Thursday, December 23, 2004

Holiday Rules

Remember that Jesus is always worthy of celebration! Despite the higher regard for church attendance, this time of year brings with it temptations that we must resist.

First, resist the temptation to be wild. Drunk driving arrests will go up in the next couple of weeks. Wild parties will increase, and the Christian is to avoid the works of the flesh prominent at such parties. Practice love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and especially, self-control.

Next, resist the temptation to argue, and determine to be kind. Family time is intended to be fun, but we often end up fighting and being harsh. Put away the hurt from years past and develop happy traditions for the future.

Finally, put away self-indulgence and put on generosity. It is so easy to be jealous of the gifts of others. It is easy to think mostly of yourself. I want ... I want ... I want.... That is the theme of the day for so many. Is it what you are teaching your children? Be diligent to turn your thoughts away from yourself, and be generous to others. That’s Life at Work!

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Play it Again, Luke!

Grammar rules don’t change much. There was a time that in a formal article like this, using a contraction like I did in that first sentence would’ve been taboo, but it isn’t anymore. The need for subject/verb agreement, the proper use of pronouns, the form of an infinitive, are all the same. When we were in school, we reviewed them year after year! That was most obvious in high school for me when we spent half the year reading literature we had never read, then half the year in grammar studies reviewing what we had always reviewed.

In Acts, Luke does some repeating. I suggest he repeats for the same reason we repeat: to reinforce something that is important. After Luke told the story of the conversions of Peter (to be willing to go the Gentiles with the gospel) and Cornelius (to the Way), he used the report of Peter to the critical, circumcised believers in Jerusalem to repeat the message to the readers of Acts. What message did Luke want his readers to get? He wanted them to know that God intended for the gospel to be preached to non-Jews. He wanted them to know that God wanted to save all of the lost.

Notice the effectiveness of Peter’s explanation: “When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, ‘So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.’”

Praise from their lips was not all they offered, though. Luke tells us that those who had scattered in connection with the stoning of Stephen only told the message to the Jews. Now, however, “Men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord's hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord."

Be careful not to read Acts simply from an historical perspective. If you read this as simply an historical account, you will conclude, “The gospel really began to be preached to the Gentiles here.” If you read it like you need to, you will conclude, “I need to be telling the message to all the lost.”

Luke will play this same song again. Look for it. But don’t just look for the message - do what you see! The poor and the rich, the majority and the minority, the regular and the not-so-regular people need the gospel that you’ve received.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Don't Weary God

I’ve seen the look of weariness in the face of people that I’ve disappointed – again. I’ve seen the look of weariness as I’ve looked in the mirror after someone disappointed me – again. I’m not talking about weariness that comes from a ten mile uphill walk to school in the snow. I’m talking about the weariness that you feel when the physical and emotional investment that you’ve made in the life of someone else seemingly fails. When you are this kind of weary, the energy scale in your heart, your mind, and your muscles registers zero. Your shoulders stoop and the brightness in your eyes fades like it has been overcome by spiritual cataracts. Most of us have experienced that kind of weariness. Did you know that God has, too?

God’s people spent seventy years in captivity as punishment for their idol worship and immoral lives. Yet when they returned home through the intervention of God in national affairs, they married people in the land who were idol worshippers, the priests practiced corruption, and the general population followed sinful paths. God sent Malachi to call the people back to God. He told them that they had wearied God.

“How have we wearied him?” they asked.

“By saying, ‘All who do evil are good in the eyes of the LORD, and he is pleased with them’ or ‘Where is the God of justice?’” (Malachi 2:17).

You don’t want to weary God, do you? You don’t want him to feel like his investment in you – which is huge, by the way – is lost. Don’t close your eyes, then, to what God wants so that you call good evil and evil good. God has told us what is good, and now he has shown us what is good through Jesus. Don’t confuse evil with good. Second, don’t question whether God is just or fair when you experience some difficulty in your life knowing that self-evaluation would reveal that you haven’t had a mindset for doing his will. It wearies God when those who are supposed to follow him, don’t; and then criticize him because they experience the pain of their path. That’s Life at Work!

Monday, December 06, 2004

Don't Reduce God

I heard a guy on the radio say that OU and USC uniforms are “universally known across the country.” Then he listed something else and said that was “universally known across the country.” Now, I’ve messed up plenty of sentences in radio work myself, and I’m confident that I’ve inadvertently made some boneheaded phrase faux pas in my sermons. This comment, though, “universally known across the country” hit me funny. The universe became the United States! I realized that we reduce our God to something smaller than what he is. In fact, we do that a lot.

1. He can save the world, but my sins are too many to forgive.
2. He can cause nations to rise and fall, but he can’t rescue me from my distress.
3. He can give “life abundant” and he can “do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us…,” but he can’t use me for very much in the kingdom.
4. He can raise the dead, but he can’t revitalize my marriage.
5. He can be the Father of the faithful, but he can’t offer anything to help me bring up my children.

You get the point, don’t you? God is bigger than you. God is bigger than your abilities. God is bigger than your trouble. God is bigger than your sin. God is bigger than the United States. God is bigger than the universe. No one – nothing – is bigger than God. Yet, he cares for you. That’s Life at Work.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Everyone Needs

Paul had the incredibly religious background, but in ignorance he attempted to destroy God’s work. Because of his blasphemous and violent past, he considered himself the chief of sinners. The beginning of his story just precedes the story of Cornelius.

Cornelius was a Gentile – a race of people whom Paul described as “separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). Cornelius was all that, but he was devout and generous.

So there are people with strict religious backgrounds and those without them. There are those who are so interested in the way of God that God sends someone to them knowing they will hear. There are others so opposed to the way of God that God has to blind them to make them see the error of their ways.

What people need, regardless of their past or present, is Jesus. What if your upbringing was far from godly like Cornelius’ likely was, and you are now blasphemous and violent like Paul definitely was? What if you had a strict religious background like Paul, but are devout and generous like Cornelius was? You need Jesus.

When you tell a doctor your health history, he listens carefully, evaluates, and then prescribes the medicine he believes will work. When God examines you, he prescribes what he prescribes to every other person – oneness with Christ. For your sin sickness, which all of us has – or had – there is one cure, the precious blood of Christ. No evaluation. No questions about potency. No consideration of other cures. Jesus is the Life.

Where you’ve been doesn’t change what you need. Where you are doesn’t change what you need. What decision will you make today about life with Jesus?

Monday, November 29, 2004

Consumed With Consumerism

Once there was a man, or a woman, or a child who made a long, long Christmas list! I want …, I need…, I saw…, My friends have … began the lines of desire that filled the college-ruled notebook sheet. When Christmas morning came, it was all there! Every request, regardless of value, was under the tree, waiting for its turn to be unwrapped and used! Everything!

The man, or woman, or child said, “Cool! I got everything I wanted! I’m going to have to clear out some closet space for all my new stuff! I might even have a garage sale to see if any poor people want the toys/tools/trinkets that I got last year! Now I can eat, drink and, finally, I can be happy!

