We who preach and write, do so in a manner different from which the Scriptures have been written. We write while we make progress. We learn something new every day. We speak as we still knock for understanding...If anyone criticizes me when I have said what is right, he does me an injustice. But I would be more angry with the one who praises me and takes what I have written for Gospel truth than I would be with the one who criticizes me unfairly. -Augustine

A Youthful Yoke, Part 2

Yesterday we discussed how Jeremiah’s attempt to blame God for his unfulfilled longings was evidence of his lack of maturity. Today let’s continue to look at the importance of bearing the yoke in one’s youth.

We live in a day when youth are protected from bearing their “yoke.” Well-meaning parents often shield their teens from making wrong decisions, but a wise parent understands that allowing their child to suffer the consequences of wrong choices can be a beneficial learning experience.

God knows that Jeremiah’s turmoil will help him more than hurt him. In the midst of his pain the prophet cries, “I vividly remember my sufferings and because of this, I have hope!” Can you imagine? How can he say that he has hope as he remembers how much he has suffered?

Jeremiah learns what is essential for life–that God allows suffering to mature us and to teach us that He can be trusted. As Jeremiah looks back, he sees that God has delivered him in small and unusual ways. He experiences how God delivers him from the pit of despair and fills him with hope. Hope can be found-but not apart from this very important step. Listen to the words of Hosea:

“Come, let usreturn to the LORD; forhe has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up” (Hosea 6:1).

Suffering, particularly emotional suffering, is an important process in adolescent development. If the adolescent receives the necessary support during this time, he or she will learn that the sun will indeed rise again another day.

Tomorrow we’ll discuss some temptations that teens face during times of suffering, and we’ll see that the Bible, sufficient for all of life, provides a remedy to this problem as well!

Published in: on September 29, 2010 at 3:09 am  Leave a Comment  

A Youthful Yoke, Part 1

During my course of study on adolescent conflict and restoration, I came across an interesting truth in the book of Lamentations. As I began digging I knew I had struck gold!

“It is good for a man that he should bear the yoke in his youth.” (Lamentations 3:27)

Jeremiah pours out his heart as he endures the unbearable rejection of his peers. He feels unloved and devalued, and spends a significant amount of time blaming God for his deepest hurts and unmet longings. He literally blames God for using him as target practice! Listen to what he says:

“He bent His bow, and set me as a target for His arrows.” (Lamentations 3:12)

Half of Lamentations 3 is devoted to blaming God for this seemingly incurable despair. When you consider the accusations Jeremiah levels against God, it’s hard to square these things with God’s character. How do we reconcile these charges against God by a man who suffered terribly as a result of following God’s instructions to deliver His message?

What we know about God is that He is love, and in Him is no darkness at all. He loves us so much that He who knew no sin became sin for us, so that we might possess the righteousness of God. But in his despair, Jeremiah blames God. He is blinded by his sorrow.

Though God was not the cause of Jeremiah’s unmet longings, He was the cause of Jeremiah’s difficult circumstances (Lamentations 3:32)–and for good reason. Jeremiah’s complaint follows the pattern of what most adolescents experience when they feel unloved and devalued. These feelings of despair and inner turmoil, though unpleasant, are a necessary step in the maturing process. To protect our adolescents from this process is to delay their transition into adulthood.

Today, we have many twenty-, thirty-, and forty-year-olds who are stuck in an adolescent mindset. They simply have not grown up. Apart from interacting with God, it is impossible to reach genuine maturity.

Tomorrow we’ll continue to discuss the importance of bearing the yoke in one’s youth.

Published in: on September 28, 2010 at 3:06 am  Leave a Comment  

Sticks and Stones, Part 2

Yesterday we talked about God’s intolerance to the Sabbath stick gatherer from Numbers 15. What appeared to be an innocent stroll to pick up a few sticks turned out to be a mob enticed crowd of stone throwers and one victim–quite dead. I had raised some doubt as to God’s apparent inconsistent and unreliable sense of justice. Not wanting to be a target for a divine lighting bolt, I think it is the better part of wisdom to get right to the point here.
First of all, in God there is no darkness at all. Genesis 18:25 states, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Without a sense of God’s goodness toward mankind, it is impossible to trust God when He appears unjust or too severe.

As I studied the stoning of the stick gatherer, I was reminded of the importance of letting Scripture interpret Scripture. If I were to read the account of the stick gatherer only, I would conclude that God seems to be unjust. But when I read the sentences just prior, I read these words: “But the person who does anything with a high hand, whether he is a native or a sojourner, reviles the LORD, and that person shall be cut off from among his people. Because he despised the word of the LORD and has broken his commandment, that person shall be utterly cut off; his iniquity shall be on him.”

As I take the context into consideration, it would appear that this stick gatherer had an axe to grind with God and wasn’t willing to let anyone tell him what to do. Furthermore, Numbers 15 is about God’s mercy toward unintentional sins. The stick gatherer appears to be intentionally breaking the rules. God is a merciful God to those who humble themselves, but for the one who thinks he can live life with a “high hand” according to his own rules, “calamity will come upon him suddenly; in a moment he will be broken without remedy.” (Proverbs 6)

Published in: on September 27, 2010 at 3:05 am  Leave a Comment  

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones–But God Can Kill You!

