Monday, September 27, 2021

"Lightning Struck Twice"

Isaiah 19.20 NASB  

“And it will become a sign and a witness to the Lord of hosts in the land of Egypt; for they will cry to the Lord because of oppressors, and He will send them a Savior and a Champion, and He will deliver them.” 

Stranded in Las Vegas! I had enjoyed a two day real estate seminar with about nine hundred other attendees, but I was ready to go home. We were to depart at 7:55 p.m., about the same time a severe thunderstorm moved into the city. At 8:30 our flight was cancelled because the plane had been struck by lightening. The aircraft would remain grounded until it could be checked out. Our next departure time would be midnight.

All would-be passengers groaned collectively and loudly. About four hours later our next plane arrived and offloaded its passengers. We were tired but eager to board and get home. The thunderstorm had since moved away from Las Vegas but unfortunately into the direct path of our new incoming airplane. Over the loudspeaker one hundred and forty tired ticket holders heard, “I’m sorry folks, but this plane was also hit by lightening. We will try to find each of you a room in Vegas because none of you can fly out until sometime tomorrow.” I thought the guy was joking.

What are the odds of two planes getting struck by lightning in Las Vegas? Apparently, not bad. It’s common for commercial aircraft in thunderstorms to experience lightning hits. They are properly grounded and can sustain the strike, continue to fly, and land just fine. The damage is usually minimal but safety precautions must be taken. We weren’t leaving Las Vegas anytime soon.

I felt sorry for the guy with the microphone at the terminal gate. His first announcement was met with unhappiness; his second with open hostility. There was lots of finger pointing and demands for unreasonable forms of compensation. The disappointed passengers unconsciously formed a mob and began figuratively ‘shooting the messenger.’ The line for food, hotel, and shuttle vouchers was another hour-long wait. We recollected our baggage, waited for a shuttle, and checked in at the hotel. I did not get to bed until 2:00 a.m., 8 hours after arriving at the airport. We were traveling backwards! 

My business associates and I were well behaved, taking circumstances beyond our control well in stride. But we witnessed flared tempers and poor attitudes from other passengers. We kept our distance from this unruly ‘mob.’ I was irritated by the angry ticket holders. “They don’t deserve to fly home,” I thought to myself.  

Isaiah’s message was unusual not because he promised God would send a “Savior and a Champion.” That God would “deliver” was no great surprise to Israel. It was who He would deliver that shocked the prophet’s audience. Isaiah prophesied that enemies like Egypt and Assyria “will return to the Lord, and He will respond to them and heal them” (Isaiah 19.22). How could this be? Egypt did not deserve the mercy of God. 

I felt judgmental toward the airport ‘mob’ and their selfish actions. What right did they have to abuse the airline employee? Did they want to fly on an unsafe plane? Did they think the guy with the mic caused the lightning, made the policies, or piloted the aircraft? Did they not see (like I did) that this situation was outside of everyone’s control and that no amount of whining would change that? 
These self-centered people did not deserve a flight home," I thought to myself. Like ancient Israel, I did not think they should have a “Savior” or “Champion.”

The ‘mob’ had a bad attitude toward the airline employee. I had a bad attitude toward ‘mob.’ What’s the difference? Not much. Isaiah taught that God loves us all and would send His Son to be everyone’s “Savior and Champion.” 

If I, like the people of Israel, expect God to be selective about those whom He will deliver, why am I not surprised by His choice of me? Here's an interesting question... Why am I less surprised by His love for me than for others?

Friday, September 24, 2021

"The Ten Suggestions"

Isaiah 16.3 NASB

Give us advice, make a decision;

Cast your shadow like night at high noon;

Hide the outcasts,
do not betray the fugitive.”

I am not a counselor and so I can’t comment with authority on the profession. However, I do have an issue with some of the marriage counseling I’ve heard about. My impression is that many counselors flat refuse to “give… advice” or “make a decision.” Perhaps they taught in Counselor’s School how to remain neutral: “Never take sides. Never give advice or render a decision.”