What if, on the day after Christmas, we hear this the trumpet call of God, and the voice of the archangel announces that the return of Jesus has come? What will he say to us about how we’ve spent the weeks between Thanksgiving and December 25? What will he say you about what you thought about the things that were or were not under your tree? We certainly don’t want him to call us fools!

If you don’t want to come across as foolish, keep in mind what Jesus said before he told the Parable of the Rich Fool, “Life is not about the things that you possess” (Luke 12:15). Maybe those words will help us resist the temptation to become consumed with consumerism. Maybe this year we won’t spend ourselves into the slavery of debt. Maybe this year our families and friends will see real life at work in us, and Jesus will say, “Good, job you faithful and wise servant!” That’s Life at Work!

Monday, November 22, 2004

Give Thanks in All Circumstances

“Give Thanks In All Circumstances, For This Is God’s Will For You” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

This Thanksgiving season, be attentive to the need to express and share an attitude of gratitude. You’ll have to be vigilant. Thanksgiving certainly hasn’t been commercialized like some of the other holidays, but the theme is often neglected. Maybe the theme has been neglected when the paramedics who have been called because you are lethargic find that you have a “gravy blood level” of eighty percent. It is a good thing to be grateful for overflowing food, football, and early bird specials at the Thanksgiving sales, but there are many other things for which we should express our thanks. Here are two things I really want to encourage you to do in Thanksgiving: (1) Pray a lot - more often than before the major meal. Seriously, commit to praying when you first are up and around; before you go to bed; when you find that you are all in the same room; when you’ve heard someone express a concern about something. Go ahead and pray alone if you are by yourself or together if you are with family. (2) Tell other people some of the stories you have that give reason to be thankful. The people around you, especially the children around you, need to know the stories about God blessing you so that they are more aware of the array of blessings they have.

Can you do those things for the remainder of the week? Pray more than you’ve ever prayed in a four day period. Tell the stories that build an attitude of gratitude in the people who spend some time with you this Thanksgiving. That’s Life at Work!

Thursday, November 18, 2004

The People We Meet

It was like Saul/Paul used the death of Stephen as the catalyst to destroy the church. He went on a rampage, conducting a house to house search for disciples so he could drag them to prison. He led the way, but he wasn’t the only one out to persecute the disciples. Though the apostles stayed, many of the Christians in Jerusalem got outta Dodge.

Still, they didn’t leave just to survive. One thing they learned watching Peter, John, the rest of the Apostles, and Stephen – don’t forget Stephen – was that people need to hear about Jesus. They scattered with hearts full of good things and the saying of Jesus came true in their lives, “Words from your mouth are the overflow of your heart” (Matt 12:34).

Philip’s heart was overflowing. Luke tells the story about Philip’s preaching in Samaria and along a lonely road. We learn a lot from Luke’s account of Philip’s travels, including the kind of people that we are likely to encounter as we live and allow the overflow of our hearts reveal what Jesus has done for us.

You will encounter people who have a need that you can help meet, and who pay attention to what you say because they see power working through you. You may help them overcome defeat from sickness, financial struggle, family breakdown, lonely times, emotional crash, tough temptation, or moral failure. Because you care, and because you can help them, they listen with softened hearts to the words about Jesus that come from your mouth.

You will encounter people who have a hard time renewing their minds. When we’ve been brought up in a particular way, when we’ve lived by the same code for a long time, it is hard to change. Even when people really want to change, it is hard. If a man has lived his life for the attention of others because that attention brought power and wealth, it is hard to shake that drive for attention. You will likely say things like “With God everything is possible.” Philippians 4:13 will be overflowing, no doubt. You will patiently, sometimes sternly perhaps, one decision at a time, help someone in their metamorphosis to Christ likeness.

You will encounter people who know that the Bible says something about their situation and need some help understanding the text. Philip dealt with an Ethiopian who, very possibly, was reading the Isaiah scroll where it was written, “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter” because he wanted the context of a passage that spoke to his situation:

"To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose what pleases me
and hold fast to my covenant--
to them I will give within my temple and its walls
a memorial and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that will not be cut off.
(Isaiah 56:4-5; NIV)

Philip began where he was, and told him the good news. Man, people need that! They’ve got that tune in their heads from when they were young, “My Jesus knows Just What I Need” but they need some help finding Jesus’ answer and you can help.

Sick, struggling, and searching – those words describe people who we encounter who need help getting well, overcoming, and finding the answers to their important questions. You’ve been where they are. Can Jesus count on you to help?

Monday, November 15, 2004

What's Inside

There is a sense of fairness, justice, and moral obligation that is on the inside of normal people of all generations in every part of the world. Different cultures drive on different sides of the road, but all cultures recognize that there are rules of fair play, issues of loyalty, and principles regarding truth. C. S. Lewis says specifically that we expect people everywhere to understand the standard behind a statement like, “I was sitting there first.” Everybody knows that you don’t desert you comrades in battle. All societies understand that you don’t lie. Selfishness is perceived across generations to be immoral.

Think about a couple of things while those thoughts cross your mind this week. Think first about the implications about our creator from the morality that the creation possesses. God created us with a sense of right and wrong and a conscience to guide us in choosing the right even when powerful natural instincts would lead us toward the wrong decision. That says something about what kind of God made us. What do you think that says about him?

Second, think about the importance of allowing that moral sense in you to have its way. Paul told Timothy about some hypocrites whose consciences have been seared (1 Timothy 4:2) If you kick a dog every time he comes to your feet for some petting, he’ll quit coming so often; and, eventually, will quit all together. Your conscience is like that. If you beat it away as it moves you to the right choice, it will quit coming so often. Eventually, it will quit all together. Like the dog, your conscience will still exist, it will have just been burned so much that it has hardened and has become useless. Don’t let that happen to you. That’s Life at Work!

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Veteran's Day Prayer

Yahweh-Sabaoth, God of Hosts, commander of Heavenly armies, we beg you to guard the men and women who are serving in dangerous fields in effort to punish evildoers and provide freedom to the oppressed. We beg you to give peace, comfort, health, and joy to veterans who have served in prior days. As we give honor to whom honor is due today, please give your favor to American soldiers, past and present. We look forward with longing to your everlasting peace. Amen.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

You're Holding My Heart

Clair, a nurse, was telling her new friend Daniel that while she was at work, a man who she was helping keep alive with heart massage suddenly looked at her and said, “You’re holding my heart.” Later, when Daniel was trying desperately to get to Helen, the love of his life, he was protected from the authorities who were after him by Clair. He knew he would not get away from those who were pursuing him without Clair’s help. He told her, “You’re holding my heart.”

That great line, “You’re holding my heart” from Forever Young (1992, Warner Brothers) expresses the feelings we have about those things that are in our core. Our heart keeps us alive. Those precious things in our hearts are what we live for – and would die for.

There are things – more than one thing – that are in our center. Those things include other people and the relationships that tie us to them. Those things include values like loyalty, love, and virtue. For men like Polycarp and Justin Martyr and women like Anne Askew, those things included faith. They all died – execution style – because their faith was more at their center than was life itself. Christian history is full of their stories. Books so old they are available in full text online like Foxes Book of Martyrs and newer books like dc Talk’s Jesus Freaks or John MacArthur’s Twelve Ordinary Men tell us the stories of people who have given up the breath of life for Jesus because to give up faith would have been to give up their soul – their entirety.

