Truly wise or merely sophisticated?

There are people who are wise and there are people who are sophisticated – and they are not the same. Yesterday I greeted a boy I’ve known for several years. He is in the grip of adolescence and desperately works at projecting the look of teen-age sophistication. By studying the trends and carefully emulating the media celebrities of his age, he can appear quite worldly, but is he truly wise? Not yet. I’ve met many adults caught in much the same illusion. They drive the ‘right’ kind of car, buy their clothing at the ‘right’ stores, speak with the ‘right’ inflections and verb tenses. Everything about them projects worldly sophistication. Yet, when one looks beneath the surface, the sparkle of their life is only an illusion for they lack substance, the richness of character that comes from being truly wise. Sophistication is to wisdom what pyrites are to gold. Pyrites are a brass-colored mineral commonly called – fool’s gold. Though it gleams, it is essentially worthless. It can deceive those looking for the real thing – but only temporarily. Just a little bit of heat quickly reveals the difference between real gold and iron pyrites!

Friend, are you seeking to be wise or merely to appear sophisticated? The Bible teaches us the road to wisdom. It isn’t necessarily through Harvard’s ivy halls! The Word says that ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom!” Here’s the context of that statement.

“Wisdom has built her spacious house with seven pillars. She has prepared a great banquet, mixed the wines, and set the table. She has sent her servants to invite everyone to come. She calls out from the heights overlooking the city. “Come home with me,” she urges the simple. To those without good judgment, she says, “Come, eat my food, and drink the wine I have mixed. Leave your foolish ways behind, and begin to live; learn how to be wise.”
Anyone who rebukes a mocker will get a smart retort. Anyone who rebukes the wicked will get hurt. So don’t bother rebuking mockers; they will only hate you. But the wise, when rebuked, will love you all the more. Teach the wise, and they will be wiser. Teach the righteous, and they will learn more.

Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

Knowledge of the Holy One results in understanding. Wisdom will multiply your days and add years to your life. If you become wise, you will be the one to benefit. If you scorn wisdom, you will be the one to suffer.” (Proverbs 9:1-12, NLT)

God invites us to pull up to the table of life and there to learn from His counsel the way of the wise. From Him we learn to live with humility, with integrity, with obedience – and thus to become wise. Sophisticates learn to project their power, how to shrewdly cut the corners to profit themselves, how to appear independent, submissive to no one. Those who would be wise accept counsel and reproof. Those who are ‘wise in their own eyes’ mock their counselors.

Know this. Sophisticates appear often to be ‘winning’ at life! In the 73rd Psalm, the writer laments that. “Pretentious with arrogance, they wear the latest fashions in violence, Pampered and overfed, decked out in silk bows of silliness. They jeer, using words to kill; they bully their way with words. They’re full of hot air, loudmouths disturbing the peace. People actually listen to them—can you believe it? Like thirsty puppies, they lap up their words.” (Psalm 73:6-10, The Message) But wisdom ultimately succeeds because it is built on God’s promises and God’s eternal values. So the Psalmist continues, “When I was beleaguered and bitter, totally consumed by envy, I was totally ignorant, a dumb ox in your very presence. I’m still in your presence, but you’ve taken my hand. You wisely and tenderly lead me, and then you bless me. You’re all I want in heaven! You’re all I want on earth!” (Psalm 73:21-25, The Message)

Believer, seek God! Invite the Spirit to lead you to His table. Open the Word and let the counsel of God transform your mind with wisdom. Though some may regard you with contempt because you do not adopt the superficial pretensions of the wisdom of the age, do not be deterred. “Wisdom will multiply your days!”

If you lack knowledge, go to school.
If you lack wisdom, get on your knees!
Knowledge is not wisdom.
Wisdom is the proper use of knowledge.
— Vance Havner

Controlled by appetites

Judges is one of the Bible’s more difficult books to fully understand! It tells the story of God’s people in an era when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” The lack of strong leadership – political and spiritual – leads to some terrible sins and atrocities which are explained with this line – “In those days, Israel had no king.” The implication is that there was no one to guide the people, no to challenge them, no one to restrain evil with law. One of the people introduced to us in that book is the man Samson. As I read his story, I see so many parallels to the way many people live in our time! He was a man controlled by his appetites, a man who lacked the ability to say, “No,” to his darker desires. He wanted a woman, he took her! He was hungry, he ate whatever was available, whether ritually acceptable or not. He grew angry and killed people who stood in his way. He desired exotic entertainment, he went and found it. Samson had no restraint! Yet, we learn that he was a man born by the promise of God and a man who, from time to time, experienced the Presence of the Spirit of God in powerful ways, literally. What this man could have done if he had disciplined himself would have been amazing. What he actually did is too often stupid and tragic. His is a legacy of missed opportunities and self-destruction.