Most counselors appear to know how to listen intently and then say with ease, “Thank you for sharing” or inquire, “How does that make you feel?” But I can’t imagine a modern counselor taking sides or making a stand with words like these: “That’s just wrong. Stop it.”

Like many counselees, the Moabites cried out for help. “Give us advice, make a decision.” Sometimes that’s what people need. An answer. A verdict. A judgment. A validation. A pronouncement. They need someone in authority to ‘cast their shadow like night at high noon’ on behalf of “outcasts” or “the fugitive.”

I knew a good woman who was deeply wounded by her husband’s infidelity. She hoped to save the marriage and although he wanted a divorce, the husband reluctantly agreed to marriage counseling. Their Christian counselor was unwilling to speak authoritatively about the husband’s ‘extracurricular’ sexual activities. I don’t understand this. The Bible promotes a system of living that involves some marital absolutes like…
  • God hates divorce (see Malachi 2.16)
  • Except for sexual infidelity, divorce is not an option (Matthew 19.6, 9)
  • Sex outside of marriage is against God’s law (Hebrew 13.4)
  • It’s wrong to secretly desire another man’s wife (Exodus 20.17)
  • Do not have sex with a person married to another (Luke 18.20)
  • Stay away from pornography (Matthew 5.27-28)
  • A woman should respect her husband (Ephesians 5.33)
  • A man must love his wife and lay his life down for her (Colossians 3.19)
Have I always lived up to the God’s commands? Of course not. I have violated nearly all of them. However, that does not change God’s law. My disobedience does not make it OK. God gave Moses Ten Commandments, not Ten Suggestions. Occasionally, He expects us to remind ourselves of
His standards. Offenders need straight talk. Victims need validation and vindication. Shepherds, pastors, Christian counselors or leaders, may even have to “give.. advice” and “make a decision.” When this is called for, anything less is a cop-out.
___________________

The replica of the Ten Commandments above is from Ha Shem (The Name) Into the World Artworks.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

"Bullies Bring Out the Best in Us"

Isaiah 10.24-25, 27 HCSB

“My people who dwell in Zion, do not fear Assyria, though he strikes you with a rod and raises his staff over you as the Egyptians did. In just a little while My wrath will be spent and My anger will turn to their destruction."

“On that day his burden will fall from your shoulders, and his yoke from your neck. The yoke will be broken…

Have you ever seen a bully fall? They do. God uses bullies to teach us important lessons, then they’re gone. Smart bullies learn lessons along with their victims. Unfortunately for bullies, there aren’t many smart ones. When God is done with His purpose, bullies usually suffer the same fate as they were allowed to inflict. They do fall.

Clayton was a 6th grade bully. I did not watch where I was going and accidentally bumped into him before class began. Clayton immediately slapped me in the face, hard. The sound of it startled the entire class and they all stared at my red cheek. I was literally frozen with shame. Like the Wicked Witch of the West in the land of Oz, Clayton cackled in victory and presented me before his admiring crowd of 6th grade munchkins. I crept to my desk in humiliation.

If I could go back in time, I would have instantly hit Clayton back just as hard as he hit me. (I think the munchkins would have cheered.) Marching to principal’s office in trouble would have been far better than slinking to my seat in shame. I can’t go back in time but I can take valuable lessons from the experience…

  • I should watch where I’m going.
  • I can suffer a humility and shame and still survive.
  • Not everyone loves me.
  • Some people will hurt me for their purposes if I let them.

Since 6th grade, I've met lots of bullies and learned a few more lessons…

  • Bullies can be stopped.
  • If I show courage, I can bring a bully's career to an end. 
  • Even if I can’t stop a bully, God can.

Perhaps you are in a relationship with a bully. Like Israel and Assyria, “he strikes you with a rod [of violence] and raises his staff [of intimidation] over you.” You are not alone. Jesus is with you. He was bullied to death and rose from the grave. Jesus can, and sooner or later will, take the bully’s “yoke from your neck. The yoke will be broken.”

Bullies can be stopped when their purpose is used up. Until then, become bully-proof by seeking the virtue of Christ from deep inside yourself. Find the humility to suffer a little longer and the courage to stand up to the bully yourself. 

