know that if we waited long enough, science would catch up with what most of the world already believed and practiced?

Please believe me when I say that I am not campaigning to be chief of the language police. I also know that our language can be destructive even when we aren’t “cussing.” But make no mistake – God cares about the words we use. Twice in Ephesians, Paul references language that would be unfitting for a disciple of Christ. First: “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). Also notice: “…and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks” (Ephesians 5:4).

Regardless of the results of human research, it seems clear that whatever qualifies as “unwholesome words” and “filthiness, silly talk, and coarse jesting” ought not to be part of our vocabulary. Could God be telling me that I need to clean up my language?

God loves you!
Mike

Monday, July 13, 2009

Funeral Arrangements

As I write these words, a public memorial will soon begin in Los Angeles for Michael Jackson. The media circus surrounding the event has been over-the-top, even by Hollywood standards. News helicopters fill the skies, tracking every movement of the funeral entourage. Earlier this morning, an entire freeway had to be shut down during the morning rush hour for the family motorcade. The memorial is being held at a 20,000 seat basketball arena to accommodate as many as possible. Many of the biggest names in the entertainment business will be in attendance to pay their respects. If you wanted to attend the memorial (and you weren’t family or an invited guest), you had to register for free tickets and 1.6 million people did so. Out of that number, 8750 were chosen to receive 2 tickets each. Numerous theaters across the country are planning to broadcast the memorial live without charge.

I can’t help but contrast this scene with the events surrounding the funeral arrangements for another public figure. “Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there” (John 19:38-42).

Two disciples, begging the powers that be just for the opportunity to give the Son of God a proper burial. It just doesn’t seem right, does it? But, then again, I guess this funeral would only be necessary for three days, wouldn’t it?

God loves you!
Mike

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Declaration Of Dependence

“The United States Declaration of Independence is a statement adopted by the Continental Congress of July 4, 1776, which announced that the thirteen American colonies then at war with Great Britain were now independent states, and thus no longer a part of the British Empire. Written primarily by Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration is a formal explanation of why Congress had voted on July 2 to declare independence from Great Britain, more than a year after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War. The birthday of the United States of America – Independence Day – is celebrated on July 4, the day the wording of the Declaration was approved by Congress” (“United States Declaration of Independence”, wikipedia.org).

As citizens of the United States, we have a rich history of independence. From the birth of our union, we have been blessed with many independent thinkers and doers who have made important contributions toward the building of one of the greatest nations on the face of the earth. Independent men and women with a “never-say-die” attitude and a willingness to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps were vital in the settlement and growth of our country. But independence can be overdone. This is especially true in our relationship to God. When our spirit of independence leads us to believe that we can do without Divine assistance in our lives, then we have serious problems.

Let’s make today and every other day of our lives a celebration of our need for Divine help. With the apostle Paul, we can affirm that it is only in God that “…we live and move and exist…” (Acts 17:28). With the Psalmist, we can assert that, in comparison to God, our days are “…as handbreadths, and my lifetime as nothing in Your sight; surely every man at his best is a mere breath” (Ps. 39:5). With Isaiah, we can admit that those who contend with God “…will be as nothing and will perish” (Isa. 41:11). Beginning today, let’s issue our own Declaration of Dependence upon God!

God loves you!
Mike

Are We Forgetting How To Blush?

The Old Testament book of Jeremiah is a record of God’s warning to a wayward and sinful nation. The people of God had given themselves over to all kinds of degrading and immoral practices. The extent of their depravity is revealed in Jeremiah 6:15: “Were they ashamed because of the abomination they have done? They were not ashamed at all; they did not even know how to blush…” Not only were God’s people engaged in all sorts of sinful practices, but they also felt no shame in doing so. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul chastises the Corinthian church for their arrogant and boastful attitude toward a grievous sin in their midst (1 Corinthians 5:1-2, 6). According to Paul, the godly response to such sin should have been mourning.

These texts from the past sound like a commentary on our modern culture. It certainly appears that, as a nation, we also have forgotten how to blush. While sin has always plagued our society, it is only relatively recently that we have begun to remove the shame attached to it. Immorality and perversion that was once practiced only in darkened rooms behind closed doors and curtains is now presented publically on our movie screens and television sets. Vulgarity that was once common only among certain groups and in certain places is now broadcast for all to hear. And perhaps saddest of all is the fact that fewer and fewer cheeks are reddened and eyebrows are raised when it does take place.