For many reasons too numerous to explore this morning, America is becoming a nation of ‘Samson’s.’ We are unbelievably blessed with strength, resources, and opportunities but we seem to be increasingly in the grip of our emotions and impulses. We want what we want and we demand it now! We seem to think that our desires, whatever they may be, must be satisfied. We are gripped by a mindset that insists that delayed gratification is bad, that saying “no,” to something today, so we can obtain a greater goal tomorrow, is a terrible sacrifice too great to bear. Evidence of our lack of restraint is everywhere.

-More than half of us are so fat we are damaging our health! And why? Because we don’t know when to push away the plate and we like the foods that are loaded with fat and sugar. We know we should eat less and that we ought to eat better quality foods, but we don’t!
– Many of our children are being born to unmarried mothers, which undeniably complicates things and, in many cases, leads to social problems for those children down the road. The facts are clear on this, but our culture has thrown away sexual restraint anyway.
-We won’t allow our kids to be challenged by tough assignments, preferring to let them watch endless TV and play computer games. Then, we blame the educational system for failing them.
-Divorce, in most cases, is a terribly destructive thing. Life long marriage is proven to be beneficial in every way, and yet nearly one half of marriages will end in divorce because a couple is unwilling to press through the difficult moments and learn to love deeply and self-sacrificially.

Even our national policies show evidence of our demand for immediate gratification. We are consuming energy at prodigious rates, polluting the globe and producing climate change. Could we change that? Sure, if we wanted to, but we don’t care! Imagine the outcry if our national leaders implemented policies to cause us to drive cars that were smaller and more fuel efficient! Everyone in America knows that our health care system is broken by sky-rocketing costs and demand for doctors to heal problems brought on, in too many cases, by our own poor choices, but we won’t begin to diet and exercise. It’s easier, so we think, to demand a pill for the problem. No one is leading us to envision a new way of providing care to the poorest in our rich nation. The Social Security system is headed for a crisis, but our leaders won’t solve the problem because the solution would cost them votes from people like me who would have to bear a greater tax burden.

Ah, friend we need to read the story of Samson all the way to the end! He enjoyed his strength for a while. He slept with prostitutes, went on rampages, and toyed with Delilah – apparently without consequence for a time but then – one day he went too far. The Bible says, “… he awoke out of his sleep, and said, I will go out as at other times before, and shake myself. And he wist not that the LORD was departed from him.” (Judges 16:20, KJV) What a declaration! God said, “enough!” and then He removed His blessings and Presence from Samson’s life. The man ended up a slave to those he had tormented and exploited. The end of his ungoverned life was tragic.

Believer, you and I can change because we have Someone who lives in us that gives us wisdom, insight, and discipline. If we are alive in Christ, if we respond to His call to let Him lead, here’s the result.

“With the Lord’s authority let me say this: Live no longer as the ungodly do, for they are hopelessly confused. Their closed minds are full of darkness; they are far away from the life of God because they have shut their minds and hardened their hearts against him. They don’t care anymore about right and wrong, and they have given themselves over to immoral ways. Their lives are filled with all kinds of impurity and greed.

But that isn’t what you were taught when you learned about Christ. Since you have heard all about him and have learned the truth that is in Jesus, throw off your old evil nature and your former way of life, which is rotten through and through, full of lust and deception. Instead, there must be a spiritual renewal of your thoughts and attitudes. You must display a new nature because you are a new person, created in God’s likeness—righteous, holy, and true.” (Ephesians 4:17-24, NLT)
Amen

Holy things, holy places

A situation in my life got me to thinking about holy stuff… you know, which are holy day? What are holy places and/or holy things? Who are holy people?

The first thing I did was re-think the word – “holy.” Since it is a word primarily derived from Biblical sources, I went there. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew root word which is translated “holy” is a word that means “pure, devoted, and/or dedicated to a specific use.” In the New Testament Greek, the word we translate as ‘holy’ means to be “venerated or separated from the common for God’s exclusive use.” Then I read a few more passages that used the word, holy. I found that in the Old Testament, especially in the books of the Law, the discussion primarily centers around establishing a distinction of both place and people. The tabernacle and Temple were specifically holy sites. They were exclusively used for the ongoing rituals of worship and were the symbolic center of God’s dwelling place on earth. Later in Jewish history, Jerusalem came to be a holy city, because it was the site of the Temple and the center of worship for the nation. There were also ‘holy men’ who were exclusively set apart to do the work of God, priests and Levites, descendants of Aaron. Other men and/or women would occasionally be considered holy as a result of the Spirit’s work in their lives. Most were called, ‘prophets.’