Stephen was such a man. He couldn’t accept God’s grace, yet hold his tongue. He wouldn’t keep the Spirit silent within him though he knew stones would be thrown at him. Faith oriented his eyes to see the Son of Man standing in concern and confirmation. Faith molded his heart to forgive those who were throwing stones. Faith was fundamental.

Your salvation is so important to God that he “gave his one and only Son.” If getting you to be in his presence forever is so important to him, shouldn’t it be to you? Furthermore, if Jesus is who he says he is and can do what he says he can do, doesn’t it make sense that we should say with Paul, “For me to live is Christ”? Would you give up your breath to hold on to your faith? When threatened with the wild beasts, Polycarp said, “Let them come. My purpose is unchangeable.” He meant that he couldn’t deny his faith, it was too much of who he was. How can we have that kind of faith?

Monday, November 08, 2004

How Then Can Anyone Understand?

It was the week before Halloween in 1999 when my family and I moved to Yukon. Before we even got completely moved in, we were in Piedmont in a hay-filled wagon being pulled by a tractor when someone whispered to me that a man from our church had passed away that evening. Every October, I think about moving here and about the Christian lady who became a widow that very first week.

I preached recently, near the end of October, from several texts in Proverbs that educate us about God’s plan and purpose for the world, and his involvement in the daily events of life – your life and my life. We ended with this proverb, “A man's steps are directed by the LORD. How then can anyone understand his own way?” It’s a given, in this wise saying, that God directs things from above; so the question is rhetorical. We won’t always understand his way. God moves in mysterious ways. His ways are above our ways. We know those things.

But wisdom, insight, and reflection into our own experiences can help us sometimes to understand where we are and what God has done in and through the events in our lives. I know that because as I preached that sermon on God’s plan, purpose, and involvement I noticed a lady sitting with her new husband on a different pew than she occupied five years ago. I noticed her because she was nodding and smiling with one of those “I understand” kinds of smiles. I smiled, too, when I saw her. She gets some of it – now – five years later. You probably already get that she is the lady that I think of every year about this time. How has God worked in your life? Have you done any reflection today? That’s Life at Work.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

"So the Word of God Spread"

“So the Word of God spread” (Acts 6:7) I really need that assurance. I know I am not the only one who thinks about failure when I here complaint. Samuel Johnson wrote, “The usual fortune of complaint is to excite contempt rather than pity.” My own experience reveals that complaining, whether I’m giving or receiving, often ends with frustration. Even some of the Bible stories that we tell reveal the connection between complaint and relationship brakes. How many people died between Egypt and Canaan because they complained?

Why did this complaint from the Grecian widows result in good when so many complaints bring frustration at a minimum and sometimes downright evil? Here are a couple of my ideas about that:

First, it was the first complaint. I’m aware that there could have been some things that caused friction in the early days of the church that Luke doesn’t reveal, but this is the first time someone in the church grumbled about the way something was happening as he tells the story. Complaining doesn’t seem to have been a prominent part of the Christian’s linguistic experience in these early days, neither as a whole or individually. If you will be heard, you have to be sure you are not constantly making a grumbling sound. People who complain constantly are major turnoffs both to the subjects of their complaints and to any others who are in position to deal with the complaint. Like the boy who cried wolf, those who constantly complain often find their words falling on deaf ears.

Second, it was a legitimate complaint. The Israelites wanted to go back to Egypt thinking their best days were behind them. They were so wrong. They saw an approaching army, or faced other scary circumstances, and did not consider the salvation of the Lord. Actually, the best days were yet to come. God and Moses knew. The Israelites would not listen. They grumbled because they were not seeing what was real. Likewise, sometimes a complaint is couched in terms like “he always” or “she never” and it is dismissed immediately because those terms don’t reflect reality. The Grecians were right apparently. There was unbalanced attention given to the Hebraic widows. That’s what they grumbled about. Legitimate complaints, expressed in reasonable language, get deserved attention.

There are other things about the approach and about how the complaint was received that contributed to the positive result though the “grumbling” was negative. What do you see in the passage that you would include in an explanation for this super turn of events? What would you suggest to people, or what would you adopt for yourself, as part of a good conflict management style?

Monday, November 01, 2004

What's Important?

Shor Toots was a popular restaurant owner in New York City and a Giants Fan, when the Giants were a baseball team in New York. One night, Alexander Fleming, the inventor of penicillin came for dinner. Toots and Fleming were chit-chatting when an employee walked over and whispered in Toots ear that the Giants' manager, Mel Ott, had just arrived. Toots glanced over toward the door and said to Fleming, “I’ve got to leave you. Somebody important just came in.”

Importance, to us, is relative. To a healthy Giants fan in New York, Ott is more important than Fleming. One of the rules of communication is that the importance of an issue is directly proportional to the proximity of your audience. We will walk away from a TV news story about an earthquake in Croatia that killed five thousand people to watch the local fire department get a cat out of a tree down the street. Importance, to us, is relative.

So when is Jesus important? When your family is disintegrating? When you’ve heard the doctors say how sick you are? When your drinking has gotten out of control? When your finances are in shambles? When you’ve been caught in an embarrassing sin? When your kids start running with shady friends, their grades plummet and they’ve developed an attitude? Yes, Jesus is important at these times!

But Jesus’ importance is not to shift with the winds that spin your head around. Jesus is important when your family is healthy, you are healthy, you drink water at dinner, you have the ability to be generous, you are practicing self-control, and your kids are walking straight paths. Jesus is always important!

If you are in a spot where you realize you need Jesus, he’ll take you as you are. Don’t wait for the disaster to see his importance, though. He’s not a tool to fix your problems, though he can. He is to be the King of your life, every day!

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:33). That's Life at Work!

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Death and Rescue

“Here, Peter.”
“What’s that?”
”The money from the sale of some land Sapphira and I owned. I brought it to help balance things out; you know, between those who have plenty and those who have needs.”
“Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn't it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn't the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.”

“Yes, Sapphira.”
“I see our pouch, but not Ananias.”
“Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”
“Yes, that is the price.”
“How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”

There are two stories that dominate Acts 5. One is the story of Ananias and Sapphira, both of whom died for lying to God about the money they were giving from the sale of their land. The other is the twice-rescued apostles. They were rescued first when they were miraculously released from jail by the angel. They were rescued again when God used Gamaliel, a Pharisee, to convince the Sanhedrin to calm down and let God deal with the apostles and the movement they were trying to advance.

It’s not unusual for someone to die at the beginning of a great advance of God – look at the Read Sea and Sinai stories. You don’t goof around with God and what he is going to accomplish. A godly fear is a very healthy thing in the hands of the living God.

Just as God demands reverence, he offers rescue. Those who take God’s work seriously have as their help the kind of power that has raised the dead. If rescuing you is the way to advance his cause, to let the world know that what you are doing really is from God, he will do it.
Death or rescue -- that’s an easy enough choice for me. I’ll take God seriously. That’s Life at Work.