You could say... bullies bring out the best in us.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

"Leap Frog"

Isaiah 9.6 NKJV

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.

And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Before Handel’s “Messiah,” in fact, long before the birth of Christ, the prophet Isaiah spoke these words about Jesus. Over seven hundred years of history would come and go. The Babylonian, Persian, and Greek empires would rise and fall. Alexander the Great would appear and then fade away. After all this happened, Christ came as a baby in a stable in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophetic promise.

“So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord
through the prophet, saying: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son,
and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us.’
Matthew 1.22-23 NKJV

When I was a little boy I played leap frog. I played it with my kids when they were little. I leap frogged with my first grandson and, when they are big enough, I will play it with my other grandkids. Leap frog is fun because it involves movement and a positive connection between all the players.

Our Father God loves to play leap frog with us. The message of Jesus is leaping from one generation to the next starting thousands of years before His actual birth and continuing a couple of thousand years since. I am touched by the same message God gave Isaiah twenty-seven centuries ago. There’s movement in this message. There’s connection. I am playing this wonderful, trans-generational game with Moses, David, the children of Israel, Isaiah, every prophet of Judah and Israel, Jesus Christ, the disciples and writers of the New Testament, all devoted Christ-followers of every age, and God Himself.

My wife, Adonica, was an ardent believer in Jesus. Six years ago, she 'leap frogged' her way into eternity. I miss her but still feel the connection. She was my wife “til death do us part,” but she will be my sister forever.  Together with the entire host of heaven and “a great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12.1), Adonica and I are still united in spirit with the intention of expanding the Kingdom of God on earth.  

The church of God is strong. The message of “Immanuel... God with us” cannot be stopped. The truth is advancing. Nothing will deter it. Jesus is alive and with us. This reality will leap frog forward for all eternity. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

"I'll Bet You Never Heard a Sermon on This!"

Isaiah 3.24 NASB

“Now it will come about that instead of sweet perfume
there will be putrefaction;

Instead of a belt,
a rope;

Instead of well-set hair,
a plucked-out scalp;

Instead of fine clothes,
a donning of sackcloth;

And branding
instead of beauty. ”

I’ve sat in church for many years 
and I have never heard a sermon on Isaiah 3.24. I doubt I ever will. It’s an inelegant text and unfit for the regular church consumption. It violates all forms of ecclesiastical etiquette and will not appear as a lectionary reading option anytime soon. 

Most people don’t want to hear the stuff Isaiah preached about.

Imagine a beauty pageant. Gorgeous young women dressed and made up to perfection. Immerse the winner in dead, rotting flesh. Yank large patches of hair from her scalp. Cover her in a burlap bag and brand her cheeks with a cattle iron. This horrible, cringe-reflex imagery is Isaiah.

Isaiah warned the king of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem of God’s coming wrath. If they would not repent of their sins against the orphans, widows, helpless, poor, and aliens, then God would bring about the same disaster suffered by their northern neighbor Israel. The nation of Israel was being led into captivity by Assyria as Isaiah spoke. Judah apparently did not heed the prophet’s warning and suffered the same fate as Israel by the merciless hand of Babylonian captors about a hundred years after Isaiah died.

What does the imagery of stinking, bloodied, branded young women have to do with me? I assume this is a graphic symbolization of my life under the influence and control of supernatural forces of darkness who care nothing for my well-being. As Assyria was to Israel, and Babylon to Judah, so is Hell to me. The demonic realm is real. The Bible acknowledges the dark power of the Satan in the world…

“Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil,
prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
1st Peter 5.9

But the power of Christ is just as real and even more powerful…

“Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.”
1st John 4.4b

“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”
Romans 16.20

I’m glad I belong to Christ. He does not approve of the way the god of this world treats God’s people...

“The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.”
1st John 3.8

Monday, September 20, 2021

"We Can Endure What God Cannot"

Isaiah 1.13, 15 NKJV

“I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting.”

“When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you;
Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear.