In the New Testament, a new concept of holiness emerges. Holy places and holy things, people being holy because of their family status are all set aside. What emerges is the concept that ALL those who are Christ’s are holy people and that the site of worship is not a building or city. God’s temples are Believers. He lives in you and in me! Peter exclaims – “Come to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by the people, but he is precious to God who chose him. And now God is building you, as living stones, into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are God’s holy priests, who offer the spiritual sacrifices that please him because of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:4-5, NLT)

Our human tendency to try to make Jerusalem or Rome into “holy cities,” or Easter or Christmas into “holy days” (e.g., holidays), our church into a temple, and professional clergy into ‘holy men’ is simply a misplaced emphasis! You and I are to be holy – for God, the Holy Spirit, lives in us.

So, what does this calling to be God’s holy people and temples mean? Must we start to wear long black coats, keep a dour look on our faces, and practice solemnity? That’s what some would say. There is a certain kind of impression of holiness that comes with wearing esoteric clothing like clerical collars or black uniforms, but those can easily be quite superficial. Any old actor can buy the ‘holy look.’ Does it mean that we have to move into closed communities and live in dormitories? Some groups have tried that, but eventually they become so ‘separate’ they die out and leave no lasting legacy for God’s honor in this world.

Holiness must go deeper, way deeper, than merely some rules imposed on us about our day to day behavior. Such rules may work for short time to make appear holy, but soon we find loopholes or we just ignore them altogether. And then, too, most holiness codes eventually become irrelevant as the world changes around us. The code that is designed to make people holy for one generation will not address the behaviors of the next.

The glorious truth is that we are called to embrace our calling and to become ‘living sacrifices’ whose words and actions reflect that we belong to God – all the time, everywhere. How that works out in everyday life is uniquely a reflection of God’s work in us individually. God has gifted me to teach and write. My holiness will be reflected in the discipline of my mind and the dedication of my thoughts to Him. Whatever your gifts and abilities become a means of worshipping Him and you can use those gifts to display your devotion to Him by dedicated them to His purposes.

Of course holiness will show in some shared traits of behavior that are necessary of all God’s people, in all places, and at all times. Those who walk intimately with Christ will love God with single-minded devotion and love other people intensely! Jesus said that these twin loves are the core of Christian ethics and the foundation from which we determine the morality of all actions. A holiness rooted in love for God and others will, according to the Bible, begin to show up in the way we act and speak. Paul says – “…among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.” (Ephesians 5:3-4, NIV) Please note – that kind of life cannot be imposed from the external! This passage refers to a life that grows out of a intimacy with Christ that transforms our lives. A person who loves Christ will find it inconceivable to be sexually promiscuous! A person whose heart is full of worship will not curse freely, for as James asks, “Curses and blessings out of the same mouth! My friends, this can’t go on. A spring doesn’t gush fresh water one day and brackish the next, does it?” (James 3:10-11, The Message)

Let me ask you if you’ve fallen into the same mistake that was tempting me. Are you dividing your life into what is ‘holy’ and what is ‘secular?’ If we do that, we are missing out on the true joy of being holy. For the Christian no day, no place, no person is more holy than the next. Every moment is a holy one lived in God’s Presence. Every Believer is a priest whose life offers up sacrificial worship and whose words offer grace to those in need. And, every place on earth we go, we can make into a sanctuary!

Here’s a word from the Word to ponder today —
“As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. God said, “I am holy; you be holy.” You call out to God for help and he helps—he’s a good Father that way. But don’t forget, he’s also a responsible Father, and won’t let you get by with sloppy living. Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God.” (1 Peter 1:15-17, The Message)

Puppets on a string?

Driving home from a hospital visit with a suffering saint I had a long talk with the Lord about the questions that were nagging at the edges of my mind. The main one, “What are You doing, Lord?” There are a couple of situations that I’m dealing with in my ministry that are stirring up the same question in me. It’s not that I’m trying to make God accountable to me, that I need Him to explain His actions. If that were in my heart, I would be in sin! He doesn’t answer to anyone. He is God. What I’m trying to understand is what part He wants me to take in implementing His will, if any.

Two competing views about people and the will of God come to my mind. One view of life is that God is in charge and therefore whatever happens is His will. In the extreme presentation of that view, I become a puppet on a string without choice. Another view of life is that I, alone, am responsible for what happens to me. In this view, God is present but has limited His direct involvement in the world, leaving us to work out the difficulties on our own. At the extreme of that view of free will, God becomes the ‘Divine Advisor’ and I become a god. The Bible tells me that God is ‘sovereign,’ and that I am a ‘free agent.’ Both statement are true, although that defies my limited logic. God is ‘in charge,’ and I am free to choose to participate in His purposes or to reject His will! What we usually set up as an ‘either/or’ situation, the Scripture teaches as a ‘both/and’ situation.

Take a look at this passage. God says, “O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand. If I announce that a certain nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down, and destroyed, but then that nation renounces its evil ways, I will not destroy it as I had planned. And if I announce that I will build up and plant a certain nation or kingdom, making it strong and great, but then that nation turns to evil and refuses to obey me, I will not bless that nation as I had said I would.” (Jeremiah 18:6-10, NLT) What does Jeremiah learn from the Spirit of God? That God has determined a course of action. Is that plan inevitable and unchangeable? No! God tells us that repentance turns away His declared judgment. And He says that rebellion can block His intended blessings!

