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 Emptied Self

I recently solved a mystery that had created years of havoc in my relational life. The mystery was solved when my wife returned to me. No, we were not divorced or separated. She had been away to take care of our daughter-in-law, who was recently in a serious accident.

We’ve been married for 33 years and this was the longest we had ever been apart. While she was away, my love for my wife grew exponentially. But several days after she returned, our relationship began to be unsettled.Why? What happened?

Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. While we were away from each other, I had time to empty myself of myself. I thought of ways that I could be a better husband. I made plans for her benefit. I created surprises around the house. I made sure that several of the things she wanted done were accomplished. But when she returned, I became self-focused. Now it was my turn. Now I wanted her to meet my needs–and when she didn’t, I burrowed deeper into a state of self-pity and self-preservation.

Then the light came on. I realized that healthy relationships are built on the foundation of an emptied self. But we can’t stop there. Our emptied self must then be filled with the love of Christ.I truly believe that most of our broken relationships today are the result of us being too full of ourselves and too empty of an intimate relationship with Christ. It is only when we are fulfilled in Christ that we can fill the lives of others.

Experiencing conflicts? They’re probably an indication that you are too full of yourself. Do you want to change? Then let nothing be done through strife or self-conceit; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. And follow Christ’s example, who emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant (paraphrase of Philippians 2).

Redemption and resurrection in our relationships are only an emptied self away.

Published in: on August 31, 2011 at 2:05 am  Leave a Comment  

The Courage of Faith

What is your approach to everyday difficulties? Do you bootstrap your way through hardship, or do you melt under calamity? Author Francois Fenelon of the 17th century weighs in on the “courage of faith,” teaching why merely persevering through hardship is not an option. He writes:

“May the courage of faith sustain you. It is a courage which is unassuming, and which does not inspire a conscious strength whereon to rely. Those who possess it have no self-confidence, and yet they never lack in time of need; they are rich in poverty. If they unintentionally go astray, they turn it to profit by learning humility thereby. They continually return to their centre by acquiescing in all that deprives them of self-will. They surrender themselves to God, no longer dwelling in themselves, or trusting in their own strength. In their silent suffering and moment by moment dependence on grace, an inward life grows through death unto self. All that they thought they lost they now find in abundance in God.”

Do you see what Fenelon is getting at here? In all our journeys and trials, we are not to depend upon our own selves for strength, comfort, or salvation. Rather, turn your hearts toward the King and Friend who will bear your burdens. He does not give His children more than they can bear-if they obey His command to cast all their cares upon Him.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous.Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

If you have never read Fenelon’s wisdom I highly recommend starting with the small volume, Dialogues of Fenelon.

Published in: on August 29, 2011 at 2:03 am  Leave a Comment  

An Age Change is Coming!

“Now there was no blacksmith to be found throughout all the land of Israel . . . But every one of the Israelites went down to the Philistines to sharpen his plowshare, his mattock, his axe, or his sickle, and the charge was two-thirds of a shekel . . .”

In this passage, we see the children of Israel subservient to their enemies and subject to price gouging tactics.Why? The time period is the beginning of the Iron Age. As the result of a famine and wars, the tin trade was disrupted, resulting in a shift from the Bronze Age (you need tin to make Bronze) to the Iron Age. Because complacent Israel did not foresee this inevitable shift, they lacked the technological training to compete on a global scale and were therefore left behind.For decades they were subject to foreign powers because of their complacency.

Not only were the Israelites subservient to their enemies, but the Philistines took full advantage of their technological superiority, exercising price gouging tactics when it came time to sharpen their plows and axes. Does this sound vaguely similar to our current gas prices? Perhaps the Apostle Paul had this in mind when he challenged the Thessalonians with the following plea:

“But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (1 Thessalonians 4:10b-12).

I believe that we are observing a similar crisis today. We must look beyond our dependence of computer technology and amusements, and sharpen our skills agriculturally, biologically, medicinally, horticulturally, and any other -ally that can be cultivated to represent the image of God on earth.

If our enemies one day disabled our satellites, paralyzing our computer networks, would you have sufficient skills to be productive and independent? Israel didn’t see the Iron Age coming; and they served Eglon king of Moab for the next eighteen years.

Published in: on August 28, 2011 at 1:58 am  Leave a Comment  

A Flattered Economy

In Aesop’s fable of the raven and fox, a raven sits high in a tree enjoying a piece of cheese. A fox approaches the tree and begins to compliment the raven on his fine feathers. The fox then begs the raven to sing to him. Flattered, the raven begins squawking to show off his voice, dropping the cheese. The crafty fox quickly snatches it up and runs off. This story illustrates flattery.

Everyone enjoys a compliment. But it’s easy to think too highly of ourselves when someone flatters us. I think the effects of flattery and self-exalting thoughts parallel what sometimes happens economically. Flattery leads to temporary inflation, which leads to a depressed state of productivity. Desiring to maintain our artificial elevation over others, we breathe in the words of vain praise until we are so filled with ourselves that we become like the Emperor and his new invisible clothes; walking through the streets naked–and yet with a sense of noble pride–we are viewed by others only with contempt.