Blushing over sin is never outdated or old-fashioned. God’s judgment came upon an entire nation during the time of Jeremiah because of their sin and their brazen attitude toward it. What makes us think we can escape the same fate when we follow the same path? May God help us once again to feel the shame associated with sin; a shame that will lead us to repent and commit ourselves to do what we can to reverse the slide into moral degradation that plagues our nation.

God loves you!
Mike

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Commitment

Stefanie Zaner, of Darnestown, Maryland, reached an impressive milestone recently as she graduated from high school. Not once, during 13 years of schooling, was Stefanie marked absent without approval. No missed days for illness or family trips. No college visits or senior skip days. None. Two thousand, three hundred and forty days of perfect attendance (washingtonpost.com, 5-26-09)

How does one accomplish such a feat? Don’t you suppose that, over the span of 13 years, there were days when she didn’t really feel like going to school? Of course. Don’t you suppose that, over the span of 13 years, there were days when she was tired and didn’t want to get out of bed? Of course. Don’t you suppose that, over the span of 13 years, there were other important and valid opportunities that crossed her path? Of course. She was just like anyone else in that respect. But Stefanie Zaner was unlike most others in that she never let anyone or anything distract her from her goal.

Our lives as a disciple of Jesus Christ would benefit from having the same level of commitment. For example, think of how strong our marriages would be if we all determined, with God’s help, to do whatever was necessary to make them successful. Will times come when we are tired of doing the right thing? Of course. Will times come when we really don’t feel like making the effort? Of course. Will outside influences (like career, friends, etc.) compete for our attention? Of course. Will the temptation to “play hooky” come? Of course. But if our goal is the creation of a strong marital bond, then we make our choices accordingly. We don’t give in to the fatigue. We aren’t ruled by our feelings. We say “no” to some people or opportunities (even good people and opportunities) that can divide our loyalties.

Stefanie Zaner’s commitment to school attendance is admirable and the accolades she has received are deserved. May our lives reflect our commitment to an even greater goal – that of knowing and doing the will of God.

God loves you!
Mike

Monday, May 18, 2009

Switched At Birth

Kay Rene Qualls and DeeAnn Shafer made a shocking discovery recently – they weren’t who they thought they were. Their story goes back over five decades to a small hospital in Heppner, Oregon. The two women were born on the same day, May 3, at Pioneer Memorial Hospital. The two infants closely resembled each other and, when nurses took them and bathed them together, an unintentional but tragic mistake was made. The babies were switched and returned to the wrong mother. One mother was too heavily medicated to be aware of the problem. The other mother insisted that the wrong baby had been returned to her, but nurses brushed off her concerns. And so, when the time came to be released from the hospital, each mother went home with the baby girl that had been born to the other.

Through an odd set of circumstances and the results of modern DNA testing, the persistent rumors of the switch were finally proven to be true after 56 years. By this time, both sets of birth parents were deceased. And the two women are now struggling to process this new bit of information in their life. Thankfully, in spite of the “what ifs,” both families have reached out to each other and are making the best of a difficult and confusing situation (www.eastoregonian.com; 5-11-09).

If you are a child of God, you also were switched at birth. Note how the Scriptures describe the swap: God “…rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13). If we are people of faith, we have “…passed out of death into life” (John 5:24). If we are in Christ, we are “…a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

How thankful we can be that our merciful God “…caused us to be born again to a living hope...” (1 Peter 1:3). This is no tragic mistake – God desired to make the exchange from the very beginning. Praise God for switching us at birth!

God loves you!
Mike

Monday, May 11, 2009

Our Relentless God

Last week during my sermon, I spoke of how Moses initially ran ahead of God in his efforts to be a deliverer of the Hebrew people. Afterwards, one of my younger daughters gave me her copy of the sermon note sheet. Among the fill-in-the-blanks and various drawing of Pharaoh, Moses, and Egyptian princesses, she had jotted down this note: “P.S. Don’t run ahead of God. He might have to pack a suitcase!”

God is relentless, isn’t He? The following illustration makes the point well. R. Kent Hughes (1001 Great Stories and Quotes, pp. 393-94) shares the story of a mission effort in Russia. In the 1930’s, Stalin ordered a purge of Christians and their Bibles. In the Russian city of Stavropol, his edict was carried out with great efficiency. Numerous believers were sent to prison camps and many of the Bibles that were confiscated ended up in a warehouse in Stavropol where they collected dust.