Why Did She Have to Die?

“Why did she have to die?” Many of us have heard that question asked from a heart filled with grief. Not a few of us have asked the question ourselves. None of us have had an adequate answer at the time that the question is asked. You still won’t when you get through reading this. When we are feeling less emotional and more contemplative – when our “issue is separate from the event” – thinking about some things written by Richard Swinburne in The Existence of God is valuable. Maybe even it will be helpful at those times in the future when we will be asking “Why did she have to die?”

Swinburne gives three reasons why he believes God made people mortal – made them so that they could die - whether by natural causes or at the agency of others. Let me tell you what they are, then I’ll offer a thought about them that I’ve been considering today. First, if people were immortal, if they did not die in this world, I could never hurt you enough that I would deprive you of existence; and God wants us to be able to be trusted with the power to take someone’s life, yet refuse to do it. Second, a world in which no one dies is a world in which the supreme sacrifice – a man laying down his life for his friends – cannot be done. Third, if I never died, I would not be as serious as I am about my contribution to the world. Since I know I only have a number of years to do the good I want to do and undo as many of the screw-ups as I can, I take my opportunities more seriously. I live like I am dying.

If you want to argue with Swinburne regarding the problem of evil especially as it relates to why God lets people die, you’ve got some room. But I was struck by these things as I read them today because though the subject is death, they all have their meaning in the importance of life.

You hold the lives of others in your hand. Are you trustworthy to respect that life so much that you won’t destroy it regardless of how you feel about that life today? Since you can die, you can die for others. Have you grown to be the greatest kind of hero and lover who would give up what is so important to you in order to protect another person or an important ideal? Finally, considering the limited time you have, what you do with today is incredibly important. You wouldn’t waste it, would you? Don’t waste it! We all have to die. That’s Life at Work!

Monday, October 25, 2004

Ruler of the Land and Sea

“Then the angel I had seen standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven. And he swore by him who lives for ever and ever, who created the heavens and all that is in them, the earth and all that is in it, and the sea and all that is in it, and said, ‘There will be no more delay!’” (Revelation 10:5-6)

The image of God’s angel standing with one foot on the land and one foot on the sea was a vivid reminder for God’s people that Rome did not rule the world, God did. The perception that people can “rule the world” by their might or wealth existed before the rise of the Roman Empire, and exits even since its fall. Sir Walter Raleigh wrote in “A Discourse of the Invention of Ships, Anchors, Compass, &c.,” “Whosoever commands the sea commands the trade; whosoever commands the trade of the world commands the riches of the world, and consequently the world itself.” That’s just wrong. Wealth doesn’t determine rule. The one who created wealth created everything, and it is by the nature of creation that he rules the world.

The Revelation of John reminds us that the creator of the land and sea – and everything in them – is active in the world even now, and will cause this heaven and earth to pass away. Rome would not submit voluntarily to the rule of God in its day. That was a problem. It’s a problem now for you, too, if you don’t voluntarily submit. It’s true that no one wants to submit to a cruel dictatorship. Jesus is so loving, so merciful, and so willing to bear your burdens, though. Give the right to rule your life to the one who created you and cares for you. Eternal life will be your inheritance. He rules in heaven, too, after all. That’s Life at Work!

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Keep the Good Going (Part One in a Series from Acts 4)

"What are we going to do with these men?" they asked. "Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it. But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn these men to speak no longer to anyone in this name." Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.”

“You’ve got to be kidding!” That’s how I think I would have responded if Luke were actually sitting in my living room telling me what he wrote for us in Acts 4. “They know they can’t deny the miracle, but they still are desperate to stop them from talking about Jesus?” How can they justify that? Why are they trying to stop something that is obviously good? Peter and John did a nice thing, showing tremendous power, for a crippled man!”

Why would people try to stop something this good from happening? One reason, in this case, is that they had a bogus belief to which they were committed. That’s true, at least for the Sadducees. “There hasn’t been a resurrection; there isn’t a resurrection; there never will be a resurrection. Do all the miracles you want, you can’t convince me that someone can raise from the dead.” It was their rejection of any teaching based on the idea of resurrection or including the promise of a resurrection that motivated them to threaten Peter and John.

In our churches, people with bogus beliefs sometimes try to stop good from happening because of conviction to those beliefs. Sometimes the evidence against their belief is as plain as the healing of a crippled man, but not usually. They believe they’ve got a good argument to make, but will deny the possibility of other positions that might have good argument, too. “I just can’t see how it can be any other way,” someone might say.

Before you diligently labor to stop some good that someone is trying to do; before you threaten anyone with anything – ask yourself this question: “Do a significant number of others with whom I usually agree (for instance the people with whom you assemble) believe something differently about this issue?” If you answer that question affirmatively, you would do well, for yourself and for others, to recognize that there other legitimate possibilities. You may not see them, but others may. You have right, and perhaps an obligation, to teach and persuade people to believe what you believe with an attitude of love. You have no right, however, to expect that because you can’t see the possibility of something being true, others who disagree must conform to your dogmatism – especially if a significant number of others with whom you regularly agree, disagree with you in regard to this issue.

Truth is not determined by the number of people who believe a thing, but if a number of people with whom you regularly agree don’t believe what you believe, it might just be your conviction that needs adjusting.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004


An amateur is good, just not good enough to be paid yet. One of these days she’ll be good enough to be paid, and she will be a professional. We are right to use the word “amateur” in that way. Current usage dictates meaning. Maybe we can understand the positive side of “amateur” when we consider the Latin word that is root to our English word. Amator means “lover.” An amateur loves his past-time, role, hobby, or sport so much that he doesn’t need pay to play.

Amateur husbands, preachers, parents, deacons, wives, elders, Bible school teachers, friends, servants, administrators, assistants, and leaders sound pretty good in that context, don’t they? I can’t think of any of those “jobs” in which I haven’t known a number of people who have and will do them without pay because they love them.

What about you? You fill some of those roles. Do you allow your love for people to fill you up so that the “jobs” you do for them, you would do as an amateur – as if there were no payoff? Do your kids know that you are an amateur by the way you handle your role as a parent? Can the people that you do “nice” things for know that they are dealing with an amateur, or would they think they are dealing with a professional with some obligation to be nice? From this perspective, an amateur’s skill will likely excel that of the professional. Join the amateur ranks. That’s Life at Work!

Monday, October 18, 2004

Two Ears

“You never learn anything while you are telling the other person off,” says Robert Cook. One of Stephen Covey’s best chapters in The Seven Habits is, “Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood.” I don’t know who the wise man was that said, “Maybe the reason God gave us two ears and one mouth was so that we would listen twice as much as we talk.” Jesus spoke about discerning listening often with the phrase, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Have you used your ears much today? Did you listen to your spouse this morning? Did you really hear what your kids had to say? What has your co-worker, or boss, or employee said today that you didn’t really pay much attention to? What did God mean in that passage that you read allowed or heard from the audio Bible as you drove today? Did you misunderstand someone? We’re you already thinking about your response before you heard their heart? Did they even really get a chance to express themselves or were you in such a hurry, or being so impatient, that you settled the issue with your mouth before you understood it with your ears?

