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 Potter’s Apprenticeship, Part 1

The Potter’s Apprenticeship, Part 1

Often I hear men complain that they don’t like their jobs. Some complain that they work hard but aren’t recognized for their contribution, while others complain that the only good thing about work will be the day they retire. If this is you, you’ll want to take this “Lamplighter Moment” to heart.

From the book, Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus, I learned about an accomplished potter named Ange who was about to serve a six-month apprenticeship with a world-renowned Japanese potter. To Ange, this was a dream come true. In her imagination she visualized herself throwing the clay on the wheel, under the wise guidance of the aged craftsman, and basking in well-deserved affirmation as he witnessed her skill.

But the opportunity never came. Ange was never asked to demonstrate her ability. You see, Ange did not understand the tradition of the Japanese apprentice, known as uchi deshi. Typically, an uchi deshi was a teenager adopted into the master’s home. There he participated in every aspect of family life, including housework. He was influenced by the master’s character, particularly his work ethic. He learned that life and work cannot be separated. The apprentice looked forward to the day when, after years of meticulous care and attention to detail, he would be given his first opportunity to throw the clay on the wheel.

Ange believed that in light of her advanced skills, a short tutorial with the master would be sufficient. And so it is with many today. We desire success but want to forego the necessary steps required to become true masters. We want to start at the top. In Proverbs 24:27 we read, “Prepare your work outside; get everything ready for yourself in the field, and after that build your house.” To be successful, we must labor diligently in preparation. To advance we must do more than is required. But we must be patient and continue to humbly learn from others. And we must approach each job we’re given-no matter how menial-as if it was the most important job in the world.

Lastly, we must, as Ange did, learn the lesson of the “preparation tree.” Once you learn this lesson, your work and your life will never be the same. Find out more in the next Lamplighter Moment!

John Piper Creation video

worth watching:

Published in: on December 31, 2011 at 6:58 am  Leave a Comment  
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Be Still

Be Still

“Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

Scripture doesn’t shy away from reminding us that seeking God often requires stillness, silence, and waiting. But our culture is fast forgetting what it means to be still. In fact, just recently, I had forgotten this truth. As I tried to convince my wife of a certain position I held, I found myself verbose and unwilling to accept her view since it restricted my forward motion on an important decision.

I was reminded again of my impatient verbose spirit as I read the following words of Francois Fenelon:

“I think . . . that you should try hard now to practice silence . . . Silence promotes the presence of God, prevents many harsh and proud words, and suppresses many dangers in the way of ridiculing or harshly judging our neighbor. Silence humbles the mind, and gradually weans it from the world; it will supply all that you need . . . .”

Perhaps one of the most moving stories I have read that exemplifies this truth was the story of a little boy named Geoffrey–the main character in a book called True to the Last. Though just a young boy, Geoffrey had a keenness of conscience which is rarely seen in children. When accused of wrongdoing he did not commit, Geoffrey bore the guilt, rather than tattle on his brothers or cousin. Though false accusations pained him greatly, he, at a young age, understood that the power of God is often unleashed in silence and waiting.

Oh how I wish that my children were still at home so that I could have looked at their faces and peeked into their hearts as they listened to this most life-changing story. This is a must read for everyone. It will leave an indelible mark upon your life–and your children.

Strength for Today; Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Strength for Today;
Bright Hope for Tomorrow!

Most are familiar with the lyrics of the well-known hymn, Great is Thy Faithfulness, and have sung with joy the heartfelt words:

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be.

These words come from the heart of Thomas Chisholm, who directs our thoughts to a portion of Scripture that meant much to him. He received his inspiration from the study of Lamentations 3, which inspired him to pen these words:

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

If I were to ask you to fill in the blank: “His _______ are new every morning,” most would say, “His mercies.” But if we take a closer look at Lamentations 3, we find that it is God’s compassions that fail not and are new every morning. This is a significant truth to bring with us into the New Year and to carry with us in our relationships with one another.