I was reading in Numbers 15 this morning and came across a disturbing passage. The text reads that there was a man who was found picking up sticks on the Sabbath day. Then some busybody Sabbath keepers saw him, initiated a citizen’s arrest, and brought him to Moses for judgment. Since this was the first test case for this new law, I tried putting myself in Moses’s place to see how I would decide this case.
Now if one of my children broke one of my rules, what would I do? If he was young he might get a spanking. If he was older, I would talk to him and find out why he broke my rule. If he was defiant, then there would be a punishment of some kind that would help him to see that there are consequences for his attitude and actions. If the breaking of the rule was unintentional, then mercy would be my course of action.

So let’s see what Moses decides. First, he takes the offender to a higher court and asks God to give the determination. Uh oh–something tells me that this should have stayed with the lower courts. God’s verdict? STONE HIM! What? You’ve got to be kidding me! This must be some kind of idle threat to serve as a scare tactic. But no. God is serious. “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.’ And the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, as the LORD commanded Moses.” (Numbers 15:35-36)

There must be some kind of mistake. What kind of father or God would be so harsh? Is this the same God who exercises mercy to a thousand generations? I must be missing something here. Well, before we misjudge the God of all the earth, I suggest that we read the entire chapter of Numbers 15–and tomorrow we’ll learn the rest of the story!

Published in: on September 26, 2010 at 3:07 am  Leave a Comment  

Salvaged Wood–Salvaged Life

A few days ago we shared the story of the soldier who made his living from sticks that others had left to rot. If you thought that account was inspiring, wait until you hear this!

Lamplighter has hired a woodcrafter to build Old-World-style bookcases. Almost two years ago, the Lord allowed me to lead this man to Christ, and the changes that have taken place in his life are miraculous.

God’s redemption has turned this man from alcohol and apathy toward pursuing a life of worth and excellence. Soon after Brian came to know Christ, he was prompted to salvage wood from an old barn that his neighbor didn’t want anymore. Thinking that he could sell the wood to supplement his income, Brian worked exhaustive hours to finish the job. Enthralled by the beauty of the wood, he began to consider what else he might do with it.

During this time Brian began memorizing Scripture and hiding God’s Word in his heart. Early in the morning he would call, excited about the new ideas God was giving him. God had redeemed his soul, and now he was redeeming his mind, and this was just the beginning.

While tinkering in his father’s workshop, Brian decided to try his hand at making a coffee table for his wife. While visiting one day, I noticed the coffee table. I was astounded at its beauty and craftsmanship. It was evident that God had given him a gift, and in a matter of days his heart began to work together with his hands! This was a turning point in Brian’s life. He realized that God had called him to use his hands for God’s glory.

God redeemed Brian and now Brian is redeeming old wood as a means of sharing God’s redeeming love. I’m sure Brian would agree that we serve a God “Who redeems your life from destruction; who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies; Who satisfies your mouth with good things . . . .” (Psalm 103:4-5a)

Published in: on September 25, 2010 at 3:04 am  Leave a Comment  

Masonry Daughters

In the book of Nehemiah, the words “build,” “rebuild,” and “repaired” occur over fifty times in chapters two, three, and four. “Rebuilding” is a theme that is obviously important to God.
What I find intriguing about this rebuilding process is how many of the builders worked together as a family. The one that caught my attention the most was found in Nehemiah 3:12: “Next to him Shallum the son of Halloshesh, ruler of half the district of Jerusalem, repaired, he and his daughters.”

The fact that his daughters were helping with the rebuilding suggests at the very least that these girls had developed some skills in building, even masonry skills.

Perhaps it could and should be said that there is more to preparing our daughters for life than playing with dolls, though playing with dolls is an important activity. Following our child’s natural bent–to “train up a child in the way they should go” (Proverbs 22:6a)–would seem to be the better part of wisdom. The same is true with boys; not all boys are meant to hunt or play football. It is essential that we observe and understand the natural bent of our children.

The word “train” in “train up a child in the way he should go,” comes from a Hebrew word which literally means “narrow,” or “strangle,” “jaws,” or “palate.” This word carries the idea of restricting or guiding in a certain direction. In the Old Testament, when a Hebrew child was born, the midwives would take crushed dates or grapes and massage the juices on the child’s palate, thus creating a sucking reflex. The same idea is helpful in training and preparing our children for life. We must create a desire–a longing to do what they have been designed to do. And just like the case of the masonry daughters in the book of Nehemiah, this process of preparing our children starts at home. I think it’s time to put away the amusements of our day, and let the training begin!

Published in: on September 24, 2010 at 3:03 am  Leave a Comment  

The Ice Cream Prayer

Have you ever heard the story of the “Ice Cream Prayer?”
A young mother took her children to a family restaurant and when the 6-year-old asked to say grace, she bowed her head. What followed was very unexpected: “God is great, God is good. Let us thank Him for our food. I would thank you even more, God, if mom let us have ice cream for dessert! Amen!”