All of these are questions that we should review regularly. Why? Because plenty of wise people, including the most wise, have said that we need to hear the people around us. Why? Because you may be answering questions that no one is asking and leaving unanswered the inquiries that really matter to the people you love and need. Why? Because your Creator did you give one mouth and two years. What’s your ratio of talking to listening today? That’s Life at Work!

Thursday, October 14, 2004

I've Seen A Good Man Sin

We don’t always do what we intend to do. In their vile hit “What It’s Like” Everlast sings about a beggar who never pictured himself begging; and a young girl considering an abortion who never dreamed that the man she’d been dreamin’ of would have dumped her when she got pregnant. They offer this rhyme that describes what all of us would likely admit we’ve seen with our own eyes and heard with our own ears:

I've seen a rich beg
I've seen a good man sin
I've seen a tough man cry

I've seen a loser win
And a sad man grin
I heard an honest man lie

Can you be a good man and sin? Can you be an honest woman and lie? Yes, you can. If that doesn’t describe you, it describes someone you know. Christians have a mindset for doing the things the Spirit desires, but we have bodies that wage a war against our wills. And sometimes, our bodies win a battle.
Thank God that he looks at my “want tos” instead of my win/loss ratio. There is no condemnation, Paul says, for the person of faith – the person who because of their trust in Jesus has decided to live for him.
Don’t beat yourself up because your decision hasn’t led to sinlessness. Don’t beat anybody else up because they don’t have it all right either. There’s no doubt that you will see some growth in your walk with Christ, but you will always see sin in your life, too. And there will always be sin there that you don’t see. The ultimate difference isn’t that you’ve got it right. The ultimate difference, the difference that brings “no condemnation,” is that the Spirit inside you keeps you spiritually alive despite your acts that used to lead to death. The difference in you isn’t you; it’s the Holy Spirit. Give God the glory. That’s Life at Work!

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

My First Ad

I saw one today. Maybe they’ve been around for a while, but I saw my first one today. It was an advertisement on TV prompting me to vote for a lottery in Oklahoma. I’m not sure who funded it, but I know various pro-lottery groups want my vote. If the lottery comes to Oklahoma, I’ll see a lot more ads. Millions of dollars will be spent by my state government to entice you and me to hustle down to the local ticket retailer to purchase as many tickets as we can afford. Millions of dollars will be spent by the government to get you and me to do that. I want the government of this state to do some things to make marriages last longer. Oklahoma does. I want my state government to promote charitable giving, and it does. I want my state government to advance the cause of justice. Oklahoma does. Now, some want the state of Oklahoma to entice me to spend my family’s money in a game it hopes I lose. They want to keep more money than they give. Now, some in state of Oklahoma wants me to stand in line next to my neighbor, whom Christ calls me to “love as myself;” watch him spend his hard earned money on a game of chance, and hope that he loses that money so that I can win. If the lottery comes to Oklahoma, the state government will spend millions of dollars trying to get me to play this game. That isn’t right. That’s Life at Work!

Monday, October 11, 2004

How Impressed Are You?

Cripple him, and you have a Sir Walter Scott.
Lock him in a prison cell, and you have a John Bunyan.
Bury him in the snows of Valley Forge and you have a George Washington.
Raise him in abject poverty, and you have a George Washington.
Subject him to bitter religious prejudice and you have a Disraeli.
Afflict him with Asthma as a child, and you have a Theodore Roosevelt.
Stab him with rheumatic pains until he can’t sleep without an opiate, and you have a Steinmetz.
Put him in a grease pit of a locomotive roundhouse, and you have a Walter P. Chrysler.
Make him play second fiddle in an obscure South American orchestra and you have a Toscanini.
At birth, deny here the ability to see, hear, and speak, and you have a Helen Keller.
-- Abigail Van Buren

Greatness despite adversity – some would say, “because of adversity.” That’s Life at Work. But I noticed something about the folks on this list from “Dear Abby.” To know some of them, you need to have come from a particular generation or be interested in a particular field. Try this one from me, and countless others:

“Kill him on a cross then raise him from the dead, and you have a Jesus of Nazareth.”

You also have the Savior of the world – your Savior. He is the greatest man who ever lived among us. He is known by every generation since his time among us; and he is important to every individual regardless of any field of interest. Does your life express how impressed you are with his story? That’s Life at Work!

Thursday, October 07, 2004

B-E-A Utiful

“… A man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful.” He was hoping to find some beautiful hearts who would prompt some beautiful hands to dig deep in some beautiful pockets and bring out some beautiful coins to place in his crippled hand. It was three o’clock – time for the closing prayer. God’s people would be passing by. I wonder if he said, “I hope they are feeling beautiful today.”

The gate to the temple area that he chose was made of Corinthian brass. It was more costly than other gates that were made with gold and silver. This gate was incredibly heavy; so heavy that twenty men were called on to open and close it. Maybe to the perfect people, the man was out of place; his physical condition might have caused them to turn their heads. He couldn’t even serve as a doorman. But they probably anticipated his presence. This day at the gate called Beautiful was likely not his first. It would be his best!

Peter reach down toward the man with a hand empty of gold and silver, but full of love and the power of God. That was beautiful! The ankles and feet of the crippled man became instantly strong. That was beautiful! With a heart full of joy, the man walked and jumped throughout the temple area, praising God. That was beautiful! Peter and John used the interest of the observers who came running to see the formerly crippled man to tell the story of Jesus. That was beautiful! The murders of Jesus learned that their sins could be blotted out and that they could know about the times of refreshing from the Lord. That was beautiful!

Ultimately, Beautiful was just another gate. The entrance was just another entrance. But beautiful things happened that day that we are still reading about today. And the beauty continues because the love and power of God are still evident; the weak are still made strong; people impacted are still jumping and praising; the story is still being told; and times of refreshing are still here. See the beauty. Be the beauty.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004


Rod Serling spent his life trying to communicate messages. Some of you may know that he did more than just the Twilight Zone gig. He said one occasion, “It is truly difficult to produce a television documentary that is both incisive and probing when every twelve minutes one is interrupted by those dancing rabbits singing about toilet paper.”

I bet Jesus understands his frustration. You talk about someone trying to communicate a message – we call Jesus the Logos, the Word. He has a message! It is a message of love, justice, mercy, service, judgment and faithfulness. After he personified this message among our forefathers, he provided it in writing for future generations, including our generation. I wonder what he thinks about the interruptions.

A wise man wrote a song about a strong, righteous person: “But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.” The courageous man wrote, “In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust….” The individual determined not to sin affirmed, “I have written your word in my heart.” The one who loved to obey proclaimed, “I will not neglect your word.”

How would your life be different if soccer was interrupted by study? Do you think you would benefit if you allowed making money to be interrupted by meditation? How honored do you think God would feel if you stopped hustling to the next appointment, and let him come into your heart to refresh and rebuild you? That’s Life at Work!