Many years later, when that part of Russia was again open to missionary activity, a team was sent to Stavropol. When the group experienced difficulty in getting Bibles shipped from Moscow, someone happened to mention the existence of the stash of Bibles in the warehouse. The missionary team received permission to remove and distribute them. A truck was secured and local workers hired to load them.

One helper was a young skeptic who had come just for the wages. After awhile, the missionaries noticed he was gone. They found him in a corner of the warehouse, weeping. He had slipped away, hoping to quietly take a Bible for himself. What he found shook him to the core. The inside page of the Bible he had picked up had the handwritten signature of his own grandmother. It had been her personal Bible. Out of the thousands of Bible still left in that warehouse, he had stolen the one belonging to his grandmother – a woman persecuted for her faith all her life.

Coincidence? I highly doubt it. It’s just another example of a God who doesn’t give up easily.

God loves you!
Mike

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Spiritual Heroism

In a recent blog posting, John Mark Hicks (johnmarkhicks.wordpress.com/) reprinted two articles he wrote for the Gospel Advocate in 1981 following the death of his wife a year earlier. She was only 25 years of age at the time. The articles were entitled “Divine Providence and Human Lives (I and II). They are brief, well-written essays on the working of God in times of trial by a young man who had experienced a great loss in his life.

In a subsequent posting, Hicks looks back at his words of twenty eight years ago and reflects on how time has changed his perspective. While he still agrees (for the most part) with the theological content of the articles, he now realizes he was hiding the real pain, grief and anger he felt at the time. What caught my attention was when he spoke of the pressure he felt, both internally and externally, to play the part of a “hero” with reference to his emotional struggle. Thankfully, over time, Hicks was able to begin to come to terms with the fa├žade he had created and start to work through the emotions he had buried for so long.

Of all the faulty ways we have crafted to deal with our struggles, perhaps playing the “spiritual hero” is the most dangerous. Why? Because it insulates us from the very help that we need in times of crisis. The emptiness we harbor inside will eventually betray the thin veneer of external control. Left unresolved, we will eventually stumble under the oppressive weight of a mantle we are ill-equipped to bear.

There is only one real Spiritual Hero – our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Only He can assume the role of hero without pretense. The rest of us are tragically broken and flawed. I applaud John Mark Hicks for being so transparent concerning his spiritual battle as well as his progress on the road to recovery. Perhaps his story can be a wake-up call to those of us who are still hiding behind our own masks.

God loves you!
Mike

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Woman, Why Are You Weeping?

John tells us that Mary returned to the tomb of Jesus early on Sunday morning to complete the burial preparations for His body. What she saw as she approached shocked her. The stone had been rolled back from the mouth of the burial chamber! The body of the Lord was gone! Who could have done such a thing? She runs back to share this troubling news with the other followers of Jesus.

Later, she returns to the tomb and emotion begins to overwhelm her. The whirlwind events of the past couple of days had taken their toll. Jesus had been arrested, charged with blasphemy, and condemned to death. She had stood at a distance and witnessed the horror of the crucifixion. Perhaps she heard him utter his final anguished cry and draw his last labored breath. To now experience the new pain of the body of Jesus being moved or taken was more than she could bear.

With tears filling her eyes, she stooped to take one more look into the tomb. To her amazement, she sees two angels who ask: “Woman, why are you weeping?” Through her sobs, she exposes her pain over the disappearance of Jesus’ body. She turns to see someone she supposes to be the gardener and he asks her the same question: “Woman, why are you weeping?” Why was she weeping?!! She could have rattled off a dozen very good reasons for her anguish and tears! But all of those good reasons evaporated when the resurrected Lord revealed Himself to her. Her tears and despair quickly give way to joy and hope.

That, my friends, is the power of the resurrection. The shackles of death couldn’t hold our Savior. The deep darkness of the crucifixion was shattered by the brilliant light of victory. Sure, our world is still full of times that bring pain. Like Mary, we can be blinded by our own tears. But it is precisely at those times when we need to be reminded that we serve a risen Lord. Why are we weeping? Good question!

God loves you!
Mike

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Birthday Surprise times 2!





