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

Lightening Bugs

Lightening bugs–they’re every child’s summer pastime at one point or another!

What you might not realize is that the lightening bugs that light up the sky at night are the males. Would you like to know what the females are doing? They’re down in the ground, hiding under bushes, and sending up little flickers of light to attract the males. When the male sees this, he zooms down to the female. Can you guess what the female does next? No–she eats him!

The lightening bug has a chemical inside of it called luciferen. This chemical was untapped by mankind until just a few years ago. This chemical is what creates the lightening bug’s light.

Luciferen is also the Latin word for Lucifer–meaning “light bringer.” Lucifer, the most beautiful of all God’s angelic realm, was created as an angel of light. In Ezekiel 28 the Scripture tells us that he was once extremely beautiful. In Ezekiel 28 & Isaiah 14, we are told that created in Lucifer’s body are precious gems and musical instruments. God created Lucifer to be the cherubim that covered the throne of God. He was the reflection of God’s glory. But Lucifer turned his back and nor longer wished to reflect the glory of God.

Today we have a distorted view of Lucifer–we view him as a demon with a pointed tail and horns on his head. But don’t be fooled. He offers sights and sounds and experiences that are extremely beautiful and pleasureable. In fact, according to the Bible, sin is pleasurable. All around us Lucifer uses alluring sights and sounds to attract the unsuspecting so that they might be taken captive at his will, or, like the lightening bug, be devoured.

Published in: on February 28, 2012 at 1:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

Wings of Truth

If you’ve ever had lunch at an outdoor restaurant, you may have noticed a little brownish-gray bird just waiting to snatch up some crumbs that fall from the table. Sometimes they gather up enough courage to swipe the food right off the table. Usually I’m very protective of my food–I loathe dirty insects that try to grab a free lunch–but for some reason I don’t feel that way about that little grayish-brown birds. They seem to have better manners. They wait patiently, then delicately and unobtrusively alight for their plunder. Yet all the time, they are cautious, avoiding close contact. They stand by in the distance, watching and waiting.

They are found on the streets, in alleys, in villages and in cities. They frequent parks, the beach, and the mountains. Just throw some breadcrumbs out of your window, and suddenly they appear. They are everywhere!

As I travel, I have observed that they can be seen wherever I go; they are at the Colosseum in Rome and in the courtyard of the Louvre in Paris. They are in the countryside of Frankfurt and on the beaches of Hawaii. They are found in the frigid temperatures of Alaska and along the heated banks of the Rio Grande. They have been spotted on the streets of Munich, beyond the wall of Berlin, the coast of Africa, the farms of China, and nesting in the bushes of Moscow. This little bird seems to be everywhere, and yet it seems to go unnoticed by most.

They have been around since the beginning of time. The Creator Himself used them as an illustration which remains one of the most well know illustrations of modern time–a little bird that carries a very big truth: “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall to the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not, therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31).

Published in: on February 27, 2012 at 2:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

Giving Thought to a Matter

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “Curiosity killed the cat!” Though curiosity is sometimes derided, this unique characteristic leads to the development of exciting new ideas, which are often implemented for the betterment of society. Robert Fulton, inventor of the first steamboat, possessed childlike curiosity and inventiveness, which preceded his fame.

As I leafed through the book, Boys of Grit Who Changed the World, I came across an inspiring story about Robert Fulton’s childhood. His friend, Christopher Gumpf, often invited Fulton to join his father and him on fishing and rowing trips. Still a child, Fulton found the rowing difficult, so he “invented a set of paddles to work at the side of the boat to be operated by a double crank. Two pieces of lumber were fastened together at right angles with a wide paddle at each end. The crank was attached to the boat near the stern, with the paddle operating on the pivot as a rudder.” (Boys of Grit, p. 40)

Needless to say, Mr. Gumpf was excited about Fulton’s work. The fishing outings had become special events as young Fulton’s common sense and curiosity brought a new perspective to boating, culminating in the invention of the steamboat.

If you lived in Albany, NY or New York City during this time, you would gladly have paid twenty-five cents (and later one dollar) for a ride to work. Fulton’s steamboats were the talk of the towns along the Hudson River, which made travel convenient for workers and opened a myriad of opportunities for new businesses to develop. Robert Fulton’s curiosity and creativity had been unleashed, breaking through the status quo and paving the way for continued progress and innovation.

Do you have a Robert Fulton in your midst? Is he or she given the opportunity to take his or her curiosities to new heights? When God created man in His image, He created him with the capacity to question, to think, to create, and to problem-solve. The first commandment we received was to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion . . .” (Genesis 1:28) It is time for a new generation of Robert Fulton’s to come forth.

Open Book Exam

I don’t know about you, but when I was in school, test time was panic time. I would rather drink castor oil. If a surprise test was sprung on the class, you’d be sure to hear my grumbling objections. The only type of test that lowered my anxiety was an open-book exam.

In many ways I was like the children of Israel when taking tests. Note what God says about their testing in Deuteronomy 8: “And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.”