Monday, September 27, 2004

Price-paying Devotion

We have a Bible Study group early on Monday mornings. Right now, we are looking at Paul’s second letter to Timothy. That Paul was a devoted man. He was devoted to the people to whom he preached, to the gospel that he preached, and to the God who saved him to preach. He told Timothy that he would endure any suffering, even being treated like a criminal, though he had done nothing wrong, as long as people got to hear the story of Jesus and his resurrection. The gospel is worthy of that kind of devotion.
John Kennedy spoke of that kind of devotion in his inaugural address in January of 1961: “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty.” Liberty is certainly a noble cause, worthy of that kind of devotion, too.
You’ve got other things in your life that, likewise, deserve that kind of devotion. Building a strong marriage, rearing children who are well taught and motivated, and personally growing to a Christ-like maturity all deserve a price-paying, burden-bearing, hardship-enduring fully involved devotion from you.
Our careers, hobbies, homes, and Hummers (or whatever else you drive) get way too much of our time and energy. Be devoted to the really important things. That’s Life at Work!

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Let the Retaliation Stop
A wife screams and scratches at her husband, and the husband belligerently yells back and raises his hand like he would slap her. A teenager shouts, “I hate you! You never let me do anything!” Her mother bursts through the bedroom door and bellows her retort, “My whole day is ruined the minute you walk in that front door!” It happens in the home, on the road, at the work place, in school, on the church pew, in the check-out line, and at the neighborhood meeting. Anywhere that you have potential for conflict there is the potential for someone to return ugliness for ugliness. Responding to harsh words and abuse with more harsh words and abuse is the wrong response.
Martin Luther King tried to drive that point home in Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community. He wrote, “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it…. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.” He was right. You might temporarily subdue the yelling and abuse that others heap by topping what they are doing; but the bitterness will return soon. When the opportunity for retaliation arises, retaliation is likely to take place. Let the retaliation stop with you.
Jesus taught to turn the other cheek and pray for those who harm us. Peter used the Passion story to call us to refuse to return insult for insult. Paul instructed us to let the Lord take whatever vengeance might need to be taken, but we are to live at peace with everyone. He said to overcome evil with good.
Today, and this week, when your spouse or your teenager is harsh, respond with a kind word. When the maniac cuts you off as you are driving home, back off and let him have plenty of room. When someone lies about you to another, tell the truth gently, and don’t return the slander. Do these things because it is the best way to stop the descending spiral. Do these things because it reflects the kind of person you are and the Savior that you committed to imitate. That's Life at Work!

Thursday, September 02, 2004

The Importance of Group

"Church" is the English word in religious context translated from a Greek word with a more general meaning. "Ecclesia," refers to an assembly - a group of people. Twice in Acts 2, Luke says that as people accepted the message, were baptized and were saved, they were "added to their number" by the Lord. "Ecclesia" is not found in Acts 2, though the idea of a group is obvious. We will find ecclesia and its English religious equivalent "church" for the first time in Acts in chapter 5.
From the beginning of the assembly of the saved, God intended that "group" should be a significant part of the Christians life. Our use of the accepted English words has played a part in our failure to understand the importance of group. For us, the assembly is the Sunday morning gathering. For us, the church is the building where we assemble.
These Christians were numbered together, as opposed to being numbered with the rejecters of the word, the unbaptized and the unsaved. These Christians who were numbered together experienced things together. They met, ate, learned, saw miracles occur, praised, grew, and gave their possessions together. Together, they enjoyed the favor of all the people. These Christians were afraid together, raised their voices in courage and thanks together, prayed together, were filled with the Spirit and spoke the Word boldly together.
Next year, Alcoholics Anonymous will celebrate 70 years of helping alcoholics stay sober. Their strength, above everything else that may be taught and emphasized, is their group. The greatest benefit of joining Alcoholics Anonymous is that the alcoholic becomes a part of a group whose purpose is to keep its members away from alcohol and its destructive consequences.
Research indicates that individual education and personal growth through individualized counseling may help an alcoholic stay away from his poison, but its not likely. For a real chance, you’ve got to have a group whose sole purpose is to help you quit drinking.
The church, the assembly, the group of the saved has a soul purpose. From the beginning of the group God has said, "This is not an ‘alone’ thing." You’ve been added to the number.

Thursday, August 26, 2004


They wanted him to give up his prize! After Hamm won the all-around competition in men’s gymnastics, a scoring error was found that would have given a South Korean gymnast the points needed for the gold. One editor I read implied that Hamm would be a goat if he didn’t offer to give up the gold medal.
All that fuss is about a “prize that won’t last.” We train for a “prize that will last forever.” Would you give that prize up? Paul thought he could give it up, in a sense. He knew how important self-control was in his training to get the prize. If he treated his training like it had no purpose, or if he lost control of himself, he knew he could become disqualified for the prize.
In another context, Paul spoke of his love for his countrymen. He knew that many of them were lost in their unbelief. He wrote regarding his love for them that he could wish that he was cut off from Christ for their sakes. For those Gentiles who thought that Paul had abandoned the Jews to preach to Gentiles, his words of sustained love had to be convincing.
The truth is, you can give up your award. You can disqualify yourself from your eternal prize by neglecting your training and turning from your decision to control yourself in holy ways. Don’t do that! Another truth is that you can’t give up your prize so that another can have it. Paul knew that forfeiture was not the way to bring his loved ones to faith. He understood that his own faith was one of his greatest tools in his efforts to bring them to Christ. Those things are true for you, too. Keep your prize! That’s Life at Work!

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

What Does this Mean?

They had heard that the Holy Spirit was going to come. They knew that they were supposed to wait in Jerusalem until it happened. He did come! “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” The reaction of those watching isn’t surprising to us. It’s the same reaction we would have had. We might have asked, “What’s going on here?” They asked, “What does this mean?”
The gift, the prophecy, and the promise shout out the same answer! The gift was the ability to speak on languages never learned. The prophecy was that God would pour out his Spirit on all people. The promise was, and is, that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
God wants you to hear his message in your own language so that you can understand it and respond to him indescribable gift. God will give you, regardless of race, color, former religion, gender, national origin, or disability his Spirit. God will save you, regardless of who you are, when you call on his name.
He is the God of Equal Opportunity under His Grace. That’s Life at Work!

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

How Does Your Garden Grow?
     How does your garden grow?  Do you remember that question for Mary the Contrary?  If you asked Paul that question around 64 A.D.  he would have said just what he told the Colossian Christians, “All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God's grace in all its truth” (Colossians 1:6-7).
     Paul’s concern was not with tomatoes and watermelons.  He was concerned with people and their lives now and forever.  The people in Colossae heard the good news about Jesus and understood God’s amazing grace.  That good news, the seed of kingdom as Jesus called it, took root in their hearts, and grew.  It grew because as each believer of the good news submitted to a burial in Christ (baptism; cf. 2:12), one more individual was made complete in Jesus.  It also grew because the gospel blooms inside a person.  The response of the heart that has understood God’s grace is filled with stability, love, and gratitude.
     That good news should be heard by your ears regularly.  Your heart should be constantly exposed to the seed that brings eternal life? Are you cultivating that garden that really matters?  That’s Life at Work!