Our choices are important. We are not puppets on a string, helplessly dancing as a God of inscrutable purposes pulls and twists from His throne. That is why I am praying to understand God’s will, asking Him what His plans and purposes are. I want to align myself with that will, so I live contentedly in the center of it, enjoying the serenity that comes from being a part of His best plans. I don’t want to sin against Him by becoming a self-willed rebel, or an angry fool that shakes a puny fist in His face because of unpleasant circumstances. Isaiah warns about an inflated sense of self and the folly that comes from a failure to submit to the sovereign God. Using the same imagery as Jeremiah, he writes – “Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the LORD, who do their work in darkness and think, “Who sees us? Who will know?” You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, “He did not make me”? Can the pot say of the potter, “He knows nothing”?” (Isaiah 29:15-16, NIV)

If we ignore either part of the equation of obedience, we will end up in error. If we look exclusively to our God-given freedom to choose, we will grow proud when life is going well, as though we alone accomplished something wonderful. And when suffering comes we will look around for someone to blame, or even sink into despair! However, if we believe that we have no responsibility, then we may fail to pray, stop seeking to be a part of His work, because we mistakenly conclude that our choices and actions are irrelevant to the outcomes we experience.

The practical implications of the twin truths of God’s rule and our freedom of choice is that we can live peacefully in this world. When difficult situations arise in our lives or in the world around us, we run to the One who is unchanging, ‘the same yesterday, today, and forever.’ We take solace from His promise that He will never leave us, never forsake us. But we do not stop seeking to bring the Kingdom of God into those situations. We pray for change. We present ourselves to Him, and discipline ourselves so that His purposes are not hindered by our self-will. The Believer’s focus is always on seeking God, even as the Spirit works to strengthen our faith.

Believer, the question that we should ask when confronted with conflict, sickness, and suffering is not best framed as ‘why is this happening?’ but rather as, ‘what are You asking of me, Lord?’
If He wills that we go through the fire to refine our character, we can walk through it with peace.
If He wants to lead us to repentance, it is imperative that we respond quickly!
If His desire is to make us a living example of His grace, then our momentary sufferings become a thing of glory, the pain we experience inconsequential compared to the privilege of being used in His plans.

“Let me hear of your unfailing love to me in the morning,
for I am trusting you.
Show me where to walk,
for I have come to you in prayer.

Save me from my enemies, Lord; I run to you to hide me.
Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God.
May your gracious Spirit lead me forward on a firm footing.” (Psalm 143:8-10, NLT) Amen

Encourage –

One from the archives….

Encourage

— To inspire with hope, courage, or confidence; hearten.
— To give support, to foster growing or development
________________________

When a person leaves an encounter with you, have you added value to his life, or taken something away?
I find that some people consistently bring a lift to me when we converse. Others whine or criticize or moan, and leave me feeling depleted!
Now, I don’t mean to suggest that we all must become ‘sunny, radiant, always speaking positive things’ kind of people, because that’s not really possible.
But, overall, I believe a worthwhile goal for us is that, by God’s help, we learn to be encouragers.

In October, 1977, at a time in my life when I was trying hard to develop a ministry in a new place, I met Tom Johnson, a generous soul and one of the best encouragers I’ve ever known. He knew I needed a job that allowed me some flexibility in schedule, so I could also do ministry work. So, one day he took me to meet his supervisor, told that man that I was a good guy, then quit on the spot, recommending me for his job! Tom believed I needed the job and its benefits for my family more than he did! His actions encouraged me in my quest to serve God in a difficult time of testing of faith.

Are you an encouraging Believer? Are you looking for opportunities to lend courage, hope, and confidence to others?
Christ Jesus calls on us to active caring. It isn’t enough to passively love each other. Our love must find ways to be expressed.
Romans 12:8-10 If your gift is to encourage others, do it! . . . And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. Don’t just pretend that you love others. Really love them. . . Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.
Hebrews 10:24 Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds.
Let me plant some practical suggestions in your mind of ways you might be an encourager today:

a. Send a note of sincere appreciation to someone who has served you sacrificially.b. Take note of a person who’s work is ‘behind the scenes’ and sincerely compliment their efforts.
c. Offer to pray with a friend that seems overwhelmed by life, then pray a positive prayer full of words of blessing. (Careful, don’t preach while you pray!)
d. Roll up your sleeves and practically lift someone’s burden for a couple of hours; mow their lawn, watch their kids, cook their dinner, or take them to a movie.
e. Actively listen if someone opens their heart without offering any advice. Let them unburden their heart to you. Let your eyes and posture say, “I really do care!”

