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

The Stick-Crafter

What would you do if you returned home from war wounded, orphaned, and unsure how you could earn a living? I recently read of a man who faced just this situation–and “his wounds rendered all severe labor impossible.” (The Little Lamb, p. 115) What was he to do?

In Christoph von Schmid’s short story, The Redbreast, we are told that this soldier determined the following solution to his dilemma:

“One day, in the neighboring forest, he remarked that the old stumps and roots of the maple-trees that had been cut down presented some very beautiful pieces of streaked and variegated wood, but were little esteemed and rotting on the ground. He immediately set to work to make walking sticks and gift boxes out of this wood, and soon brought them to extraordinary perfection; the walking sticks . . . were especially admired, and met with a rapid sale.” (p. 116)

What an incredible testimony to this man’s work ethic and creativity that he would take sticks which would ordinarily be left to rot and turn them into walking sticks for “gentlemen of high station!” (p. 116)

We live in an economy where many are struggling. Perhaps we should begin to prayerfully consider how we can exercise skills that God has given us as gifts. Truly, “in all labor there is profit” (Proverbs 14:23b) and “whoever gathers little by little will increase it.” (Proverbs 13:11b)

In closing, I believe the stick-crafter’s words will end this moment on an encouraging note: “He who is not wanting in industry . . . will never want for bread. Even the most insignificant craft can support a man. Do your duty faithfully, and trust in God, and God will do His part, and will not permit you to lack His aid, which is so necessary.” (p. 117-118)

Published in: on September 18, 2010 at 2:27 am  Leave a Comment  

Wisdom Training

The word skill in the Hebrew tongue carries the idea of wisdom. As one of my seminary professors coined it, “Wisdom is negotiating life skillfully.” We certainly live in a day when a high level of skill is needed.

Throughout history, those who acquired a mastery level of skill were looked up to by society and sought after for their services or crafts. Prior to the nineteen hundreds, the older were committed to passing down knowledge and skill to the younger. Churches had not yet begun to segregate age groups and youth watched, listened and learned from those who had wisdom to share. Unfortunately, today there is a lack of wisdom as young people have few role models to follow.

Children who didn’t follow their father’s trade were trained through apprenticeship programs. They sacrificed the comfort of their own homes, worked extremely hard, and were paid little, if any at all. The reward of their sacrifice, however, prepared them to live life skillfully and attractively. I say attractively because when one has acquired a mastery level of skill, others appreciate and admire a job well done.
We live at a time when learning is primarily focused on providing as much cognitive education as possible. Even Christian education lacks much in the area of “wisdom training.” We have modified the public educational approach, substituting secular reading with Christian textbooks. We are preparing our young people to enter college, but not to live life skillfully. That is not wisdom. Young people need to graduate from high school with an eye toward developing that mastery skill with which God has particularly gifted them.

“Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men.” (Proverbs 22:29)

Published in: on September 18, 2010 at 2:26 am  Leave a Comment  

Watch What You Say–It Might Cost You! (Part 1)

The book of Leviticus is a rich treasure that guides believers to properly approach the presence of God. But the ending of the book is a mystery. At first glance chapter 27 seems to be disconnected from the rest of the book. The first 26 chapters talk about mandatory offerings, but the last chapter suddenly makes a switch to voluntary offerings.
Let me walk you through. God knew that when the people encountered His presence and blessing, there would be an extravagant response. People would promise to serve Him. People would promise to sacrifice. People would promise to give their favorite cow or sheep, houses, or lands.
If a special blessing occurred while they were beseeching God, they might vow to give themselves to the service of the tabernacle. If they were going through hard times and besought God for His intervention, and a special deliverance occurred, then they might vow to give their son to the service of the Lord, as did Hannah with Samuel.
Vows were a powerful force in that day, but sadly they are no longer. There was a time when one’s word was one’s bond. The last chapter of Leviticus teaches us exactly what the Preacher in Ecclesiastes was conveying:
“When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it, for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow! It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Do not let your speech cause you to sin, and do not say in the presence of the messenger of God that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry on account of your voice and destroy the work of your hands?” (Ecclesiastes

Published in: on September 17, 2010 at 2:24 am  Leave a Comment  

God Can Redeem Any Life

Growing up with terrorists as her heroes, Elaine was destined to become one of them. But God had a different path for her.

Her earliest playgrounds were abandoned homes within the working class neighborhoods of East Belfast.She remembers streets littered with burnt-out cars and ruined shops that had been in business only days before.British soldiers routinely patrolled the area, alert for trouble.