In Proverbs 27:2 Solomon writes, “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.” He continues this thought in verses 19-21 as he writes, “As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects the man. Sheol and Abaddon arenever satisfied, andnever satisfied are the eyes of man. The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and a man is tested by his praise.”

Whatever talents we possess and accomplishments we’ve made, it is entirely because God has enabled us. God’s gifts are His investments to us–and He expects a profitable return! Don’t be easily distracted and flattered like the raven; instead, remember “Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and
praise your glorious name” (I Chronicles 29:12,13).

Recommended Reading: John Ploughman’s Talk, by Charles Spurgeon

Published in: on August 27, 2011 at 12:38 am  Leave a Comment  

Profanity & The Profane

When was the last time you used profanity? Do you think you have that area of your life under control? Well, I have some bad news for you. You may be guilty without even knowing it. Before we can understand whether or not this is true, let’s first explore the historical background of the word. The root word, profane, is Latin for “outside the temple.” All that was unclean or impure was considered profane, or “outside the temple.”

It’s sad, but today, through the media, we have brought the profane into our homes. Profanity also comes in religious packages, making it easy for Christians to speak like the rest of the world. According to Gene Edward Veith, “profanity uses religious language in a way that desecrates or trivializes its sacred meaning.”

Though this may be surprising to many, profane language includes some of the most widely used phrases in our Christian cultures, such as “Oh my God!; Oh my Goodness; For Goodness Sake; Good Heavens, Oh Heavens, Oh my Word etc;” Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines profane as “Irreverence of sacred things; particularly, the use of language which implies irreverence towards God; or one who by words or actions, treats sacred things with irreverence.” The most powerful statement against profane language is found in Exodus 20:7, “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”

In Shakespeare’s day the word “God” was not used in the scripts of drama plays for fear that it might be used in vain. Today you cannot watch a G-rated movie or read a book without hearing or reading the expression “My God.” God requires his name to be held holy, which means to be separate from casual, common, or vain use. May we reign in the words of our mouth and pray along with David in Psalm 141 “Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; guard the door of my lips.”

Published in: on August 17, 2011 at 12:30 am  Leave a Comment  

Extra, Extra, Read All about It! (Part 2)

Knowing what to do can give a person the edge. Not knowing what to do can get you elected to Congress and even the presidency! Why do we have so many inept people in government today? Why is it so difficult to spend less than one generates in income? Can a nation really get out of trillions of dollars of debt when it now takes three years to produce what used to take one year?

I believe that the answer is yes. But a new type of leader must rise; a leader who possesses a certain quality of understanding; the kind of leader that we read about in I Chronicles 12: “Of Issachar,” the Scripture records, “men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do . . .”

The word understanding in the Hebrew means “to have insight or to act with prudence.” There is obviously both insight and prudence missing not only in government today, but in our schools, universities, and sadly, in many of our churches. Over the past thirty years, whenever I visited a church, I would read the plaque that contained the history of the church’s leadership. As I viewed these historical etchings, there was one striking similarity and alarming trend. In the early 1900’s–until the 1960’s–most of the clergy had earned doctorates.The leadership in our early churches were men who studied the Word–they were readers. Now don’t misunderstand. There were plenty of very educated but liberal clergy in those days. But sadly, today, there is an absence of depth–we have a show without substance.

So what does it take to possess the kind of understanding that the men of Issachar possessed? Abraham Lincoln said, “The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who will get me a book I have not read.” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “If we encounter a man of rare intellect we should ask him what books he reads.” A.W. Tozer wrote, that “Next to the Holy Scriptures, the greatest aide to the life of faith may be Christian biographies.” Henry David Thoreau gave this advice, “Read only the best books first, lest there not be time to read them all.”

Leaders are readers. And to a large extent, our present leadership is reflecting the influence of the books they’ve read–or not read! If you want to possess an understanding of our times, it’s available for all. “For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding . . .” (Proverbs 2:6).

Published in: on August 13, 2011 at 12:33 am  Leave a Comment  

Extra, Extra, Read All about It!

Recently I heard the news on the radio. That in and of itself doesn’t sound like an interesting discussion point, but it was the first time I had heard the news in months! Now some of you might be thinking, “Where have you been? Do you have your head stuck in the sand? Are you refusing to keep current with national and world affairs? Don’t you at least read the newspaper?”Well, no, yes, and no. No I don’t have my head stuck in the sand and yes I am refusing to keep current with national and world affairs from the media’s perspective, and no, I don’t read the newspaper!

I can actually learn all that I want about the news by just being attentive to the world around me or by listening to the conversations at the barber, racquetball club, or restaurant. I am daily surrounded by news!

Thomas Jefferson once wrote a letter to John Norville, saying, “The man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them, inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to the truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors.” Jefferson’s remark was later compressed into the maxim, “The man who reads nothing at all is better informed than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.”

Reading the newspaper and watching the news is very similar to being addicted to cigarettes. As with all addictions, freedoms are lost. When someone is addicted to the media, he loses his intellectual freedom and becomes dependant upon the views of those whose values are not consistent with God’s perspective. And like the proverbial frog in the boiling water, our values, over time, begin to align with theirs.

