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


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?

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. Are you looking for an apprenticeship opportunity where masters will mentor apprentices with excellence? Learn more about The Lamplighter Guild for Creative Disciplines at www.lamplighterguild.com–and spread the word!

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?

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. Are you looking for an apprenticeship opportunity where masters will mentor apprentices with excellence? Learn more about The Lamplighter Guild for Creative Disciplines–and spread the word!

Published in: on February 16, 2011 at 4:12 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 February 15, 2011 at 4:04 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 February 14, 2011 at 4:03 am  Leave a Comment  

Tom’s Skunk

One slippery night while driving home, my friend Tom ran over a family of skunks. Being the animal lover that he is, he got out, plugged his nose, picked up the one little skunkling survivor, and put it in his trunk.

Nursing this little guy until he was dependent, Tom turned him into the family pet and even gave him his own pillow to sleep on. Needless to say, Tom’s house was not a place to go when he wasn’t home!

Then, one day, Tom’s neighbor came to visit. Not realizing that a live skunk lived there, he sat beside the pillow where the skunk rested. Thinking it was a stuffed animal, he picked it up. He immediately realized that it was heavy and warm! After gingerly setting the skunk-which was now awake–back on the pillow, the neighbor sat in a paralyzed state, unable to speak. He looked like he was about to have a root canal! The skunk jumped off the sofa, lifted his tail, set it back down, walked over to the kitchen for a drink out of its bowl, finally wandered back to the sofa, and went back to sleep! All the while, the neighbor sat in a panicked state of paralyzing fear.

It’s been several years since then, and Tom has told me that the skunk has never sprayed anyone. Do you know why that is? Because it has been cared for; it is not afraid. You see, perfect love casts out fear. It really does! And if it works for skunks, it will work for children–and spouses! Let the story of Tom’s skunk be a reminder to us that perfect love casts out fear.

Published in: on February 13, 2011 at 4:02 am  Leave a Comment  

The Least of These

How do you treat “the least of these?”

On the way to their favorite church camp, a group of teens and adult leaders were rudely interrupted by a dirty and smelly homeless man who approached their bus at a gas station.

He shared a sad, desperate story about his hunger and cold, begging for help. When the youth pastor suggested taking the man with them, the entire group thought he’d lost his mind.

That weekend the mood was tense, if not outright hostile. The girls’ cabin held a prayer service for their safety. The boys barely slept, always watching the homeless man with suspicion and distaste. Their only contributions to his welfare were an unwanted banana and a tract–which no one offered to explain.

On the final day of the retreat, the youth pastor revealed the poor man’s true identity–a friend who was simply pretending in order to see how the group would react. After a stunned silence, everyone began talking at once, trying to apologize and explain how they had intended to be more helpful and caring.

But they had missed the point completely. How often do we do the same when faced with someone we don’t like or feel uncomfortable around?

Matthew 25 recounts an important parable where Christ rewards those who are willing to care for the hungry, strangers, the sick and those in prison. He says: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Published in: on February 12, 2011 at 4:01 am  Leave a Comment  

A Purpose for Living

Parking his car outside a crumbling apartment complex in Oak Park, Russell Jeung realized he was far from his comfort zone.

The sociology grad-student had traveled from his cozy, upscale neighborhood in Berkeley, California, to something resembling a war zone. Abandoned buildings and overgrown lots cordoned with razor wire were common. He observed open drug deals across the street while children as young as five flashed gang signs and scrawled graffiti on the sidewalks in chalk.

Russell came to Oak Park to research stories about refugee children who were dropping out of school to join gangs. But he was also searching for God’s direction in his life. Somehow his upwardly mobile, success-driven lifestyle wasn’t enough. “As a Christian, I knew I was supposed to use my good fortune to help others,” Russell explained. “But when I looked at my life, I saw primarily one person being helped. Me.”

At Oak Park, he found something much more than a research project-he found a life mission. And 15 years later, he’s still hard at work. With his help, community leaders organized to push the drug dealers out. A tutoring program was started for kids, encouraging them to stay in school.

As a result, Russell has a fresh perspective on John 14:6–“the way, truth and life of God aren’t found in big accomplishments and shiny resumes, but in the small things, the little miracles,” he says. “They’re right in front of me, in my friends, my neighbors, and my community.”