Months ago when we heard Disneyland was offering free park admission on your birthday I created an account for the twins. Then began the planning and saving for a possible trip to Anaheim. All our children were invited, but only the single ones could afford to take time off and go with us. After pushing the pencil on the cost of motels or hauling our travel trailer we opted for the trailer and I made reservations at an RV park 10 minutes from Disneyland. We really wanted to try and keep this a secret from Taylor and Tessa. Money was saved, tickets were purchased and time off from work was arranged, all without their knowledge. One Wednesday night right before we left we were coming home from singing at a local nursing home and were sitting in the car at the grocery store. They began to talk about what they would like to do for their 8th birthday. A party with friends, Chuckie Cheeses, or John's Incredible Pizza....... how about camping I said??? They were LIT UP! It was so fun from then on out to talk about going camping. We arrived in Anaheim and the first morning took a walk and ended up at Disneyland's entrance. They still had NO idea. It was not quite as exciting as we had imagined because they neither one really knew what Disneyland was. On the way in Tessa asked me "Do they have lots of rides?" But they are quick learners and had an absolute blast. We spent 2 days and were able to visit both parks. And we want to go back again........

Monday, April 6, 2009

I Am Barabbas

Very little is recorded in Scripture about Barabbas and what we do read is not complimentary. In summary, all that we know about him is that he was a notorious prisoner being held for insurrection, robbery, and murder. He becomes a pawn in the power struggle between Pilate and the leaders of the Jews over the fate of Jesus. Pilate, convinced of the innocence of Jesus, offers the crowd a choice between releasing Jesus or Barabbas from custody. Perhaps this was a ploy to shock some sensibility into the mob who was seeking to condemn and crucify an innocent man. After all who in their right mind would seek to free Barabbas instead of Jesus? But the Jews weren’t thinking clearly that day. They demanded freedom for a notorious criminal over the innocent rabbi from Nazareth. One minute, Barabbas is rotting away in a Roman jail, likely awaiting his own execution. The next minute, he is released and walking away as a free man.

Have you ever wondered what happened to Barabbas following his release? Knowing human nature as we do, there is a good chance that he returned to the infamous lifestyle for which he was known. Old habits are certainly hard to break. But there is another possibility. Perhaps Barabbas took some time to reflect on his near-death brush with the wheels of justice. Maybe later he learned something of the innocent man who took his place on the cross. And, possibly, his life took a turn for the better. Who knows? I realize that the chances are slim, but I wonder…

In reality, I am not that different from Barabbas. Sure, our crimes are different, but the result is the same – I was a condemned man. I was facing my own death sentence. I deserved my punishment. But an innocent Man took my place and I gained my freedom. I don’t know how Barabbas responded to his freedom, but gratitude for that gift prompts me to live a life that brings honor and glory to my Redeemer.

God loves you!
Mike

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Streak Is Over!

Our society is geared to celebrate winning. We salute the successful. We value the victorious. We cater to the conquerors. This attitude is especially evident in the world of athletics. Adoration is heaped upon those athletes who run the fastest, jump the highest, throw the farthest, and, above all, win consistently.

So it was with some interest that I read this week of a Connecticut high school girl’s basketball team that had become known for its losing rather than winning. The Oliver T. Wolcott Technical High Wildcats had not won a basketball game since February of 1990. You read that right – nearly 19 years of futility. Nearly two decades without the thrill of victory – only the agony of defeat. Then, what had become almost unimaginable finally happened. This past December, the Wildcats scored a 54-43 victory over Gilbert. After so long a period of losing, you might think that the team would forget how to celebrate a win. But such was not the case. The coach said, “Those girls were crying and jumping up and down and hugging. We put them back on the bus and they were singing” (Ray Giler, highschool.rivals.com, 3-23-09). The same article goes on to note the following: “The next day the Waterbury paper ran a headline, ‘The Streak Is Over’…The beatings resumed after Christmas against more formidable competition with Wolcott losing by 50 and 60 points. But the streak was over.”

The same headline would have been appropriate following the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. After centuries of human futility, the Savior dealt the decisive blow to Satan’s death grip on the human race. By the time the sun rose on the third day following the crucifixion, it could truthfully be said that, spiritually speaking, “The Streak Is Over!” Or, as Jesus Himself would say with His final words before dying: “It is finished!” (John 19:30). We can joyfully echo the words of the apostle Paul: “…thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).

God loves you!
Mike

"I" Disease

“LORD, make me to know my end and what is the extent of my days; let me know how transient I am. Behold, You have made my days as handbreadths, and my lifetime as nothing in Your sight; surely every man at his best is a mere breath” (Psalm 39:4-5).