There were three objectives to giving the test:

1. To humble them
2. To know what was in their heart
3. To see if they really learned the lesson

There is so much we can learn from this. As students, we will learn far more if we approach our studies and tests with humility. Teachers will often go out of their way for students who possess a humble disposition.

When I was younger, I was more concerned about my grade than learning the material, causing me to be filled with fearful anxiety. Fearful anxiety prior to and during tests may be a symptom of pride (or of being unprepared!). God tests us in order to teach us a very valuable lesson, which unfolds as He continues to speak in Deut. 8: “And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”

Humility is the foundational lesson from which all other lessons are learned. As one studies and knows the content of this Book, the level of fear and anxiety will dramatically decrease. Why? Because the Teacher has given us all the answers–and the exam is open-Book!

Published in: on February 24, 2012 at 1:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

200 Dancing Girls

I would consider the book of Judges to be the most bizarre book in the Bible. Starting with a king who gets his toes and thumbs cut off, to a left-handed man who knifes a fat king and loses his knife in the king’s belly, to a woman who drives a tent peg through a sleeping man’s skull, to a husband who cuts his wife into twelve pieces, the book of Judges is indeed bizarre!

And like any great book, the meaning is not always clear until you reach the end. So let’s take a look at the end and find its meaning. Unlike chapter one where God answers their prayer, in the last chapter, God is silent. And though God is silent, the people still move forward as if God had given them clear direction. They have sacrificed and they have prayed–what more could God desire? They’ve had their devotions, prayed, and now it’s time to carry out God’s will for the day.

So without hesitation they decide that it’s God’s will for them to kill everyone who didn’t help them fight their battle. Though God hasn’t spoken, what’s wrong with killing a few hundred Jabesh-Gileadites? “Besides, we need 400 of their virgin daughters to fix a little problem of our overaggressive killing of our brother Benjamin.” And that’s not all. They are 200 short on virgin women and in order to fix their earlier mistake of the near extinction of their youngest brother Benjamin’s clan, they move to plan B–kidnapping!

So here’s the plan. “Tonight at Shiloh, a bunch of virgins will be dancing in the fields. (Shiloh is their worship center . . . why 200 virgin girls are out dancing is a mystery! What are their parents thinking?! They aren’t thinking, and that’s the problem!) So when you see them, go out and steal every man a wife and you can then live happily ever after, and our guilty conscience will be at peace for killing too many of you.” Are you getting the feel of the kind of bizarre I’m talking about?

So what can we make of this? The very last verse explains it all. “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” They thought they were serving God. They believed they were zealous to mete out judgment against evil, but failed to judge themselves. They had religion without relationship.

Published in: on February 23, 2012 at 1:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

Dying of Thirst

In the book of Exodus, the children of Israel tested the Lord because they could not find water. In chapter 17 we read, “Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’ And Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?’ But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?'”

Note the three points of testing:
1. personal testing (fear of being killed)
2. family testing (fear for our children’s safety)
3. livelihood testing (fear of losing our job)

It was here that “. . . he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?'” (The word Massah means “testing”; Meribah is translated “quarreling.”)

Moses saw that the root of the problem was the fact the children of Israel did not understand or believe that the LORD was with them–“Is the LORD among us or not?” If a believer is not convinced that God is with them in every difficult circumstance, then quarreling and complaining are sure to follow. God uses difficult circumstances to test us so that we might know the needs of our hearts as well as the power of His redemption–especially when we are tested in these three areas.

When it seems as though we will die of thirst, we must avoid the illusion of the satisfying drink that comes from the wells of this world; these wells keep us as slaves to our empty water buckets and bring fatigue, frustration, and fear. The satisfying water that never runs dry is available for the asking (John 4:10). And the Source is indeed present among us.

A Youthful Yoke, Part 3

Yesterday we discussed the importance of allowing young adults to experience the consequences of their actions. In fact, we posited that Scripture teaches that suffering is a necessary part of the normal maturing process.

But during times of intense suffering, teens often build emotional walls, thus delaying the lessons they could be learning. Hosea hits the nail on the head when it comes to the reason that adolescents (and adults) fail to experience the transition from despair to hope. He writes,

“And they have not cried unto me with their heart, when they howled upon their beds . . . .” (Hosea 7:14a)

God desires for us to cry out to Him, to take off our masks, and pour our heart out to Him. He will hear and He will act. God bruises that He might heal. He injures in order to restore.

In his darkest hour, Jeremiah has hope. Being convinced of God’s goodness, he pens these immortal words:

“It is of the LORD’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.

They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.

The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him.

The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him.”

(Lamentations 3:22-25)

God allows Jeremiah to feel pain so that he can experience Him as the One who can meet his deepest needs. Only in the midst of his pain can Jeremiah experience the resurrection power of God’s restorative compassion and grace. He has experienced it before and can count on it again for his present difficulties–for His mercies never fail, and neither does His love!

Young people–and adults–need to learn, especially in this unraveling economy, that there is one thing that you can bank on–God’s love never fails. Maybe it is time to consider opening an account today.

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 us return to the LORD; for he 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!

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 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 arrow” (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 that come from 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.

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 February 17, 2012 at 1:35 pm  Comments (2)