The world is full of critics. It is easy to point out another’s flaws. It is often easy to ‘see’ (in our self-important opinion, anyway) why our brother or sister is in that situation. “Well, if she would just…. ” Can the criticism. It doesn’t help. A preacher once told me, “Just about anyone can do demolition, but it takes real skill to be a builder!”
Today, pray that the Lord will make you a skillful builder of others…1 Thessalonians 5:11 Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

Consideration – a basic Christian quality

Humans can be puzzling, can’t they? The whys and wherefores of behavior can be difficult to discern. Getting to the real need, what’s actually going on under the surface, demands patience. But, time and again in my dealing with people, I re-discover that when I take time to try to understand the needs and desires of others, to fit their actions into the context of their emotional needs, conflict is replaced with cooperation. By way of illustration I can point to my little grandsons. When they were visiting here last week, they would become hard to handle, whiny, and even defiant in the late afternoon if they didn’t get a naptime. Their real need was not discipline, it was rest! Once Bev and I understood that, we became proactive in getting them to rest right after lunch. By providing for the real need, rest, we took care of much of the ‘discipline’ problems that otherwise appeared around 5 pm.

Stephen Covey, author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, puts consideration down as habit number 5 and states it this way – “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” He observes that most of us listen to the words of others but not empathetically, that is, to really hear them. We listen with the intent to reply. Even while they’re speaking, we are starting to formulate our answer. What inevitably happens in that communication pattern? We get only part of the message before we stop listening, and the other person senses they are not being heard. The other communication problem Covey points out that keeps us from really getting the message is that we listen autobiographically. The other person’s words run through our brain and get filtered through our experiences. We assume they are thinking like we think, that their attitudes are the same as our attitudes.

We can learn to listen with understanding, but it takes effort, patience, and practice. One very valuable way (though it often irritates others) is to rephrase what they are saying. We can respond like this – “So, if I understand you, you’re telling me….” Or we can actually ask for clarity of the emotive content of the message, saying something like – “I hear you saying this, but it seems that you’re searching for …” If done gently, such simple techniques provide the context for consideration and understanding.

So, are you smiling at this little communication lesson? Actually, it is a basic part of Christian living to understand others in a way that allows you and me to meet their needs! Jesus said, “Do for others what you would like them to do for you. This is a summary of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12, NLT) In another context, He said, “…you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31, NLT) Imagine the kind of relationships we would enjoy IF we actually put that into practice consistently? How would it change your relationship with your spouse if you took the time to really understand, instead of expecting that your needs would always be met? How would it transform your friendships at church if you were really empathetic, making the effort to see beneath the surface?

Peter urges Christian husbands to “dwell with them (your wives) according to knowledge, giving honor unto the wife.” (1 Peter 3:7, KJV) The NIV says, “Be considerate.” In other words, take time to listen and understand, so you can address the real needs of the person you love. The principle can be broadened to all of our relationships.

So, let’s do an experiment today. When you are getting frustrated with someone or you are presented with a problem by another person, instead of letting yourself get angry, choose to become a detective.

Begin to listen carefully. Explore the situation. Pray for insight. As you uncover the real need, begin to meet it. In that action, you will be showing Christ-like love and honoring the Lord of Life, who loved us while we were still sinners, and took action to meet our greatest need.

“Lord, in a world marked by conflict,
from nations making war, to families torn apart by anger,
people who love and who bring peace are needed.
I want to be one of those people. Spirit of God, make me a peace-maker!
Fill me with wisdom and insight. Grant me patient love.
Take away harsh judgment that quickly condemns, replacing it with the gentle spirit
you showed when confronted with ordinary sinners.
Let me fulfill your royal law by loving others more than I love myself.
In the Name of Jesus, who loved me.
Amen.”

Measuring success

Ever hear of Dennis Kozlowski? In June, 2005 he was convicted on numerous counts in Federal courts involving fraud and theft of millions of dollars from Tyco, International. Here’s the amazing thing. Kozlowski was legally compensated with over $500 million (not that’s not a typo) by the company he headed from 1992 to 2002. Under his leadership Tyco was a prosperous company that paid shareholders well. The board rewarded his efforts by making him one of the best paid CEO’s in America, but it wasn’t enough! Was that because this man from a poor section of Newark, NJ, who grew up hungry to be rich, somehow couldn’t stretch $500 million to feed his lifestyle? No, it wasn’t any material need that drove his efforts. It was a spiritual need, a hunger for a meaningful life. You see, dollars and things were the indicators of a man’s worth to Dennis Kozlowski. So, he always needed more to prove to himself and the world that he was ‘the man!’