King Nebuchadnezzar was ruler of the known world in his day. The Babylonian monarch commanded an army that was feared far and wide. Few dared to stand in His way and those who did suffered the consequences. Nebuchadnezzar had reached the pinnacle of success. But, after a while, the king experienced a crippling disease. He developed “I” problems. Symptoms began to show up one day as he was walking on the roof of his magnificent palace. Oddly enough, his “I” problem revealed itself through his mouth: “Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30).

God spends the rest of Daniel 4 implementing an aggressive treatment regimen designed to cure Nebuchadnezzar’s problematic “I” sight, including a long period of isolation and large doses of humility. Thankfully, the prescription worked! By the time the treatment ended, the king was able to clearly see his own insignificance in comparison to the True Ruler of the universe. The cure is reflected in the patient’s own words: “But at the end of that period, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever; For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom endures from generation to generation” (Daniel 4:34).

I, too, have my own “I” problems. If I am not careful, my own ambitions, my own attainments, and my own possessions can block my vision of God. When that happens, I, like Nebuchadnezzar, also need to be reminded of a simple fact – that in comparison to God, “…every man at his best is a mere breath.”

God loves you!
Mike

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Opportunity Can Knock More Than Once

“Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What are you willing to give me to betray Him to you?’ And they weighed out thirty pieces of silver to him. From then on he began looking for a good opportunity to betray Jesus” (Matthew 26:14-16).

Once Judas began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus, apparently it didn’t take long for an opportunity to find him. While we have no idea as to the exact time that had passed, we do know that, by the end of the chapter, Judas is fulfilling his end of the bargain by betraying the Savior in the Garden of Gethsemane.

When we contemplate sin, there always seems to be ample opportunities to act upon it. For example, when Cain decided to kill Abel, I don’t suppose he had to look very far for a murder weapon. When our faith begins to waver, there always seems to be a perfect occasion to act faithlessly. For example, in the midst of the fears and doubts raised by the arrest of Jesus, suddenly Peter was faced with several opportunities to deny the Savior.

Why – when times are tough economically – is a wallet or purse, containing large amounts of cash, found in a deserted parking lot? Why – when a marriage is struggling – does an attractive stranger smile from across the room? Why – when jealousy or animosity arise in the human heart – do damaging words come so easily to human minds and lips?

Why? Perhaps these are just random coincidences. I do know that there are spiritual forces arrayed against us all that seek to destroy us. No, the devil cannot force us to sin. We make that choice. But the deceiver is certainly not above providing ample opportunities to act upon sinful impulses to those who are actively seeking them. Paul’s warning is clear: “…do not give the devil an opportunity” (Ephesians 4:27). He certainly doesn’t need the help or encouragement. So when opportunity knocks, refuse to answer the door!

God loves you!
Mike

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Rest Of The Story

By now, you have likely heard of the recent death of radio news icon, Paul Harvey. He was a pioneer in his field -- a giant in the radio news business. I grew up listening to "Paul Harvey News and Comment," usually broadcast over the noon hour. Then, if I was near a radio later in the afternoon, I would try to catch "The Rest of the Story." Several factors combined to make Mr. Harvey such a success. He had a nearly perfect voice for the job. Deep and resonant, his voice had a clarity that made for easy listening. He was a wordsmith -- one who chose his words carefully and assembled them just as carefully. Perhaps this is why I get so fed up with many of today's radio personalities. Their over-the-top antics and bombastic self-promotion only serve to highlight the true gentleman that was Paul Harvey.

He was also a master of the "pregnant pause." While he could use words with the best of them, he also knew how to use silence effectively. He was aware that a well-timed period of silence would add important emphasis to what he did have to say. There was no need to fill every second of air time with a verbal barrage. As I recall, his newscasts would always end with a significant pause before the final two words -- "Good day." The "Rest Of The Story" segments would conclude with the phrase: "And now you know…(long pause)…the rest of the story." Paul Harvey understood that silence truly can be golden.

The Bible also promotes the value of silence. No, I am not talking about the over-used and widely-abused habit of making laws of God out of what the God doesn't say. I'm speaking of the need for measuring our words. "Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few" (Ecclesiastes 5:2). Enough said!

God loves you!
Mike

Who Is The Lord???

“Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and besides, I will not let Israel go” (Exodus 5:2). I can easily imagine these words being spoken with a deliberate level of contempt and defiance. Perhaps they came after a scornful laugh at the sheer audacity of it all. Pharaoh wasn’t impressed with the demands of Moses’ God. After all, he wasn’t used to taking orders from anyone, especially from the helpless deity of an enslaved people. Pharaoh dismisses God’s messengers with a promise to increase the workload of lazy slaves. If they have time to dream up this kind of foolishness, they aren’t working hard enough!