I am embarrassed to admit I allowed myself to be drawn into a television reality show a few years ago in which the participants were required to eat live earthworms. One contestant gagged and just couldn’t do it. I was glad she couldn’t. She wasn’t supposed to. It’s against nature and all things sensible for humans to consume living worms. Earthworms and the human palate just don’t go together. No one should be expected to endure fare (or television) of this kind. 

At least two people were enduring something they should not have been. The young lady on the screen and... me! She was trying to swallow living worms and I was trying to watch her do it. Both were equally as just plain wrong!

The concept of endurance is fascinating to me. Humans endure all sorts of things they shouldn’t like, for example, poor marriages. I will never advocate divorce but often change must take place. Some marriages just shouldn’t be, at least not the way they are. The parties simply don’t go together well. The union needs change and the parties need help getting there. Instead, they endure the rituals of marital anti-bliss year after sad year.

Take the typical job, as another example. Unfulfilled employees perform boring, zombie-like routines while remaining fully disengaged from the reality of their sorry existence. They shouldn’t be there. Only vaguely do they recall the passionate optimism of their youth when the future stretched before them like a magical red carpet. Now they’ve learned to settle for BTN (better than nothing) careers and live only for weekends and annual vacations. These workers (and probably their employers) endure way more than they should.

How about church? Ever wonder why parishioners are there? Some people attend worship only because they’re supposed to. Their ancestors and friends attended this church. They made their kids warm the same pew each Sunday after excruciating Sunday. They paid their tithes and earned the right to be miserable. They’re not about to leave. You couldn’t force these folks out with a divine crowbar. They have learned the unhappy secret of faulty endurance. Here's the truth: 


Human beings can endure much more than they should.

Not so with God. He has limits. He cannot endure things that don’t go together. The prophet claimed God “cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting.” God’s greatest desire is to have a “sacred meeting” with His people. He wants to deeply connect with you and me so He sent Jesus knocking on the door of our hearts...

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears
My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him”.
Revelation 3.20 NASU

The only real sin is unbelief. One cannot have a quality relationship with Jesus and refuse to believe in its possibility. Divine encounters and lack of faith simply don’t go together. Perhaps I can endure a religion that only looks good from the outside, but God cannot. The prayers of the unbeliever bounce off the ceiling as Isaiah warned... “Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear you.” If God cannot endure things that aren’t supposed to go together, like “iniquity and the sacred meeting,” then neither should I.

Friday, September 17, 2021

"The Shulammite's Truth"

Song of Solomon 7:5, 10 NASU

“And the flowing locks of your head are like purple threads; the king is captivated by your tresses.

“I am my beloved's, and his desire is for me.”

The Song of Solomon describes with vivid sensuality and sexual imagery the love between young king Solomon and his exceedingly beautiful Shulammite bride. This “R” rated tale of romance is found near the middle of the Bible...  Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon. It’s historical poetry depicting two real people unleashed in their passion and love for each other.  

But, as is often true with ancient biblical literature, there is more meaning to be found. Hidden behind each one of its 117 verses is a message for you. You are the bride and Jesus is the groom and you may rest securely in His never-ending, unbounded, and limitless love. As “the king is captivated by the tresses” of his beloved, so Jesus is smitten with you. When He looks at you, His eyes hold the wonder and desire far transcending that of a young man in love. You are the object of Christ’s singular and eternal affection. As far as He’s concerned, there is no other. You’re it and you’re enough.

The miracle is not that you and I are loved to this degree. The miraculous happens when we accept this fact for ourselves. Heaven rejoices when we become confidently aware of the Shulammite’s truth:

“I am my beloved’s,
and His desire is for me.”

When we believe the love of Christ, something nearly unbelievable happens. We discover that eternal security is not a doctrine for debate. Rather, it is a deep knowing of the soul. Jesus is literally “captivated” by you and, in turn, His love makes you want to sing...

“Jesus loves me this I know,
For the Bible tells me so.”

“Yes, Jesus loves me,
Yes, Jesus loves me,
Yes, Jesus loves me;
The Bible tells me so.”