In the book of I Chronicles chapter 12, the Chronicler pens these words: “And of the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do . . . .” So how do we become men and women that possess understanding of the times to know what needs to be done? More on this subject in the next Lamplighter Moment.

Recommended Reading: John Plowman’s Talk by Charles Spurgeon; Understanding the Times by David Nobel

Published in: on August 12, 2011 at 12:26 am  Leave a Comment  

Ignorance is Bliss

In his book, John Ploughman’s Talk, Charles Spurgeon writes, “proud looks lose hearts, and gentle words win them.”

In a world that is so caught up with self-image, fashion, height, weight, hair, and every physical feature imaginable, it’s easy to focus more on how we look than on how we speak to and treat other people.

But consider this: have you ever seen someone and thought, “Oh, he’s so well dressed, he must be a nice person!” or “Her hair is so perfectly arranged, I’m certain she’d be an excellent friend!” Most likely not! In fact, we are more likely to be intimidated by a person who seems to have a flawless exterior. We may view them as unapproachable or even stuck-up, whether or not they really are.

So why do we spend so much time trying to look perfect? Wouldn’t it be more profitable to spend time considering how we can serve those around us and make them feel more welcome, valued, and appreciated?

Philippians 2:3 says: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”

What if, instead of trying to impress others, we chose to consider them better than ourselves? And I’m not saying that our outward appearance isn’t important. Paul writes, “. . . while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way . . .” Paul isn’t saying that our outward appearance and muscle tone isn’t important; but that pales in comparison to the exercise of our inward man which is demonstrated in our outward behavior toward others.

Instead of using our looks to intimidate people, we need to focus on using our words to bless people. Instead of thinking “how do I look?” focus outward and think, “how do they feel, and how can I help them?” When we move from an inward focus to outward service and care, new life and opportunities will abound. Maybe this is what Paul was referring to when he wrote, “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.”

Published in: on August 11, 2011 at 12:25 am  Leave a Comment  

Ignorance is Bliss

Who is this God who strikes someone dead for doing something good? And if we have good intentions, should we not receive some kind of warning before we pay the ultimate price with our lives?

Well, you’re probably wondering what in the world I’m talking about. But in 1st Chronicles 13, Uzzah, a servant of David, does a good thing in a wrong way and gets killed by God in the process. As the Ark of the Covenant was about to tip over from the stumbling oxen, Uzzah reached out his hand to keep it from falling and lost his life as a result. But did Uzzah do anything wrong? Indeed he did. God had forbidden anyone except for the Levites to carry the ark–and even then, they were not allowed to touch it.

Had David fulfilled his first responsibility as king and written down all of the Words of God and read them every day of his life according to Deuteronomy 17, he would have known this prohibition. Not knowing a rule doesn’t exempt one from consequences. We see this in every area of life. For example, in sports, you can’t tell the referee that you didn’t know the rule. There are rewards for living within the rules and consequences when we live outside of them…whether we know them or not.

I have often heard it said that ignorance is bliss. I have also heard many say and live by the principle of “ask for forgiveness rather than permission.” If our desire is to enjoy the presence of God, then it’s essential that we know his rules. In Psalm 19 David writes, “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wisethe simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes . . . .”

When your eyes are open to the rules of God, you’ll be able to avoid lightening strikes.

Published in: on August 10, 2011 at 12:22 am  Leave a Comment  

Blueberry Bush Marriages, Part 2

In our last “Moment,” we discussed the parallels between a healthy marriage and a healthy blueberry bush. The first year you plant a blueberry bush, it’s necessary to cut back most of the new growth in order for plant to take root. In Deuteronomy chapter 24, God gives first-year married couples the same sound advice–of cutting back–actually, it’s more than advice; it’s a commandment! In the first year of marriage, the husband should not go to war or be involved in any business. He shall be free at home one year to be happy with his wife. I call this the blueberry principle of marriage! If you want your marriage to be firmly rooted and not easily dried up during times of drought, then it’s essential that first-year married couples spend as much time together as possible, without any outside entanglements.

I know this sounds unrealistic, but with hard work, dedication, and planning, it can be done. We live in a day when young people are spending too much time prior to marriage in a fun and frolicking state of play. The months and years prior to marriage are foundational years. Men need to be industrious so that they have enough money to be out from under financial pressures.If there’s one thing that will take the joy out of a marriage, it’s money pressures.

And the first year is the most important because it lays the foundation for the rest of married life. Today, young couples both work and become involved in many worthwhile activities, except the one that God sees as important–spending time with each other in order to cultivate an intimate love relationship.

I believe that one of the reasons divorce is so prevalent among Christians is because of the violation of this principle. In fact, if you look closely at Deuteronomy 24:5 you will notice that God gives this instruction directly after his instructions about divorce. It would appear that God is giving us a Surgeon General’s Warning on how to stop the cancer of divorce–and be happily married ever after.

Published in: on August 9, 2011 at 12:21 am  Leave a Comment