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

It Can’t Be Done?

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done,
But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So be buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

{Edgar A. Guest, “It Couldn’t Be Done,” stanza 1, Collected Verse of Edgar A. Guest, (1934).}

What do you say can’t be done? “My marriage can’t get better?” “I can’t break my addiction.” “I can’t teach my neighbor.” “My church can’t grow.” “I can’t do what I know I’m supposed to do.” “I can’t love him.” “I can’t make her behave.” “I can’t forgive them.” I can’t pay off my debt.” I can’t find peace.”
Would you be willing to try again? Before you say, “I can’t try again,” let me remind you of some powerful words:

I can do everything through him who gives me strength – (Phil 4:13)

Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God – (2 Cor 3:4-5)

Confess your weakness to God. Praise him for his strength. Pray. Then try it again – and if you know it is God’s will, try it again. Your marriage can get better. You can break the addiction. God does want you to teach your neighbor, and he wants your church to grow. You can do what God desires. You can love, even your enemies. You can be a good parent. You can forgive. You can become a liberal giver. You can find peace.
You can because all of these are things that God has revealed he wants from you. He wants you to remember, though, that it’s not your power but his through which these godly things are accomplished. He also wants others to know that what they see in you is strength from Christ.
As Paul closed out the first half of his letter to the Ephesians, he spoke about his sufferings. He knows that these were the result of trying to convince a bunch of idol worshipers that there is one God who created everything; and trying to convince a bunch of Jewish isolationists that God is now saving those idolaters. He was trying to demonstrate that these two groups from opposite poles were now “one new man” in Christ Jesus. To top it off, Paul knew that he personally was not up to the task. After all, in his own words he was, “less than the least of all God’s people.” Yet, he said, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” (Eph 3:20-21).

“It can’t be done,” we say. That’s garbage! He can do it! Will you try again?

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

So Little Done

Englishman Cecil John Rhodes immigrated to South Africa for health reasons and made a fortune from gold and diamond mining. He also became prime minister of the Cape Colony in 1890 and expanded Britain's territories. Under his will, part of his fortune was used to endow the Rhodes scholarships. He died from heart disease at low ebb in his fortunes. Lewis Mitchell, who was at his bedside while he was dying, heard him murmur, "So little done, so much to do." Whether a statesman or a beggar; whether, a South African or American. Whether you don't have enough to pay the electric bill or have enough to fund a scholarship; as far as this life is concerned we can all die with much to do and little done. Christians can say instead, "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain. I will depart to be with Jesus." To have accomplished anything that will last forever -- that will bring a peace of mind to a dying body -- you've got to have become a child of God. What do you need to do today?
Running When the Phone Rings

Edgar Degas was a French painter and sculptor who would be unknown to me unless I had appreciated an anecdote attributed to him that illustrates how unimportant things can gain control of our lives. Degas has a friend named Jean-Louis Forain who was a bit more progressive than Degas. Forain had recently installed a telephone, a new invention at the time, and he wanted to show it off. He invited Degas over for a meal, and then arranged for someone to call him during the meal. The phone rang, Forain rushed to answer it, then returned, beaming with pride. Degas was less amazed with the phone and more amazed with Forain's response to its ring. He observed critically, "That's the telephone? It rings and you run." Neither you nor I are likely to answer this question honestly at first, but meditate on this: "What trivial things have such impact on your life that you run to them, even ignoring your spiritual health, whenever they call?" Look at the frivolous things that waste your time. Let's all work on answering Christ's call to holiness faster than we answer the phone. Live for Jesus and rush to those things that will enrich His relationship with you and your family.

Friday, May 21, 2004

What's That Smoke?

William Tecumseh Sherman was a US General whose march to the sea in 1864 from Atlanta to Savannah were crucial to the success of the Union forces in the Civil War. During one of his engagements, Sherman was having difficulty breaking through the enemy front. He decided to send General Cox's division to attack the opposing left. Sherman positioned himself on a high hill to watch the operations and gave Cox his final orders for the circuitous march: "See here, Cox, burn a few barns occasionally as you go along. I can't understand those signal flags, but I know what smoke means." He knew what smoke means. I guess that Sherman had seen enough burning in war to know that smoke meant that his men were successfully destroying the enemy.
You and I have been around a little. We've witnessed some things in this life that enable us to identify what is going on. We need to be sure, though, that we let the smoke register with us. Here are some examples of smoke that means trouble.
Drinking is trouble. Robert Elliot reported that alcohol is used by a majority of the adult population and creates more problems than all other drugs combined. Broken marriages, brawls, neglected children, crashes on the roads, misspent money, uncontrolled passions all from alcohol. Everybody sees these things yet many still lift a beer to their lips and ask, "What is all that smoke?"
Gambling is trouble. Maybe some of us have seen this smoke a little more than others. I moved here from Mississippi. I still have many friends there, some of whom live along the Mississippi River and on the gulf coast. Gambling boats now line the shores at Vicksburg and Gulf Port. Families are broken and broke. Children are left in gambling boat day cares while their parents cash paychecks next to the roulette tables. The suicide rate is climbing because husbands can't face their wives or their creditors. Crime is on the increase. Don't forget what Jesus said in Matthew 6, "You can't serve God and money." He said later through Paul's pen, "People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs." Yet some in Tennessee would cast a vote for legalized gambling asking, "What is all that smoke?"
Bad companions are trouble. 1 Corinthians 15:33 warns, "Evil companions corrupt good morals." You see some kid trying to buy cigarette paper from the convenience store. You find out that a young person at your kid's school was caught vandalizing public property. That turns out to be the same kid. Then that kid comes to your house on Friday night, he opens the car door and a beer can falls to the street. He takes a long look at your daughter and says, "You ready to go?" You clear your eyes from the smoke, then say, "Have a good time, Sweetheart." "What is all that smoke," you ask. You know what it is. Stay clear.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Down and Out

Hall of Fame football star Bronko Nagurski was involved in some horseplay with a teammate that ended with Bronko falling out of a second story window. As he lay on the ground, okay but stunned, a policeman pushed through the crowd.
“What happened?” the office inquired.
Bronko responded, “I don’t know, I just got here myself.”
Sometimes when we are flat on our backs, we don’t know how we got in such horrible position. It was gradual, perhaps, and all we know is that we can’t get back on our feet alone. Other times, we know what happened. We are aware of the foolish choices, perhaps sinful choices that brought about our downfall. Still other times, we know exactly what happened and couldn’t prevent it though we tried. During his ministry, Jesus ran across the lonely like the woman Samaria, the sinful like the woman in John 8, and the sick whose stories are told throughout the gospels. Regardless of why they were “down and out,” Jesus was always willing and able to lift them up! We should be like that! That’s Life at Work!