Published in: on February 11, 2011 at 4:00 am  Leave a Comment  

The Wonder of It All

The early morning mist lessens as the full moon gleams through its haze, a star not far from its side. Insects are busy with their distant clamor, and with distinct and persistent chirps, the birds announce the arrival of a brand new day. A forest surrounds me with blended trees, each boasting its own distinguishable color of green. All is a gift for my eyes to behold.

I am drawn to the yellow-coned flower, coupled with a purple Japanese maple proclaiming the beauty of contrast. The aroma of mint, lemon, and lavender soothes my soul. Ah, there is the cry, or should I say the screech, of the eagle–good morning to you, great and majestic king of birds. Your visage of crisp white and tar black keeps me in awe. The surrounding beauty is unfathomable. Yet the world would have us to believe that these treasures were brought to us through the evolution of time and chance.

My friend, when I bite into a sweet apple just picked from the tree, and see the inner design of the core and its seeds; when I observe the iridescent scales of a fish, the shell of an egg, a droplet of water, the sand of the sea, the soar of an eagle, the warmth of a kitten, the lick of a puppy, the birth of a baby, and the crowning beauty of woman–the wonder of it all paralyzes me–I can only stand in awe and believe. And proclaim that there is, without question, God.

Now I understand why David wrote in the Psalms, “For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy. How great are your works O LORD! Your thoughts are very deep! The stupid man cannot know; the fool cannot understand this” (Psalm 92).

Published in: on February 10, 2011 at 4:08 am  Leave a Comment  

The Cure for Irritability

How do you respond when you’re around irritable people?

Such people often sap me of energy and can ruin at least part of the day. Having walked with Christ for now over 32 years, I think I’m beginning to understand something–these people are often placed in my path by divine design. My response and reaction to their miserable attitude is a reflection of my inner life–my true character. What I despise in others is often what I possess myself.

Granville Walker once said, “Love is the only cure for irritability; for irritability is only another manifestation of self-centeredness. And love that takes a man outside himself and centers the focus of his attention on the well-being of others is its only cure.”

One of my mentors, Francois Fenelon of the 17th century, wrote in his book Let Go:

“The Great Physician who sees in your what you cannot see, knows exactly where to place the knife; He cuts swift and deep into your innermost being exposing you for who you really are; but pain is only felt where there is life and where there is life is just the place where death is needed most. Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die it abides alone but if it dies it brings forth much fruit.”

The next time you’re around a miserable person, follow the path that the Apostle Paul outlined for us in Romans 12:

“Bless them that persecute you; bless and curse not.”

“Be not overcome with evil but overcome evil with good.”

Published in: on February 9, 2011 at 3:58 am  Leave a Comment  

The Greatest Legacy

The ancient Spartans had a secret that allowed them to be the fiercest of warriors. They understood that to win wars they needed to raise children who embraced self-sacrifice more than any pleasures which might be enjoyed. Known for their fearlessness, their strategic warfare, and their red cloaks which masked any loss of blood, the Spartans intimidated their enemies long before the battle began. Even the great Persian army which outnumbered the Spartans 100 to 1 was defeated for seven days.

Chrysostom, one of the deep thinkers of Christianity who was influenced by Greek thought wrote, “If a child learns a trade or is highly educated for a lucrative profession, all of that is nothing compared to developing the art of detachment from riches. If you want to make your child rich, teach him this: He is truly rich who does not desire great possessions . . . Don’t worry about giving him an influential reputation, but ponder deeply how you can teach him to think lightly of this life’s passing glories. Don’t strive to make him a clever orator, but teach him to love true wisdom. He will not suffer if he lacks clever words, but if he lacks wisdom, all the rhetoric in the world can’t help him. A pattern of life is what is needed–not empty speeches; character, not cleverness; deeds, not words. These things will secure the kingdom of God and bestow God’s blessings.”

The greatest blessing and legacy we can leave to our children is not found in our bank accounts or lands or houses but in our example of self-sacrifice, endurance, character, and hope. In Romans 5 the Apostle Paul, who understood the meaning of leaving a legacy of self-sacrifice, wrote, “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope keeps us from being ashamed.”

Published in: on February 8, 2011 at 3:56 am  Leave a Comment