____________________

The art pictured above comes from a collection of silk-screen prints inspired by the Song of Solomon. The first is entitled “Dove’s Eyes” and the second is called “My Love.” Tamar Messer is a well-known Israeli artist who beautifully portrays stories from the Hebrew scriptures in her colorful work. Find out more about Tamar and her art at http://www.tamarmesser.com.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

"How to Find a Good Church"

Song of Solomon 1.7-8 NET

Tell me, O you whom my heart loves, where do you pasture your sheep? Where do you rest your sheep during the midday heat? Tell me lest I wander around beside the flocks of your companions!”

If you do not know, O most beautiful of women, simply follow the tracks of my flock, and pasture your little lambs beside the tents of the shepherds.”

How does a person choose a good church? Involvement in a church is an important part of spiritual growth. But which one? There are so many to choose from.

Walking distance from my house in Beaverton, Oregon, are two Presbyterian churches within one block of each other. One is Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) [1] and the other is Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA) [2].

Their names are almost identical. To assume, however, that their distinctions are minor would be major mistake. These churches are worlds apart. In fact, if you read their promotional material or speak to their leaders, you might conclude they came from different planets.

The PCA church in Beaverton holds to the historic creeds of the Reformed Church:

“We believe the Bible is the written word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit and without error in the original manuscripts. The Bible is the revelation of God’s truth and is infallible and authoritative in all matters of faith and practice.”
“We subscribe to the Westminster Standards[3] so that there is little confusion as to what we believe and practice.”[4]

Its PCUSA neighbor subscribes to a much more liberal view of Scripture:

“We do not espouse a literal interpretation of the stories of the Bible; rather, we believe they are 'truth stories', which are able to raise questions and teach us about God and ourselves. It is this theology that gives our lives meaning and joy and has led us to several characteristic actions: insistence on inclusive language, full participation of women in the church, More Light[5], a woman's right to choose, and growth toward better stewardship of the earth.”[6]

The teachings of these two local churches are radically opposite. Evergreen Presbyterian (PCA) is orthodox, historic, reformed, evangelical, and holds a high view of Scripture. Southminster Presbyterian (PCUSA) is liberal and focuses on inclusive language, women's rights, pro-choice in abortion, active support of the LGBTQ community (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer), and environmental concerns. The names of these two churches may sound similar, but their doctrines and practice of ministry are anything but! This phenomenon should drive us to our knees…

“Tell me, O You whom 
my heart loves, where do You 
pasture Your sheep?”

It’s good to know that Jesus has an answer…

“If you do not know,...
simply follow the tracks
of My flock.”
 
The text suggests I may ‘Follow those who follow Him.’ If finding a good church eludes me, there is another way. I need only to find good sheep who follow their Shepherd Jesus, and then follow their “tracks” to the church they attend. That should get me to a “pasture” worth grazing in. 

Once I am part of a excellent community of faith, I must endeavor to faithfully follow Jesus so others who “follow the tracks” I make, may also happily join us.
________________________
 
[1] Evergreen Presbyterian Church, 7275 SW Hall Boulevard, Beaverton, Oregon 97008, (503) 626-1520 (http://evergreenpca.com/). 
[2] Southminster Presbyterian Church, 12250 SW Denney Road, Beaverton, Oregon 97008, (503) 644-2073 (http://www.southmin.org/). 
[3] "The Westminster Confession of Faith", Presbyterian Church in America (https://www.pcaac.org/resources/wcf/).
[4] "Statement of Faith", Evergreen PCA (http://evergreenpca.com/who/statement-of-faith). This was the original link. It no longer works.
[5] "...the mission of More Light Presbyterians is to work for the full participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of faith in the life, ministry and witness of the Presbyterian Church (USA)", (http://www.mlp.org/index.php?topic=aboutUs).
[6] "Theology", Westminster PCUSA (http://www.southmin.org/theology.html). This was the original link. It no longer works.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

"Whatever Your Hand Finds to Do..."

Ecclesiastes 9.10 NIV

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.”