In his book, The Good Life, Chuck Colson writes about another business wizard, Jack Welch. As head of GE, Welch made the company profitable beyond anybody’s dreams. He was and is an icon among business leaders in America. His efforts were rewarded with great wealth, but the emptiness of Welch’s heart became obvious after he glimpsed his mortality following open heart surgery. Colson reports that when Welch was asked if he had come to any revelations as a result of his crisis. Welch replied, “I didn’t spend enough money….. wine that costs under $100 will never cross my lips again.” He was serious!

If we measure life’s worth by the size of the pile of things around us, ours will be a pathetic, and ultimately meaningless, existence. Most of us will nod in agreement with that statement, but our actions give the lie to our words. In truth, most Americans, including Believers, define a good life by the amount of money they have and the freedom to pursue their own happiness. A woman I know recently left a job in corporate America to take a job in a ministry setting. Her choice meant taking about a 60% pay cut and leaving behind a generous benefit package. Her choice mystifies most people, even Christians. “Why would she do that? Doesn’t she understand that she is putting her financial future in jeopardy? Is she really thinking about the long term costs in this?” – are all questions I’ve heard asked about her decision. Yes, she is really thinking and I know that she actually believes the words of Jesus about laying up treasure in Heaven are true, not just poetic. Sure, she won’t be able to take vacations to the Caribbean and she’ll drive an older car. Her 401(k) account won’t be growing, but her heavenly account will. And her child will most likely see that Mom’s faith isn’t just words, causing him to consider his own choices about serving the Lord!

Jesus once told a story about seeds that fell into different places; the hard pathway where they could not germinate, the shallow soil that could not sustain life, and the rich soil that caused them to grow and produce a rich harvest. He also said this – “The seeds that fell among the thornbushes are also people who hear the message. But they start worrying about the needs of this life and are fooled by the desire to get rich. So the message gets choked out, and they never produce anything.” (Matthew 13:22, CEV) Does that describe many of us? Have we heard the good news of Christ and received it with joy, only to return to the same empty life built around getting things and worrying about financial security?

How do you measure success? Is it by the size of your house, the amount of your money, the style of your clothing, or the model of your car? Is being ‘cool’ important to you? OR, have you chosen to pursue God’s rewards, measuring your success by faithfulness to Him, by your willingness to live in obedience to Him and serve others?

Don’t read a false conclusion here! Not every Christian has to abandon his job to take a position in ministry to find a meaningful life! We’re not all called to be Pastors or to work in para-church ministries to please the Lord. That’s not the point of this TFTD. But we are all called to serve Christ wherever we are. Colson penned a line that bears repeating – “The workbench, the kitchen counter, the computer station, or any other workplace is an altar.” (The Good Life, page 83) The Bible urges us to “Work hard and cheerfully at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.” (Colossians 3:23, NLT) The measure of success is God’s approval. His approval comes when we live in His ways. His ways, Jesus said, are defined with two basic commands – “Love God wholeheartedly, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Is a life worth living within reach for you? Yes!
But, don’t be deceived by contemporary standards, trapped by thinking that happiness will arrive with a bigger check or some new possession.
Ask God to work in you deeply, changing your heart and mind, so that you think in a godly way. Make the small decisions today to live in ways that reflect that He is Lord of all of your life.
You will begin to experience joy and life with meaning.

____________________________

Out on the highways and byways of life,
Many are the weary and sad;
Carry the sunshine where darkness is rife,
Making the sorrowing glad.

Make me a blessing, make me a blessing;
Out of my life may Jesus shine.
Make me a blessing, O Savior I pray,
Make me a blessing to someone today.

Give as ’twas given to you in your need,
Love as the Master loved you;
Be to the helpless a helper indeed,
Unto your mission be true.

Make Me A Blessing – Ira B. Wilson

The Privilege of Prayer

Prayer meetings are not usually the more well-attended functions at churches. I’m sure there are many reasons for that. Maybe it’s the constant repetition of the same, “Lord, bless Charles” kind of prayers that are often the staple of such meetings. Maybe the reason people stay away is unbelief – “What good will it do, anyway?” Then, too, it may be the low view of God that grips even many Believers with a kind of evangelical deism – “God lives in His Heaven and left me to take care of myself on this earth.”- that leads to a rather perfunctory prayer life.

Last night in our church we had a prayer meeting! About 75 people came together with expectant hearts, open minds, and a focus on the Majesty of the Lord. We worshipped – fervently, not foolishly. We didn’t pray the same tired prayers of holy resignation. We boldly asked God to give us a breakout church, to equip those who minister with the power of the Spirit, to use us a spark that would ignite a fire in this region and to our world. And the Presence of God met us in a sweet way. We loved Him and He loved us in return. I left the church house wonderfully encouraged!

Believer, do you hold prayer meetings in your life?
Do you, from time to time, go beyond the meal time prayers, beyond the quick – “Jesus help me” emergency prayers, to spend time with God?

