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


A Perez Day

Have you ever had a Perez day?

In I Chronicles 13 David is having a Perez day. It’s the kind of day that you wished you never had gotten out of bed. Here’s the background. It’s one of the most exciting days in David’s life. He’s just been crowned king and now it’s time to bring the presence of God via the Ark of God back to home base.

There are singers singing, dancers dancing, and David himself is enjoying the abundant festivities. But suddenly there is an unexpected twist. David’s friend Uzzah sees the ark about to tip over and tries to prevent its destruction. No sooner than his hand touches the ark, he’s struck dead on the spot–by God.

David’s response is one of extreme anger and he names the event Perez-Uzzah. The word Perez in Hebrew means to break forth. I find it interesting that when bad things come our way, some of us have a tendency to get angry. Some curse God, some curse others or things. David was angry at God but should have been angry at himself. He should have known better. It was written right there in the rule book–you touch, you die! Uzzah’s death was David’s fault, but, being blind to his own sin, he projected his anger–which later turned into fear–against God.

It’s interesting to note that anger and fear are close cousins. They often go hand in hand and are a direct result of misjudging God’s intentions during times of intense hurt.

In I Corinthians 11, Paul teaches us that when we judge ourselves, we bypass the judgment of God. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined, so that we are not condemned with the world. Experiencing extreme hurt? It’s time to stop blaming others and start reading the manual to see how our actions or lack of them contributed to the hurt in the first place.

God has our best interests in mind. Knowing the rules will enable us to have the best interests of others in mind.

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.

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. (For free shipping on any order, use code MOMENTS when ordering online or by phone.)

Published in: on April 17, 2012 at 2:10 pm  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 are never satisfied, and never 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. (Use promo code MOMENTS to receive free shipping on your order!)

Bodily Exercise Profits Little

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.”

Industry

“The man Jeroboam was very able, and when Solomon saw that the young man was industrious he gave him charge over all the forced labor of the house of Joseph.” (I Kings 11:28)

Where can I find industrious young men today? I find it difficult to find someone to simply mow my lawn during the weeks that I am traveling. Many who were once extremely hard working and industrious have become apathetic.

As a young boy, I remember going door to door throughout the neighborhood to find work in order to make some extra money. During the winter I shoveled sidewalks and driveways, and when spring arrived I washed dirty windows and cleaned out basements. During the summer I weeded and cut grass, and in the fall there were plenty of leaves to rake.

When I wasn’t doing odd jobs, the rest of my day was spent outside. My friends and I never tired of playing a game of basketball, baseball, or football (nothing organized–we did just fine organizing games ourselves), and during those scorching summer days, I could be found fishing down by the river or catching crayfish in a nearby stream.

Nowadays it’s hard to find young people outdoors or taking initiative to do something productive. Have the amusements of our culture taken our children captive? If you do happen to see an industrious young person taking initiative, please reward them generously and encourage them to continue in their efforts. Jeroboam was noticed by Solomon and as a result of his industrious pursuits, he was promoted as the director of forced labor. Little did he know that this position would also serve as the preparation for him to become the next King of Israel.

“Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings . . .” Or perhaps he may become a king!

* The book that inspired Ronald Reagan to become President of the US was That Printer of Udell’s. For younger children I recommend reading Basil: Honesty and Industry.

Published in: on April 13, 2012 at 2:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

Unfairness Doctrine

Would you believe it if I told you that a woman’s amputated hand and a muzzled ox are important clues to one of the most obscure chapters in the Bible? The text is found in Deuteronomy 25. At first glance it appears that there are six unrelated stories.

The first is a legal dispute where the guilty party is to be punished, but within protected limits, lest he be humiliated.

Next we have the protection of an ox while it is treading out the grain.

Then there is the humiliation of an unfair brother-in-law. By law, if a brother refused to marry his widowed sister-in-law, then he had to face public humiliation. She was to meet him before the elders of the city, take his shoe off, and spit in his face. This legal procedure was a protection for women and a strong communal pressure to influence men to fulfill their responsibilities at home.

Next, we encounter the humiliation of a woman who fights unfairly. As she sees her husband losing a fight with another man, she steps in and aids her husband unethically. Her penalty is a severed hand and public humiliation for life.

Then there is promised long life for honest business owners who use fair weights and measures.

In the last account, we have the harshest judgment–that of annihilation–which serves as a reminder that God will judge those who take advantage of the weak.

Although these six stories appear unrelated, they are all connected by a common theme. Fairness, especially toward those who are weak and unprotected, is important to God. As such, we need to place a premium on fairness in our businesses, relationships, judgments, and dealings toward the weak and unprotected. Unfairness, on the other hand (no pun intended), needs to be dealt with swiftly and firmly.

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

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.

Resurrections: Celebration or another Crucifixion?

It was a year ago, the day before Easter when I drove to western NY to visit my mom. When I arrived, I knew immediately that something wasn’t right. I had never seen my mom so sick. She wasn’t even able to carry on a conversation, though she came downstairs to sit at the kitchen table with me.

Excusing herself, she said that she needed to go to bed and would hopefully feel better in the morning. If you knew my mom, you would know that she would need to be on death’s doorstep to not be cooking when her children and grandchildren are home. So I waited. Mom slept through the night. But the next morning she was worse.