There is nothing worse than a guy without passion for what he does. A lackadaisical approach to work is uninspiring and does nothing to advance one’s station in life. There will be plenty of time to do nothing after you die. Until then make your life count. Your boss, clients, wife, kids, neighbors, church, community, and country are depending on you. Show some fire. Get with the program. Have some zest. Go for the gusto. Risk a little controversy. Stand up for what you believe. Be someone. Be a man. Make a difference. Do something… anything!

“Whatever you hand finds to do, do it with all your might”.

No athlete, entrepreneur, teacher, scholar, father, friend, actor, or artist ever fulfilled their God-given destiny with half-hearted devotion. Job, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Elijah, Hezekiah, Jeremiah, Jonah, Peter, and Paul gave it everything they had. So must you. Anything less than your best is not good enough.

“Whatever you hand finds to do, do it with all your might”.

You’ll sleep well at night knowing you did all you could and gave all you had. That’s good enough. God expects no more… and certainly, no less. The Holy Spirit may even empower you to do the impossible. Have a little faith. It doesn’t take much. According to One who gave His all, “…if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you,” (Matthew 17.20 NIV). So if that is true, then... 

“Whatever you hand finds to do, do it with all your might”.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

"Huh?"

Ecclesiastes 5.20 NIV

“He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.”


Once there was a man who sought the meaning of life. He read books on philosophy, asked for advice from friends, and prayed without ceasing. His quest for understanding led him all over the world. He searched high and low, far and wide, long and hard for ultimate truth. He dedicated himself to discover the treasures of wisdom and the knowledge of the ages. He investigated the claims of all the world’s great religions. But nothing quenched the longing of his thirsty soul.

One day in the quiet of his study, he heard a voice from heaven say, “I know what you are looking for. There’s a guy down the street who has it all put together. Go visit him. He will tell you the meaning of life.”

The man hurried to his neighbor’s house. A plain-looking, balding man with a kind demeanor appeared at the door. He welcomed his visitor and together they sat with a cup of tea. The seeker began, “I heard a voice. I think it was God. He told me to come see you.” “Go on,” said the host. “I am looking for the meaning of life. I’ve spent my entire existence seeking to discover the secret of the universe. I’ve tried it all… pleasure, wealth, reading, praying, meditation, women, work, booze, wealth, but nothing satisfies. I’m still searching. You apparently have it all together. That’s what the voice said. I’ve spoken to Zen masters, learned from gurus, read the classics, and followed great leaders. Nothing. Nothing I’ve tried satisfies my quest for enlightenment. Can you help? Please tell me. What is the reason for existence, the purpose of being, and the meaning of life?” 


The man with the answers looked quizzically at his guest, scratched his bald head, and said, “Huh? Can you repeat the question?”

The author of Ecclesiastes claimed, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven… a time to search and a time to give up” (Ecclesiastes 3.1, 6). There is a time to quit trying to ‘get’ everything, including the meaning of things you don’t (and probably never will) understand. Perhaps godly people know how to let go of that stuff and relax a little. They’re far too busy enjoying the life the Lord
gave them to waste time figuring out its meaning. Too much introspection can kill a guy. Quite possibly, the true Jesus follower “seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.”

“When I determined to load up on wisdom and examine everything taking place on earth,
I realized that if you keep your eyes open day and night without even blinking,
you'll still never figure out the meaning of what God is doing on this earth.
Search as hard as you like, you're not going to make sense of it. No
matter how smart you are, you won't get to the bottom of it.”

Ecclesiastes 8.16-17 The Message

Monday, September 13, 2021

"Stupid"

Proverbs 30.2-3; 29.19 NKJV

“Surely I am more stupid than any man, And do not have the understanding of a man. I neither learned wisdom Nor have knowledge of the Holy One.”

“A servant will not be corrected by mere words; For though he understands, he will not respond.”

How can a man smart enough to author a chapter in the book of Proverbs call himself-“stupid”? This word is banned in our house. If I slip with my tongue and say the “S” word, my kids instantly pipe up, “You said stupid!” I’m busted! None of the people living in our home may call anyone (including themselves) “stupid.” The word is bad for self-esteem and besides, it doesn’t sound very nice. But there it is in Biblical black-and-white:

“Surely I am more stupid than any man.”