Other patrons couldn’t help but laugh–except for one frowning woman who remarked: “That’s what’s wrong with this country! Kids don’t even know how to pray–asking God for ice cream! Why, I never!”

The 6-year-old burst into tears, asking “Did I do it wrong? Is God mad at me?” As the young mother held him and assured him that God wasn’t mad, an elderly gentleman approached their table. Winking at the boy, he said, “I happen to know that God thought that prayer was great.” Tilting his head in the direction of the woman, he continued. “Too bad she never asks for ice cream–a little ice cream is good for the soul.”

After the meal, this mom purchased dessert for her children. Her son stared at his sundae for a moment, and then did something extraordinary. He carried it over to the woman’s table and placed it in front of her.

With a big smile, he said, “This is for you. Ice cream is good for the soul, and my soul is good already.”

Published in: on September 23, 2010 at 3:01 am  Leave a Comment  

Covering or Confessing, Part 2

Can you imagine covering a sin for forty years? For fear of being falsely accused, I had
covered an innocent mistake and turned it into a sinful act of deception and self-deception.
Why, after all these years, would this come to mind? Certainly God wouldn’t require me to admit this cover up after all of these years. I don’t even know if the owner is still alive. Besides, I’m forgiven, a new creature in Christ. I am a Christian leader with a blameless reputation, and this could open unnecessary doors for gossip.

But God had given gentle reminders about making this right. So I told the Lord that if He really wanted me to give this money back, somehow He would have to arrange to have me come in contact with my former boss. The fact that we live in separate states made this very unlikely!

One day, as I was speaking at a small gathering, there he was! “I surrender,” I told the Lord, as I resolved to visit my ex-boss of forty years ago. I shared the story and paid him sixty dollars plus forty years of interest! In his usual gracious manner, he looked at me and said, “Thank you, and now I give this back as a gift to your ministry.”

After forty years, I experienced an emotional freedom from something that I didn’t even realize I was in bondage to. David understood this relief as he wrote these words in Psalm 32: “Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away . . . For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Therefore let everyone who is godly offer a prayer to you at a time when you may be found.”

Published in: on September 22, 2010 at 2:34 am  Leave a Comment  

Covering or Confessing, Part 1

“Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.”
John 8:34

It happened exactly forty years ago. I was fourteen at the time. Moving up in the world, I landed a job pumping gas at the Sunoco station. Not only did we pump gas, but we checked the oil, washed the windshield (back and front), checked the tire pressure, and all with a friendly smile. One would think they were driving through Mayberry.

But something happened that summer that I will never forget–I will never forget because after forty years I still remember. We were always busy. Pumping four cars at a time was typical. People used cash in those days, so I would carry a bundle of ones, fives, and tens to make change quickly. I would keep twenties in my left pocket and regularly place them in the cash register so as not to keep too much cash on me at any given time. At the end of the day, we would all check our pockets to make sure all cash was accounted for. All except this one time.

As I was changing my clothes one night, I checked my pockets before throwing my jeans in the laundry. To my dismay I found three twenties deep in my pocket. I was horrified and knew that I needed to get that money back in the cash register first thing in the morning–and without anyone knowing it. I knew that if someone saw me I could be accused of stealing. I wasn’t a Christian and didn’t possess the character to speak the truth at all costs. To make matters worse, the owner was extremely upset because after closing out that night he found several hundred dollars missing! Now what was I going to do? If I admitted that I innocently and inadvertently possessed sixty of the several hundred missing, there was no way he would believe me. So I did what I thought was best and kept the money and hid this sin for forty years until . . . you hear the rest of the story tomorrow!

Published in: on September 21, 2010 at 2:32 am  Leave a Comment  

Funeral Home Chairs

Eighteen years ago, when we hardly had any furniture, we were going to have company. I scoured the paper looking for used furniture sales and then asked my daughter Jen if she would like to come with her dad. Everything was too expensive and we were running out of time. I parked the car and looked at the paper again, but Jen said, “Daddy, let’s pray and ask the Lord if he would help us find the chairs we need.” I looked at my little girl and smiled and knew that we were going to find our chairs.
After we prayed, I looked at the newspaper one more time and noticed that there was a funeral home selling their chairs. I smiled at Jen and said, “I think we received our answer!” She just smiled.
About twenty minutes later I pulled into the funeral home and a man was walking out. Lowering my window I said, “Sir, do you have some chairs for sale?” “I do but we’re closed,” he replied. I looked over at Jen, and I could see her closing her eyes to say a prayer. So I looked at the man and said, “Sir, we have company coming tonight and we need chairs and we just prayed and believe that these are the chairs we are supposed to buy.” He smiled. “Follow me.”
We purchased seven wooden folding chairs that evening and we made it back home just before the company arrived. Eighteen years later I still have one of those chairs sitting in my office. In fact, it still has the funeral home label on the back! It serves as a reminder of God’s faithfulness. Sometimes, it takes a child to teach a dad that God really does answer prayer. Remember Christ’s promise:
“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you . . . . ” (Matthew 7:7)

Published in: on September 20, 2010 at 2:29 am  Leave a Comment