This privilege is neglected by so many. What a tragic loss. If you’re not praying, let me encourage you to begin. Don’t be afraid that you won’t do it right. Prayer is intensely personal. There is no right way. I often pray lying flat on my face. Is that for everyone? Of course not, but for me it is a physical way to express my humility before the Lord. I seldom speak above a murmur in my private prayers, even when alone. Is that the only way to express prayer? No. Some pray loudly with tears. God is not nervous, so I’m sure the volume does not bother him. Of course, He’s not deaf either! Sometimes I just sit quietly for 15 minutes, wordlessly presenting myself to God. Other times I sing. My point is that you can pray in a way that suits your situation and your personality. God loves to hear from you. Maybe your best prayers will be on your fishing boat, when you’re far from shore – alone with your thoughts and your God. Maybe your best prayers will be in your car, or in the woods as you hike, or in your bedroom, behind a closed door.

We simply need to pray. The simple directive of the Scripture is “pray without ceasing!” (1 Thessalonians 5:17, NKJV) Do not be frustrated by ‘unanswered’ prayers. Truth is that as you pray, you will learn to pray better, more in line with the mind of the God. You will learn to agree with Him, to sense His will, to walk closer to Him through daily life. The Word tells us to “Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought. People who “worry their prayers” are like wind-whipped waves. Don’t think you’re going to get anything from the Master that way.” (James 1:6-7, The Message) No, that passage is not teaching us to be presumptive, brats in the family of God who demand our own way, who throw tantrums in our prayers in a silly attempt to get an answer. It tells us that we can pray confident prayers based on the Father’s love for us, on His desire to work in our lives. Then, as His children, we trust Him when the answer is “no,” as much as we love Him when the answer is “Yes.”

In our prayer meeting last night, this song was sung – beautifully, movingly. Meditate on it today.

Welcomed in to the courts of the King,
I’ve been ushered into Your presence.
Lord, I stand on Your merciful ground,
Yet with every step tread with reverence.

Chorus:
And I’ll fall face down,
As Your glory shines around!
Yes, I’ll fall face down,
As Your glory shines around!

Who is there in the heavens like You,
And upon the earth, who’s Your equal?
You are far above, Your the highest of highs,
We are bowing down to exalt You!

Bridge:
So, let Your glory shine around;
Let Your glory shine around;
King of glory here be found, King of glory!

Face Down
Words and Music by, Matt Redman © 2004 Thankyou Music CCLI# 2646749

Amen.

Selling maps?

Today’s TFTD is not my original work! Thank you to Eddie Hilburn for this article which was published in REV., Sept/Oct. ’06 issue.

Selling Maps?

I was driving around in an unfamiliar city looking for a local coffee shop where I was going to meet a friend. I was lost! Being a 21st century man, I stopped to askd for directions at a convenience store. I explained my predicament to the man behind the counter and asked if he could help, but he told me he had no idea where I was trying to go. He loaned me a phonebook to look up the address and sold me a map while I mumbled in despair. A customer spoke up, “I overheard that conversation and I can help you. I know exactly where that coffee shop is. I’m going right by there. Come with me.” I thanked him and followed him out of the store. My kind guide told me that we would go through a few traffic lights, make a couple of turns, then I’d easily spot the shop. I got into my car and stayed attached to the bumper of my new best friend’s car until the coffee shop appeared.

Later I reflected on my experience with two people who had helped me find my way and I wondered about the ways that I help others. Am I just selling maps to places I’ve never been, or am I accompanying people on a transformational journey?

I intend to lead people to follow Jesus. I tell them that it is possible to find a life full of grace, and to want God more and more. In this life, we leave behind sinful and destructive behaviors- not just because we should, but because that is the natural result of being with God. That’s what I tell people. But do I tell people this because it is just the right thing to say, or because that is my personal experience? I have no illusions that I am or ever will be a model of perfection. That’s not even the issue. The issue is my own personal transformation. I am telling people they can be transformed more and more into Christ-likeness, but how deeply am I committed to the process? – Eddie Hilburn, Pastor – First Baptist Church, Kilgore, TX
_____________________________________

Christianity is not a process to be sold, nor is this life captured in formulas like 3 Easy Steps to Christlikeness. It’s a life journey. Jesus never intended for you and me to work it out alone, nor is the best way to become all that God wants you and me to be discovered in solitary study. It is a communal thing! It is one friend walking with another friend, not merely telling, but showing. Every Christian should be in relationships where someone is leading him and in which he is leading another. When Jesus invited some men to become His disciples, He said – “Come, be my disciples, and I will show you how to fish for people!” (Mark 1:17, NLT) He wasn’t inviting them into an exclusive club. He was showing them how to live, so they, in turn, could show others. Paul says it like this – “And you should follow my example, just as I follow Christ’s.” (1 Corinthians 11:1, NLT)

That kind of involvement requires an authenticity of character, that is only found in truly knowing Christ, not in religious practices confined to a few hours each week. If we are not really forgiven and going through spiritual transformation, we cannot speak genuinely about change. If we have hidden sins that we have not carried to the Cross, we will never, ever be transparent to others, which is a foundational requirement for a shared journey of close friends in faith!