But the demands of God upon Pharaoh continued, and this time they were accompanied by terrible plagues that wreaked havoc upon the nation of Egypt. For a while, Pharaoh remained defiant. Then, as the plagues began to take their toll, he tried to bargain. When Moses refused to make a deal, the Egyptian leader became angry and ordered him out of his presence. This set the stage for the final, decisive plague – the death of the firstborn. This proved to be the final straw for the rebellious monarch. Surrounded by his devastated country and grief-stricken over the death of his own son, Pharaoh finally relents and orders the Israelites to leave just as God demanded.

I guess Pharaoh and God were finally introduced! Sadly, it took a master’s level course entitled “Introduction to the Power and Authority of the Living God” to facilitate the meeting. Never again could Pharaoh defiantly claim ignorance of the true God. And never again would he uninformed regarding the price of rebelling against God’s commands.

Many in our world still arrogantly follow Pharaoh’s example of defiance against God. But make no mistake. Modern day rebels, like Pharaoh, will also one day learn that “…it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). According to the scriptures, their ignorance and arrogance brands them as fools (Psalm 53:1).

God loves you!
Mike

Friday, February 27, 2009

Perilous Pets

As far as we know, Sandra Herold never saw it coming. Travis, the chimpanzee, had been her pet for years. Apparently he had never been much of a problem outside of normal primate playfulness. One report spoke of how the chimp “…liked to surf on the Internet and was able to change the TV channel with a remote, according to a Stamford Advocate article. The paper also reported that Travis watered plants, was able to feed hay to his owner's horses, ate at a table with the rest of the family and sometimes drank wine from a stemmed glass” (Stephanie Gallman, CNN). He was the perfect pet.

But all that changed this past Monday. When Charla Nash came to help Herold get Travis back into the house after he had escaped by using a key, the chimp attacked Herold’s friend. The vicious attack nearly killed Ms. Nash, who remains hospitalized with life-threatening injuries. Police who responded to a 911 call for help were forced to shoot and kill the animal after it tried to attack an officer. Although it doesn’t happen often, sometimes pets will turn against their owners or those close to them. And when they do, someone usually gets hurt.

The same thing can happen with our mental or emotional “pets.” What are mental or emotional pets, you ask? I am speaking of the sinful attitudes that we nurture and protect – things like pride, anger, abusive speech, selfishness, grudges, etc.. Over time we can become quite close to these pets. We feed and shelter them. We keep them under control in respectable company. And with such good care, these pets soon grow big and strong. But, then, the unthinkable happens. These pets that have been such close companions turn against us. Suddenly, without warning, we lash out at those around us. Our words and actions injure and maim others. Lives are damaged.

Lord, please help us all to realize the danger that comes with keeping such “pets” in our lives. May we get rid of the sinful attitudes and actions that injure us as well as others.

God loves you!
Mike

God Is Still On His Throne

One of the lead articles in the February 2009 issue of the Christian Chronicle dealt with reactions among Christians to the election of Barack Obama as 44th president of the United States. As to be expected, opinions were varied. Some were elated while others were not. Such is to be expected in any political election. The response of one particular woman did catch my attention. Speaking of Mr. Obama’s inauguration, she said: “This means that God is still on the throne.” So…are we to conclude, then, that God would have abdicated if anyone other than Mr. Obama had won? Sorry, but I can’t let that one slide by without comment.

I promise that this won’t be a foray into partisan politics. I realize that Mr. Obama’s election is a historic one and full of meaning for many people. I pray for him just as I have prayed for other leaders of our country. He will have his victories and failures just like every other president in our nation’s history. Will he prove to the kind of leader our country needs? Who knows? You have your opinion and I have mine, but it is much too early to tell.

There is one thing of which I am certain. The election of any particular human leader is not a barometer of God’s sovereignty. God remains on the throne regardless of who leads our country (or any other country for that matter). While God in interested in and works in human affairs (including politics), His dominion over the universe is not dependent upon who occupies the Oval Office.

I don’t sit in judgment over the motives or emotions of the woman who made the statement. I realize it is easy to get caught up in a moment and say something in an interview which you might have rephrased after thinking about it. Perhaps she meant it as it came across or perhaps she didn’t. Either way, I am thankful I serve a God Who remains on His throne regardless of who is on any earthly throne.