The word in the original Hebrew is ba-ar and it literally means “stupid,” like a dumb cow without reasoning ability, unable to think coherently.

Stupid animals and people miss the connection between cause and effect. The fire is pretty so I touch it, and my hand is badly burned. The next time I see fire and notice how pretty it, I do not touch it. If I do, well then, I’m stupid. A truly intelligent person never touched the fire the first time because someone warned him, “Its hot! Don’t do that!” He listened and saved himself a lot of pain. A reasonably intelligent individual touches a fire only once, gets burned, and never does it again. A really “stupid” guy unexplainably keeps on touching the source of his pain, learning nothing in the process. 

Most of us must experience a little pain before we learn. That’s not being stupid. It’s just part of the learning process. Like the servant who cannot “be corrected by mere words,” we must say and do a few stupid things before we get smart. Everyone pays the 'dumb tax.' 

There’s a difference between being stupid and acting stupid. My dad used to say, “Kids do stupid things.” He was right. He never called me “stupid” but reserved the term for some of my stunts. My “stupid” years began around adolescence and didn’t even start to improve until my early to late twenty’s. Most kids aren’t stupid, but they all do stupid things. That’s why it’s best not to yell at your kids or talk “until you’re blue in the face.” It will do no good. Children must learn from their own blunders and a few hard experiences. They quickly understand the distinction between stupid and smart for themselves.

I never gave a house key to any of my seven children. I somehow knew they would lose it. Instead, I installed a garage door key pad and gave them the code. They never lost a key to the house because they never had one. 

Before the days of garage door openers and coded key pads, when I was about fourteen, I lost my key to our family home. To gain access one night when my parents were out, I tried to bend a window frame just enough to slip my hand through to the latch. I knew my dad would not approve if he had been there. I thought, “What would Dad do?and his words swirled in my brain, “Dave! Don’t do that. The window will break!” Of course, the window broke. I got into the house and into lots of trouble. However, I never tried to bend glass again.

The best way I can think of to stay off of God’s “stupid” human tricks list is to try to listen to Jesus before I take action and when I don’t, try to learn from my mistakes early.
____________________

The cartoon at the top of this post was illustrated by James Donnelly and used in an article entitled "The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity" by Carlo M. Cipolla (1922-2000) who was a Professor of Economics at UC Berkeley. You can read the article at http://blog.lege.net/content/basic_laws_of_stupidity.pdf.

Friday, September 10, 2021

"Empty Church Calories"

Proverbs 25.4-5 The Message

Remove impurities from the silver and the silversmith can craft a fine chalice;
Remove the wicked from leadership and authority will be credible and God-honoring.”




















What makes a body work? Long before she died, my wife, Adonica, used to count calories. She tried to stay at fifteen hundred per day. She ran with our dogs and stayed in great shape. I was always so proud of her. Adonica was an inspiration to me. 

I tried to count my calories once (which turned out to be considerably more than hers). For lunch I had a food bar (210 calories) and a package of Grandma’s brand cookies (370 calories) and water to drink. I was proud of myself. Only a total of 580 calories for lunch. I called my wife with the good news but she quelled my enthusiasm. “Cookies are wasted calories,” she explained. “They contain mostly fat and sugar. That’s not where you want to get your calories. You want them from a balanced source of carbohydrates, protein, complex fiber, with very little sugar and fat.” “Great,” I thought, “Eating less is bad enough. Eating rabbit food is intolerable.” My wife persisted, “The cookie calories you ate will give you immediate energy which soon drops off. You will be hungry again before dinner. Good calories give you energy for longer periods of time. That will make your body work better while you lose weight.” I was sorry I called her.