Many of us are simply selling maps instead of taking trips together. Are you following someone in a pilgrimage to Heaven, inviting others along the way to join the journey- or are you just talking about place that others have described to you?

O may all who come behind us

Find us faithful,
May the fire of our devotion
Light their way.
May the footprints that we leave,
Lead them to believe,
And the lives we live
Inspire them to obey.

O may all who come behind us
Find us faithful.
We’re pilgrims on the journey
Of the narrow road,
And those who’ve gone before us
Line the way.
Cheering on the faithful,
Encouraging the weary,
Their lives a stirring testament
To God’s sustaining grace.
Surrounded by so great
A cloud of witnesses,
Let us run the race
Not only for the prize,
But as those who’ve gone before us.
Let us leave to those behind us,
The heritage of faithfulness
Passed on thru godly lives.

O may all who come behind us
Find us faithful.

© 1987 Jonathan Mark Music ARR UBP of Gaither Copyright Management / Birdwing Music (a div. of EMI Christian Music Publishing) CCLI License No. 810055

Let God love you!

Is there a place of recurring pain in your life? No, I’m not just thinking about physical pain, like a headache. Has something turned out wrong, a relationship gone bad, your dreams been smashed? Philip Yancey wrote about the ache of the soul that leads some of to experience disappointment with God! It happens when God doesn’t do what we think He ought to do. It happens when our Father allows us to suffer when we expected that He would rescue us. And all Believers find that though God assures us that He loves us and wants to be close to us, there are times when He seems to hide – His presence elusive. In those seasons, there is heartache that is indescribably painful. The choices that we make when we in such emotional and/or spiritual agony are important.

We must not allow our pain to embitter us or to cause us to turn from the very sources of healing that would strengthen us. A dog in pain will often bite the person who is trying to relieve its suffering. People in pain frequently lash out at the people who can offer them support and perhaps even healing, too! You would think a person would be smarter than a dog, wouldn’t you? Think of the times when your spouse attempted to soothe you in a difficult time and you rebuffed her kindness. Perhaps you can remember when you were in the turbulent teen years and you screamed at your parents – “Get out of my face!” and all they were trying to do was to understand your struggles and uncertainty. In my ministry, it sometimes happens that people whose lives are filled with disappointment or pain, who are angry at the Lord or confused by His will, decide to use the Pastor as their punching bag!

Turning against God Himself is the saddest choice we can make in those times. Go ahead and mourn! Stuffing those feelings away, pretending that life is fine by pasting a happy smile on your face is not the answer.

But, please, cultivate humility as well. Pride will fuse with your pain if you allow it. Pride and pain will feed your ego and build an incredible selfishness. You’ll become a slave to thoughts like:

“How could they do this to me?”
“No one cares about me.”
“Everyone is against me.”
“No one else I know has ever, ever had to endure this much pain.”

That kind of pre-occupation with ‘me, myself, and I’ leads to bitterness and rejection of the sources of support and healing. Elijah, the prophet who did so many miracles by God’s power, experienced a time when his expectations were missed. He fell into self-pity and prayed this woeful prayer – “I’ve had enough, Lord… take my life. … I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” (1 Kings 19:10, NIV) His pain blinded him to God’s past faithfulness and to the fact that there were thousands of people in Israel who still loved God!

We need to work hard to break down that self focus. Yes, we must acknowledge the reality of our heartache. But, we need to work to understand that we’re not the only one who has ever been disappointed, alone, or afraid. Be humble enough to realize that the world doesn’t revolve around you, that you’re a part of world that is torn up by suffering produced by Satan and sin.

Offer up a sacrifice of worship and praise. God called Elijah out of the cave of his depressive thoughts and asked him to consider the goodness of the Lord! Offering up worshipful praise doesn’t mean that you find the happiest song in the hymnal and sing it insincerely! Worship from the deep places of your heart. Ponder God’s works in silent contemplation. Wait! Yes, wait, on God. He isn’t captive to our mindset that demands instant gratification and/or solutions that are created in 29.5 minutes! God mourns with you. His heart was broken by sin and suffering too when He hung on the Cross of Calvary carrying the sorrow of this broken world. Now, let Him love you. Confess the truth of the Word which declares – The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18 NIV)

Isaiah 57:13-15 NLT “….whoever trusts in me will possess the land and inherit my holy mountain. I will say, ‘Rebuild the road! Clear away the rocks and stones so my people can return from captivity.’ The high and lofty one who inhabits eternity, the Holy One, says this: ‘I live in that high and holy place with those whose spirits are contrite and humble. I refresh the humble and give new courage to those with repentant hearts.’