It was Easter and the choices for medical help were minimal, so off to the hospital we went. After the initial examination and a CT scan, the doctor came to me with a sense of urgency and said that they were life-flighting my mom to a major hospital. The scan revealed a catastrophic brain hemorrhage that was seriously life threatening. It was doubtful that mom would survive the day, or the flight. I so wanted to see her one last time, to tell her how much I loved her.

All day, not a doctor came to her room. Mom was sleeping or in a coma. The only comfort I had was that mom was going to see Jesus on Resurrection Day and would also see dad. It would appear that today would be goodbye until I would see her again on the other side.

To complicate matters, I was supposed to fly out the next day to speak at a large homeschool conference that started on Tuesday. Seeing that mom may remain in a coma for some time, I wondered whether I should fly out and speak and then return the following day. I shared this with my family and unanimously, this was not looked upon favorably. Was I placing ministry above family again? My oldest son looked at me and said, “Dad, unless there’s a miracle, we need you here.” I smiled and agreed.

The doctor never showed up that evening so we decided to stay with mom through the night. The next day I missed my flight and mom was still sleeping; it would be the first speaking engagement I would miss in thirty-five years. It wasn’t until 9pm when the doctor final stepped into the room. We all stood around mom’s bedside listening intently to the brain surgeon. What he would say next would take our breath away. He looked at each of us solemnly and said, “Your mom has experienced what we call in medical terms, a miraculous intervention!” We were in shock. He continued, “We will be releasing your mom and though she will be very tired for some time, she should recover completely.”

I am writing this moment one year later. As I sit here writing, I can hear mom’s voice in the background as she stands cooking at the stove. Chicken soup for this evening and stuffed chicken for tomorrow, all in the making. Grandchildren, children and loved ones will be enjoying another Resurrection Day at Nonny’s house. Yes, my mom experienced a genuine miracle.

Oh, the homeschool conference? I received a phone call from the airline telling me that my Monday flight had been canceled and they were rebooking my flight for
6 am the next morning. I arrived at the conference 15 minutes before I was to speak. The miracle had arrived-just in time. But it wasn’t time for a celebration. It was time for a greater dedication to Christ.

Resurrections aren’t as much about celebrations as they are about a greater commitment to Christ. When Peter met Jesus after his resurrection, there wasn’t any celebration. In fact, I don’t see any celebration mentioned in the Bible after the resurrection. You would have thought that they would have been having celebrations everywhere.

The resurrection of Jesus was more about recommitment. It was about dealing with sin and issues of the heart. In fact, when Jesus sees Peter after the resurrection, he questioned if he really loved him…not just once, but three times. Once Jesus knows that Peter’s commitment gives no further room for denial, he then tells him how he is going to die. In John 21 Jesus tells Peter that others are going to lead him and stretch his arms. This appears to be a reference to Peter’s eventual crucifixion. Peter, then asks Jesus about John’s future. Jesus responds by saying, “If he lives until I return, what is that to you? You follow me.” Post resurrection Jesus is dealing with heart issues and not speaking in parables. He is approaching his children like a surgeon. He wants us to understand that there is a cost to following him.

Traditionally we read that Peter was crucified upside down. He felt that he wasn’t worthy to be crucified the same as his Savior. But before he was crucified, Clemens writes that he first had to witness his wife’s crucifixion.[1] I am thankful for the resurrection, but it is not a time for celebration as much as it is a time for self-evaluation and rededication to our commitment to follow Christ, no matter what the cost.

[1] Barnes, Albert. “Commentary on John 21”. “Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament”.

Published in: on April 8, 2012 at 8:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

Let This Cup Pass–Part 3

As we conclude this three part series on Jesus’ Gethsemane prayer, it is important to note that only Dr. Luke gives us additional information that is not found in the other gospels. What we know so far from Mathew and John is that Jesus was sorrowful, very heavy, exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death.

The words “exceedingly sorrowful” carry the idea of extreme grief. The words “very heavy” carry the idea of sated to loathing, from deep distress. Note the important word “death” in this text–Jesus was near “death.” Furthermore, in Luke 22, we read that Jesus was sweating as it were, “great drops of blood.” Medically speaking, Jesus was physically near death. Under severe stress, a person can actually break capillaries, resulting in death.

So here’s an alternative for what Jesus was asking when he asked to let this cup pass from him. The “cup” that Jesus is speaking of is the cup of his present sufferings in the garden. Jesus was actually dying in the garden. Realizing his human, physical limitations and that his desire was to go to the cross and shed his blood as prophesied, Jesus was asking his Father not to let his cup of his present sufferings hinder him from going to the cross.

To make this even clearer, Luke 22 states that an angel came to Jesus and strengthened him. Jesus’ prayer was answered. He was strengthened so that he could go on to the cross. There was much more that went on during that Garden scene than we will ever understand, but one thing is certain, there was nothing stopping Jesus from going to that cross. Why? Because “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24b).

Feeling alone these days? Lost your joy? Continue “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). When we’re willing to endure the cross God sends our way, loneliness will soon be turned to fruitfulness and shame to joy.

Published in: on April 7, 2012 at 10:40 pm  Comments (1)