Like many of her peers, Elaine resented the intrusion, identifying instead with the paramilitary terrorist groups who vied for control of Northern Ireland. “These were the coolest people in our neighborhood,” she admits. “They were the ones with the fast cars and the cool clothes . . . no way did we think of them as a threat; they were our idols.”

This young woman could have easily been swallowed up by a world filled with death threats, bombings, drug and alcohol abuse, and worse. Except that she had a friend named Pamela, who had recently become a Christian.Eventually, because of Pamela’s patience and godly example, Elaine discovered a much safer and happier life, filled with the light of God’s love.

“We used to play pubs as children, selling alcohol and cigarettes to each other,” she recalls. “Now my children play church–one plays the piano, one preaches, and they all sing together.”

God can redeem any life, no matter how dark or dismal.

Published in: on September 16, 2010 at 2:19 am  Comments (1)  

Christians in Public Schools, Part 1

Recently a friend of mine decided to send his children to a public school. He views this move as an opportunity to prepare his children for the “real” world as well as an opportunity to be a witness for Christ. Many Christians whom I respect make this same decision. I have listened to their views, but when I look at God’s clear admonitions of how we are to raise our children, I cannot justify a public school education in today’s immoral environment. Yet in my finite understanding of the ways of God, I do not judge my brother for making this decision, but sense the need to at least present an objection.

Old Testament Israel was commanded by God to teach their children when they rose up, as they were walking, and as they were lying down (Deuteronomy 6). God also wanted a separation between his children and the world, so he warned against intermarriages which might cause His children to worship foreign gods.

In the New Testament, God continues to warn against this sort of mixing with the world, using Lot as an illustration of what happens to a family when they get too close to an unbelieving culture. The Apostle Peter writes, “And [God] delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked: (For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds;)” (2nd Peter 2:7-8).

Lot was not doing what they did, but just seeing their deeds and hearing their talk on a daily basis was enough to wear him down spiritually. Though I am sure there are a few Christian young people who can maintain their spiritual edge while attending public school, the Scripture is clear that these daily influences are not good for the soul.

Published in: on September 15, 2010 at 2:18 am  Leave a Comment  

A Warrant for my Arrest

Would you believe me if I told you that I once received a warrant for my arrest?

When my daughter Jennifer was 19, my name was on her car registration. Because she did not pay a parking ticket a year prior, the penalty was incarceration–for the vehicle owners!

As I read the warrant letter, it suddenly dawned on me that my speaking engagement the next day could have a slight change in venue–I might be speaking in prison! Pondering what to do, I realized that Jennifer just needed to go to the courthouse and pay the fine–immediately!

“Jennifer,” I asked, “did you forget to pay a parking ticket?”

“No” was her response.

“Well, there’s a warrant for our arrest. Tomorrow they are going to come and take us both to jail unless you pay this fine.”

Handing her the paper she looked at it as if it was a joke and said, “Yeah, right.”

Back and forth we went, both convinced that the other was wrong. To make matters worse, Jen looked at me after I demanded that she admit wrong, and said, “Dad, read my lips!” And her mother was backing her!

Realizing that I was facing hostile enemy fire, it was time to retreat. But one thing was certain–I wasn’t going to jail! So I called the number on the warrant and asked if I could come by and pay the ticket.

“Ma’am, I’ll bring a check right down,” I quickly offered. “How much do I owe?”

She said, “Can you give me the violation number again?” I did, and she said, “Sir, there has been some kind of mistake. This ticket was paid for.”

“That’s impossible! Check it again please.”

As I walked back in the house on my knees, I learned a valuable lesson that day. I realized that the real me is who I am when facing personal loss, failure, or shame. Once again I came face-to-face with the truth that, “Only by pride comes contention, but with the well advised is wisdom” (Proverbs 13:10).

Published in: on September 14, 2010 at 2:17 am  Leave a Comment  

The God of Multiplication

Having nothing at all may be the best thing of all!
Do you ever think about all the limitations in your life?No doubt your schedule is as busy as mine, with too little time to do everything that needs doing.In today’s economy, most bank accounts are shrinking and everyone’s feeling the financial pinch. Experts tell us fossil fuel reserves are dwindling, and there simply isn’t enough food to feed everybody.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes it feels like we’re running out of everything– time, money, and sometimes even hope.
Thankfully, we serve a God of multiplication who not only meets our needs, but works through multiplication to overwhelm us with his grace and abundance.Remember the miraculous catch of fish that drew in the first disciples? Or the feeding of 5,000 with a couple fish and loaves of bread?
When we examine such miracles, we see even greater factors of multiplication–former fishermen who were transformed into “fishers of men” and a miraculous feeding that came from the Bread of Life Himself.
We may need to be reminded of our limitations–often–so that we quickly return to the only source of our supply. The best news of all? God longs to fill up our emptiness with Himself.
No matter how little we have–of faith, hope, time or money–God can always multiply it a hundredfold!