God loves you!
Mike

Monday, February 16, 2009

President's Day in Fair Oaks






Today was Heritage Day in Fair Oaks. Lane, Taylor, Tessa and I went down for several hours and had a great time. We saw George and Martha Washington, Molly Pitcher, and learned why she was called that, a mountain man, a captain in the army, native American dancers, and a snake oil salesman. The girls fed a goat and watched a woman spinning goat hair, made a homemade doll, danced with the Indian dancers, and laughed their heads off at the snake oil salesman. He also did a bit of magic and was a ventriloquist. There was a fife and drum band playing, popcorn to eat, gold to pan and railroad spikes you could drive in. We also learned about a woman named Debra Samson. (look her up!) And the mountain man told us all about his Kentucky long rifle. This rifle spawned several well know words/sayings-- "spitball" "a flash in the pan", "going off half-cocked" and "lock, stock and barrel". History coming alive- a homeschooling mother's dream!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

God Meant It For Good

Even after being reunited with their brother Joseph in Egypt, the other sons of Jacob continued to live in fear that he would repay them for their evil things they had done to him. After all, they had plotted to kill him and only abandoned that plan when they saw an opportunity to make some money and still be rid of him by selling him into slavery. Who wouldn’t want to get even with someone for making their life so miserable?

Joseph, that’s who! Following the death of their father, the brothers are again fearful that payback time is imminent. And, once again, Joseph endeavors to set their minds at ease. “But Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them” (Genesis 50:19-21 NAS).

What a marvelous attitude! I am guessing that there must have been times earlier in his life, particularly when things were going badly, when Joseph wasn’t feeling so charitable. Surely there were times when he harbored an attitude of revenge toward his brothers. But by this time in his life, he had learned a very important lesson: God can take the negative experiences in life and use them to accomplish something positive.

Bad times still come. Pain, disappointment, and unfairness remain a very real part of life. But I have a choice to make just like Joseph did. I can choose to let the negative circumstances of life make me bitter and vengeful. Or I can choose to turn the negative circumstances over to God and get out of His way! Lord, help me to understand and believe “…that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28 NIV).

God loves you!
Mike

Who Won???

On December 27, 2008, Israeli forces initiated an assault into Gaza for the expressed purpose of stopping Hamas rocket attacks into southern Israel. This battle, which has continued for three weeks, was halted this past week as a tenuous cease-fire took effect. News outlets have reported damage estimates in Gaza as high as 2 billion dollars while damage to Israeli property was minimal. Casualty estimates were also lopsided, with around 1300 Gazans dead compared to 13 Israelis. As would be expected in view of such numbers, Israel is claiming victory. Interestingly enough, so is Hamas. An AP article entitled “Hamas declares victory in rallies across Gaza” reports the following: “Waving green Islamic flags atop the ruins of Gaza, Hamas proclaimed victory in rallies attended by thousands of supporters Tuesday, saying it survived Israel’s military onslaught despite the destruction and massive death toll suffered by Gazans.” Apparently, beauty is not the only thing that is in the eye of the beholder. As this story illustrates, victory also depends on one’s perspective.

The image of a Hamas militant, standing in the midst of smoldering rubble, with perhaps scores of fallen comrades around him, and defiantly claiming victory seems almost bizarre, doesn’t it? But when you think about it, it’s really not all that different from the stance that the human race in general has taken in relationship to their Creator. Ever since the Fall, many have declared war on God and His will for their lives. They stubbornly do things their own way, regardless of the harm it brings to themselves and those around them. And when their lives come crashing down around them, some still stand in the midst of the rubble and claim to be living victoriously without any help from God.

Lord, I live in a world that is full of people who don’t understand that true victory in life only comes with Your help. May I help them to understand the utter futility of life without You. Please help me to be a beacon of Your hope when they begin seeking for a better way.