In Hebrew, the word “compassion” carries the idea of “tender love” or “to cherish.” It is like “a mother’s womb,” where one is safe and protected. God, in His compassion, forgives and protects us daily. The hymn-writer understood this as he wrote the words to the final stanza:

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

No matter how strained a relationship might be, if it is approached with mercy and compassion, we will indeed find strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.

Published in: on December 27, 2011 at 2:45 pm  Comments (1)  

Away in a Manger

It’s amazing the assumptions we make through the years–so much so that, in our minds, fiction becomes fact. Here are a few mythbusters that will surprise you:

Myth #1: Mary rode to Bethlehem on a donkey. Nowhere to be found in the Scriptures.

Myth #2: The innkeeper sent Mary and Joseph out to the stable because there was no room in the inn. Nowhere in the Scriptures is an innkeeper mentioned!

Myth #3: Mary and Joseph tried to check in at an inn. The word INN is better translated guest room. Most families had a guest room attached to their homes.

Considering that generous hospitality was part of the culture, and that a few hundred people that would have comprised this Bethlehem village, it would have been most unlikely that Mary and Joseph would have been turned away.

Not sold yet? Picture this. A typical home back then consisted of one large living room, a separate but attached guest room (the inn), and one additional room, open to the living area, situated about three feet below the living quarters, like a split level. The peasants used this room to house their animals at night in order to avoid theft. A trough or manger was dug into the living room floor, which allowed the larger animals to stick their heads over the partial wall to drink and eat. Can you picture this? Jesus was born in the living room!

To turn away a pregnant woman would have been unthinkable in Middle Eastern culture. The baby Jesus was not turned away–He was welcomed into someone’s home because there was no room in the guest room where Joseph had originally planned on staying!

What really happened? May we become like the Bereans of Acts 17 who received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so.

Published in: on December 24, 2011 at 4:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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O Come, O Come Emmanuel

The other day, a friend asked me to explain the meaning behind the Christmas hymn, O Come, O Come Emmanuel. I have always loved this beautiful song, with its haunting melodies and deep sense of longing. May a look at the meaning behind the first verse of this hymn bless you this Christmas season.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

The opening lines of this hymn plead for the coming of the Emmanuel, the “God with us.” Scripture’s promise of the Emmanuel is first recorded in Isaiah 7:14: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” The prophecy is explained in Matthew 1, as Joseph is informed in a dream that Mary’s child, this Jesus who shall save His people from their sins, shall be the Emmanuel.

But there’s a problem with this prophecy, which states that the child’s name shall be Emmanuel. They named him Jesus, not Emmanuel! Why the discrepancy? If you read the text closely, you will notice that “they shall call his name Emmanuel,” but “he,” meaning Joseph, called his name Jesus. “They,” the people, did not name him “Jesus,” but truly recognized him as “God with us”–the Emmanuel. When we recognize who Jesus really is and why he came, then the song makes perfect sense, as you will read in the refrain.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Published in: on December 23, 2011 at 4:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

Do You Believe?

Many lives were radically altered prior to the birth of Christ. The angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah in his old age, announcing the coming birth of John. Then there was the miraculous pregnancy of two women–one past childbearing and barren and the other a young virgin. Each character faced challenging circumstances that would alter their lives forever.

The angel’s words of consolation to Zechariah reveal that he was a praying man. His elderly wife even bears a child because of his prayers! Regrettably, however, his prayer life was stronger than his faith. Learning that his prayers had been answered, he questions the angel by saying, “How shall I know this?” We are not given much information concerning Elizabeth’s response to the news of her pregnancy.

Mary’s response seems, in English, the same as Zechariah’s. She says to the angel Gabriel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” Note the responses:

Zechariah – “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”

Mary – “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

Though the responses seem similar, the Greek words for “how” are completely different. Zechariah’s “how” is a combination of two Greek words which frequently denotes opposition or intensity. Zechariah skeptically asks the angel, “How can I be sure?” The angel Gabriel restricts Zechariah from speaking until his son is born, because he “did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”

In contrast, the word “how” that Mary uses expresses exclamation as “how much” or “in what way” will this be accomplished. Zechariah answers the angel from a heart of disbelief; Mary embraces the word of the angel by faith. What a rebuke for Zechariah as he heard these words fall from the lips of his wife: “. . . blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

Trusting in the promises of God is no easy task when faced with seemingly impossible circumstances. But nothing is impossible with God.