Published in: on September 13, 2010 at 2:15 am  Leave a Comment  

Delegation or Disintegration

Whenever I hear the word delegation I am reminded of the notable example found in the Old Testament. Moses’ father-in-law encourages him to enlist others in order to relieve his burden. Later in the book of Numbers, Moses again becomes overloaded with pressure and cries out to God for help. So God directs Moses to gather seventy men and to meet Him at the tent of meeting. The LORD then tells Moses that He is going to take some of the Spirit that is on him (Moses) and put it on the seventy.

I have often wondered if Moses felt a dwindling of power when this occurred. I wonder too, if he wished he had never complained. I also wonder if delegation is indeed the best course of action in many cases.

If we look closely at the text we will find that after Moses experiences this depletion of the Spirit, it is, for the most part, all down hill. Jealousy overcomes Joshua as the young men prophesy. God’s judgment kills many with a great plague. Miriam and Aaron speak against Moses, only to incur God’s swift judgment of leprosy. The stubborn army of Israel goes to battle, against Moses’ authority, ending in utter defeat. Ten of the twelve spies report that it is impossible to enter the God-given land since giants dwell therein. This in turn creates a domino effect of mass grumbling and complaining, which causes rebellion to spiral out of control.

Was it wise for Moses to delegate? I would propose that perhaps it is sometimes the better part of wisdom to consider why we want to bring others on board to help us with our load. Let us first come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in the time of need. We may miss God’s deliverance and blessing if we pass off our responsibility too soon.

Published in: on September 11, 2010 at 2:22 am  Leave a Comment  

Do You Hear His Call?

Do you believe in coincidence? I once heard the story of a man who will never forget the unique set of circumstances God ordained for his life.
It was late one evening when Thom chose a new route home–and almost immediately regretted his decision. He was startled by muffled screams and the unmistakable sounds of a struggle coming from behind a clump of bushes. Yards away from where he stood, a young woman was being attacked.
Thom knew his limitations–he wasn’t brave or athletic. He felt frightened for his own safety. Should he get involved? Or run to the nearest phone to call the police?
But as the girl’s cries grew weaker, Thom resolved to help her–even at the risk of his own life. He felt strangely transformed as he ran around the bushes to grab the assailant, wrestling him to the ground. Moments later the would-be rapist jumped up and fled.
The victim was crouched behind a tree, sobbing. Thom approached carefully in the darkness, not wanting to scare her any further. He spoke reassuringly, “It’s okay. He’s gone. You’re safe now.” And after a long pause, the girl responded with disbelief and wonder. “Dad, is that you?” From behind the tree stepped Thom’s youngest daughter, Katherine.

Sometimes God will arrange to put us in the right place at the right time. Perhaps that’s how we should understand Romans 8:28 – “All things work together for good, to them who love God, to them who are called.” When we follow God’s call, good is sure to follow!

Published in: on September 10, 2010 at 2:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Accumulated Effects

A father once wrote to me with the following concerns:

Dear Mark,

My 14-year-old son despises school. He sits at his desk and feels as if it’s a prison. He enjoys working with his hands–doing anything from mechanics and woodworking to farming and landscaping. When we tell him that God has gifted him, he just denies it and says he can’t do anything. I tell him that he needs a good education in order to get a good job, but I’m not sure I even believe this. Can you help?

And I replied:

Dear Dad,

First, I would pray and ask God to open an apprenticeship door for your son. He needs the opportunity to work with someone who can teach him a skill and help cultivate his character at the same time. Until this door opens for him, teach him that his devotion to his studies may be the prerequisite for new and greater opportunities ahead. The lives of Joseph, Ezra, and Daniel would be good examples for him to follow, as each endured difficult preparation for the great doors of opportunity ahead.

Next, teach your son about the “Accumulated Effect of Knowledge.” This is what happens when we read, study, take tests, and learn about subjects that are both enjoyable and distasteful! Everything we read and study (except for things immoral) has a positive accumulative effect upon us. Your son might not think that school is helpful now, but down the road, whether he goes to college or not, he will find that opportunities open in direct proportion to his accumulated knowledge–it all adds up! The more we learn, the more potential for unique opportunities!

In Luke 8:18, Jesus says, “Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks he has will be taken away.”

There is much to learn–and many doors waiting to be opened.

Published in: on September 10, 2010 at 12:35 am  Leave a Comment