What makes the body of Christ work? Poor leadership calories are not good for the proper functioning of the local church. The Bible says, “Remove the wicked from leadership and authority will be credible and God-honoring.” This may have more to do with honing leadership skills than kicking someone off the pastoral staff. The point is... not all leadership decisions are good for the growth of the church. If church leaders wish to expand their ministry effectiveness in the community, then they must try for a simple and balanced diet of spiritual basics. Too much glitz, showmanship, popular music, fun and games, and cultural relevance is unhealthy for the body of Christ. This is the sugar and fat of the modern church. That stuff is like dessert. It’s fun to eat but not a mission-critical diet for the church. Even my wife would allow herself a cookie (or even a Dilly Bar!) on rare occasions. But she was not consumed with a love for sugar and fat. Until the day she died, my wife stayed healthy and always looked great.

Outreach efforts by the emerging church designed to entertain or inspire a secular audience in a “seeker-friendly” environment, makes very little sense even as a tactic for evangelism. The attractional” model strategy for church growth mostly attracts believers who want to experience “a good time in Jesus.” The popular ‘party mentality’ of some modern church-goers may even turn off sincere seekers. Christian entertainment momentarily excites church folks but does not permanently inspire anyone. A few empty calories of rock and roll in Jesus’ name may be acceptable in small doses. But we should not fool ourselves into thinking that these activities will reach the lost. Beautiful edifices, spiffy attire, modern technology, dramatic presentations, flawless music, video productions, mood lighting, professional sound, theatrical sets, special effects, quality staging, smoke and mirrors do not change lives. Authentic preaching trumps inspired performance any day. 

Evangelism is not the core mission of the church. Its founder did not call followers to make converts. Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28.19). Converts fall away. Disciples make more disciples. If the church wants to reach the world it must concentrate its ministry-wide efforts toward making true disciples. An emphasis on cultural relevance is not adequate for the growing church whose members depend on real Biblical nourishment from leaders committed making disciples and changing the world. Anything else is empty church calories and should be mostly cut from the church calendar, budget, and program for a healthy spiritual diet.

Thursday, September 09, 2021

"OK Daddy. You Can Look at Me Now!"

Proverbs 22.4 NLT

“True humility and fear of the Lord lead to riches, honor, and long life.”

My five year old daughter bounded downstairs and prior to passing my line of vision warned, “Don’t look at me, Daddy. Don’t look at me.” She flew into the laundry room to finish putting on what she called “the final touches.” This apparently included important accessories… a plastic flowered headband, anklet socks with embroidered pink hearts, and new Nike shoes. Of course, I complied and resisted the temptation to peek. Finally she announced, “OK, Daddy. You can look at me now.”

“True humility and fear of the Lord lead to riches, honor, and long life.”
I opened my eyes and beheld the most beautiful sight in my small universe. My precious little girl beaming and twinkling like a tiny, radiant star, all dressed up and ready for her first day of Kindergarten. That moment, fourteen years ago, may have been one of the happiest days of her then 2,000 days of life on earth. I fondly remember it as one of my happiest days of life. The first day of Kindergarten is a really big deal. 

Someday I will make a transition to something even bigger than Kindergarten. I will cross heaven’s threshold and come into the presence of my Father who lives there. But I’m not quite ready for Him to see me yet. I have a little accessorizing left to do. My first 24,148 days on earth have not been enough time to get fully dressed for the occasion.

“Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves
with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”
Colossians 3.12 NIV

There in the middle of God’s accessory list is humility, arguably my most important “final touch.” I am aware my eternal destiny is secure by faith in Christ. I know I will go to heaven and God loves me just the way I am. However, I really don’t want to go there partially clothed. If I live to be one hundred years old, I have only about 12,000 days left to get ready. That’s definitely not too much time to don this special virtue.

True humility and fear of the Lord lead to riches, honor, and long life.”

Proverbs describes “true humility” as a condition for “riches, honor, and a long life.” I want nothing to do with the self-deprecating false humility that masks insecurity in a relationship with Christ. Nor do I want to pretend I am humble when clearly, I still am not. I long for the real thing, the genuine article. I hope to fully clothe myself in the “true humility” of Christ so that I may someday announce with assurance... OK, Daddy. You can look at me now!”