Lending to the Lord

One of my spiritual mentors, Dr. John MacArthur, once told the story of a churchyard in England where a tombstone stands with this inscription: “Here lies a miser who lived for himself, and cared for nothing but gathering wealth; now where he is or how he fares, nobody knows and nobody cares.”

In contrast, Dr. MacArthur shares, there is a plain tombstone at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London with an inscription that reads, “Sacred to the memory of General Charles George Gordon, who at all times and everywhere gave his strength to the weak, his substance to the poor, his sympathy to the suffering, his heart to God.”

What a contrast! If you think about those who have changed the world for the better, you will find their story similar to the latter–they gave for the good of others. They understood the principle that Jesus taught: “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, shall men put into your bosom. For with the same measure you mete, it will be measured to you again” (Luke 6:38).

Solomon understood this truth well when he wrote, in Proverbs 19, “Whoever is generous to the poor lends LORD, and he will repay him for his deed.”

Did you catch that? When we give to the poor, we actually are lending to the Lord! Now that’s a truth worth banking on.

Published in: on December 21, 2011 at 1:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

Waiting

How long are you willing to wait for God’s promises?

If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, there may have been times when you found yourself being impatient with God. We resist anything that causes us to wait. This is especially true today, for we have been accustomed to an instant-everything.

I will always remember the advice of a seminary professor who said to me as I sat in his office, exhausted, stressed, and overloaded because I was trying to complete two degrees in three years: “Mark, God isn’t in a hurry; why are you?”

Patience is a virtue that doesn’t come easy for me, but then again, if it did come easy, it wouldn’t be a virtue.

It didn’t come easy for Abraham either, as is described in Genesis 12 through 20. Discouraged, frustrated, and impatient, Abraham did what I have a tendency to do: to take matters into my own hands and make unwise decisions because I think that time is running out. Abraham’s unwise decision created havoc in his marriage and family that has lasted until this very day. Too often, we thwart the fulfillment of God’s promises by our impatient, unwise decisions. God did keep his promise to Abraham, though it took 25 years to see just a glimpse of the first stages of its fulfillment.

How long are you willing to wait for God’s answer? Do you believe that your Father knows what is best? Wait on God to work through life’s difficult situations and patiently wait upon His promises. He will ultimately bring redemption.

“Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act . . . Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him . . .” (Psalm 37:5, 7a).

God is ready to act but we must be willing to get out of the way.

Published in: on December 20, 2011 at 2:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

Connected Holidays

Recently I received a letter from a listener who shared about her family connectedness during Thanksgiving. She hadn’t seen some members of her family for over six years and couldn’t wait to hear all about God’s blessings over the years. Hugs and kisses abounded as family arrived from across the country.

As the great reunion began, she shut down her laptop and phone, as there were only a few precious days to be shared. Sadly, even before coats were removed, all sorts of buzzing and beeping went off. Instantly mom, dad, and their two children tuned in to their iPhones. Every conversation was interrupted. At the Thanksgiving dinner–a gathering that had not been shared together for over twenty years–some family members continually received text messages from friends during the mealtime celebration. Led by example, one of the children came to the table with her phone and iPod, thinking nothing of it.

This situation is heartbreaking for some, but seemingly normal for others. Should we raise the white flag of surrender? No, we need not be controlled by new technology. What we need is to prioritize our lives and our relationships, and have the discipline to turn our phones off–particularly when we are eating or conversing. It is a matter of good manners and consideration. There are times, of course, when you might be expecting an important call or text; if that is the case, simply let your guest know in advance that you may need to take a call during your conversation.

As we reestablish rules of courtesy and consideration in our own lives, then hopefully our children will follow.

“Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous” (1 Peter 3:8).

Published in: on December 19, 2011 at 3:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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