God loves you!
Mike

Monday, January 26, 2009

Sewing Days




Elissa told me recently "Mom, I'm so glad you taught me to sew". Now I have 2 more budding seamstresses. Taylor and Tessa have been sewing by hand for quite some time and when I'm not in the middle of a project I let them sew on the machine with me. Recently I got out quilt squares that I've been working on for almost 4 years and finished the blocks. It was time to let the twins have a go at the machine all by themselves! They LOVED it and both came away with fingers intact. It's a little hard to see the blocks on my floral bedspread, but you get the idea.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

In The World But Not Of The World

"Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation. It is better be alone than in bad company” (George Washington). This good advice has a biblical ring to it, doesn’t it? Actually, the Scriptures often counsel us to choose our associations carefully. “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals’” (1 Corinthians 15:33). “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Proverbs 13:20). “A man of violence entices his neighbor and leads him in a way that is not good” (Proverbs 16:29). “Do not associate with a man given to anger; or go with a hot-tempered man, or you will learn his ways and find a snare for yourself” (Proverbs 22:24-25). Other verses could be cited but these few make the point crystal clear: Choose your companions carefully!

So…we should all retreat within the walls of our secluded monasteries to avoid contamination by the world, right? We should only associate with God-fearing, Bible-believing, sin-avoiding people like us, right? Wrong! A quick survey of the words and actions of Jesus dispel any thoughts of isolationism. He was known to associate with the “wrong” crowds. He was characterized as “a friend of…sinners” (Matthew 11:19). When the religious folk confronted Him about His “questionable” associations, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).

Is God calling us to contradictory purposes? No. Is it possible to balance God’s call to avoid bad company with God’s call to reach out to sinners? Yes. The key is in the results of the relationships. If we are able to be salt and light in a dark world without damage to our faith and witness, then praise God for the outreach. But when the darkness starts to overwhelm us and we begin to adopt the sinful practices of those we seek to influence, then it becomes time to limit the association.

God loves you!
Mike

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Rock Theology

“Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham” (Matthew 3:8-9).

Some Pharisees and Sadducees were among the large crowds who responded to John’s preaching concerning repentance and the kingdom of heaven. As their turn came to be baptized, John confronts them regarding their prideful attitudes which were keeping them from acting upon their professions of repentance. Apparently, these men felt that their ancestral link to Abraham exempted them from having to make certain changes in their lives. John bluntly shatters their delusions of self-importance by reminding them that, if necessary, God can make descendants of Abraham out of rocks!

I need to be reminded of the same thing from time to time. Like when I become prideful of my own efforts to serve God. Like when I get to thinking that I am so valuable to the cause of Christ. Like when I presume God needs my help in defending Himself. Like when I assume my opinions or preferences ought to be everyone else’s opinions or preferences. Like when I believe God can’t get along without me. It is precisely at these times that I also need to remember that I can be replaced by a rock!

Am I important to God? Am I valuable to Him? Of course! But it is not because of my perceived abilities, usefulness, understandings, or accomplishments. I have no intrinsic value – any worth I have is granted to me by the grace of God. God isn’t lucky to have me on His team – instead, I am blessed to have the opportunity to serve Him. God doesn’t need me – but I desperately need Him.

Lord, when my own unworthiness becomes overshadowed by my illusions of self-importance, please gently remind me that my significance comes from who You are instead of who I am. Thank you for the incredible privilege of being Your servant.

God loves you!
Mike

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A Brother Like That

Cory Collins shared this story in a recent bulletin of the Mars Hill Church of Christ in Florence Alabama: “Dan Clark relates the true story of his friend Paul receiving a new car as a gift from his brother. A poor boy admired the shiny automobile and asked, “Is this your car, Mister?” Paul nodded. “My brother gave it to me for Christmas.” The boy’s eyes opened wide. “Boy, I wish…” He hesitated. Of course, Paul knew what he was going to wish for. He was going to wish he had a brother like that. But what the lad said jarred Paul all the way down to his heels. “I wish,” the boy went on, “that I could be a brother like that.” Paul was astonished. He took the boy for a ride; the boy asked Paul to stop at some steps. He ran inside and came out carrying his crippled little brother. He showed him the car, told him how Paul got it, and said, “One day I’m gonna give you one just like it!”


What a rare attitude! Perhaps we have bought into the idea that the church would be a better place if we just had better spiritual brothers and sisters. “If brother so-and-so would act like a Christian, our congregation would be much better off.” “If sister so-and-so would soften her heart, the church would be a more peaceful place.”


When faced with challenging circumstances in the body of Christ, let me suggest that we begin to deal with them by looking internally instead of externally. Instead of wishing that others would change, I could determine to be more Christ-like myself. Instead of hoping that others would treat me better, I could resolve to treat others as I would like to be treated. Instead of thinking that others should do more, I could set an example with my own involvement.


Lord, instead of being so quick to see the flaws of others, would you help me to be who You have called me to be. May I be “…a brother like that…”

God loves you!

Mike