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

In January I was given a ticket for running a stop sign as I came off a turnpike near our home. I went to court instead of mailing in the fine so that I could justify my action. Didn’t work.
When we think of justification, we tend to think of it in terms of actions, not people. If work is not done, we give our excuse. If I’ve mistreated you, I tell you why. If you’re late, you explain what detained you. The excuses, the “whys,” and the explanations are attempts to justify something done. Justification, as we seek it, is not a proclamation of innocence; it is acceptance that there was good reason to have made the mistake.
But when Paul wrote, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…” he was not talking about reasonable excuses for having done wrong. When Paul used the word “justified” or something like it fifteen times in Romans, he was not indicating that God understands why we’ve sinned, and has accepted our explanation. Paul means that God has made us as though we had not done the wrong thing. Instead of seeing us as wrong, but excused; he forgives and credits us with righteousness. In God’s estimation, those who have faith in Christ, have no sin.
Since the faithful have no sin, they are not under the wrath of God. Since we have no sin, we will not be paid “death,” which sin earns. Since we have no sin, we have peace with God and there is no condemnation for us.
My fine for running the stop sign was eighty dollars. I know now that there is a stop sign there and that even if the light is green, I’ve got to stop. Good lesson learned. I was really irritated, though, that I had pay.
My wage for my sin is death (Romans 6:23). I’ve learned that my justification calls me to a life lived with a mindset on things of the Spirit. Good lesson learned. To have paid the fine for my sin would not have simply been irritating. It would have been devastating … for all eternity. Thanks be to God for the gift of righteousness.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Power of Anticipation

Anticipation really brings some spice to life, doesn’t it? Authors are aware of the selling power of anticipation. Do J. K. Rowling (Harry Potter) and Tim LaHaye (Left Behind) understand the importance of anticipation? Many of the works of Charles Dickens were first published in serial form. Part would be printed and sent out to sellers, and then readers would have to wait for the next section. One of his novels published in this manner was The Old Curiosity Shop. It was published in 1841 and was widely read in both Britain and the United States. Little Nell was the heroine of the story, and interest in the outcome was intense. In New York, six thousand people crowded the wharf at which the ship carrying the final installment was due to dock. As it came close, the crowd’s anticipation grew so that they cried out to the sailors, “Does Little Nell Die?”
The story of redemption is published in installments spread throughout the existence of mankind. From the story of a perfect creation, through the account of the fall, the flood, the faith of Abraham, the history of his sons and grandsons, the promises and mercy of God seen in the Exodus, the giving of the law, the gift of Canaan, the preaching of the prophets, the coming of God, the death and resurrection, and the preaching of the gospel, right up to the present time, the story of God’s love is written.
Anticipation has always been a part of the story. Peter wrote about those who told the story in the beginning. In regard to the salvation of our souls, he wrote:

Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things. (1 Peter 1:10-12)

Now, we wait in anticipation. Our situation is a little different from those six thousand who waited on the dock for Dicken’s book. Instead of knowing the arrival time and being ignorant of how the story ends; we know how the story ends, yet are ignorant of the arrival time.
A young man had been baptized into Christ and in his great zeal to be Christ’s disciple promised the preacher he would read as much of the Bible as he could every week. After the first week, the preacher asked, “What did you read?”
The young man smiled and said “I read Revelation!”
“Oh, no” the preacher thought to himself. “What kind of strange questions am I going to have to answer now?” Preparing for the worst, he asked the new Christian, “What did you think?”
The man responded, “We win! We win!”
The end of the story is that God and his people are victorious over Satan, sin, and death. That’s not going to change. Though the final enemy is not yet defeated and the final battle not yet won, the end is published as fact. We Win!
We don’t know, though, when the end will be. We can’t go to the dock and wait for the coming of Christ. He may come today, he might not. He may come in the year 2004, he may not. He may come while we are alive, he may not. We must simply always be ready, anticipating his coming and our salvation. You know the end, are you ready for it?

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Bearing Burdens

I got to spend last Friday and Friday night at the Teen Retreat. Dana divided the group into smaller groups of three, gave each group a burlap sack and told them to go find something heavy and put it in the sack. When they returned, they learned that someone in the group had to bear the burden (at meals, sleeping, bathing, playing, etc.). The groups figured out that they could share the burden among themselves, and most made a plan for who would bear the burden at a particular time.
Saturday morning, I was walking toward our van to put my stuff in it, when I saw one of the young ladies in our group bearing her burden. Her group had picked out what was at least the most awkward to carry burden if not the heaviest. This young lady was carrying a burlap sack weighted with a stump and a six-foot wooden fence post. Dana was walking by her the moment I spotted her, and he said, “Want some help?”
“Nope!” she quickly responded.
Dana’s lesson plan hit me instantly. I don’t know whether the young lady was embarrassed to allow someone to help her, or if she was determined to “do her duty” by carrying her burden, or if she thought at the moment that it wouldn’t be fair if someone else had to carry her burden. She declined the help that was genuinely offered.
After I loaded my stuff, I turned toward the kitchen for the great breakfast to come. The young lady was struggling more by now. She had reached the edge of the wooden swing bridge that is the hallmark of Lariat Creek. She looked pretty worried – and pretty tired.
I asked the same question Dana asked, “Want some help?”
Now her embarrassment was smaller than her burden. Now her sense of duty was outweighed by the burden in her bag. Now she wondered whether fairness was really all that urgent of an issue.
“Yeah,” she said.
She handed me her burden that I had the energy to carry. We walked across the bridge together, talking. When we got across the bridge, she said, “I can carry it now. I just needed some help getting across the bridge.”
I said, “OK. Are you sure?”
“Yes,” she responded. As I walked on ahead to the kitchen, she said, “Thanks.”


1. Some things are loads, others are burdens – you tell the difference by the weight of them on your heart.
2. Burdens are meant to be shared in the Christian Community. When someone is willing (and someone always is) share yours.
3. When you carry someone’s burden, usually you’ll carry it just long enough to get them over a hard spot. Don’t be afraid to offer help.
4. Jesus bore the heaviest of all burdens for us. Don’t turn down his offer to take your sins away.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Disarmed By Jesus

On Monday, August 9, 1993, a 31-year-old woman, Sopehia Mardress White, burst into the hospital nursery at USA Medical Center in Los Angeles, wielding a .38-caliber handgun. She had come gunning for Elizabeth Staten, a nurse whom she accused of stealing her husband. White fired six shots, hitting Staten in the wrist and stomach.
Staten fled, and White chased her into the emergency room, firing once more. There, with blood on her clothes and a hot pistol in her hand, the attacker was met by another nurse, Joan Black, who did the unthinkable. Black walked calmly to the gun-toting woman-and hugged her – and spoke comforting words to her.
The assailant said she didn't have anything to live for, that Staten had stolen her family.
"You're in pain," Black said. "I'm sorry, but everybody has pain in their life.... I understand, and we can work it out."
As they talked, the hospital invader kept her finger on the trigger. Once she began to lift the gun as though she would shoot herself. Nurse Black just pushed her arm down and continued to hold her. At last Sopehia White gave the gun to the nurse. She was disarmed by a hug, by understanding, by compassion.
Black later told an AP reporter, "I saw a sick person and had to take care of her."
Jesus stood outside the city of Jerusalem and sighing, said, “"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” He has urged us, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
Jesus sees in us what Nurse Black saw in Mrs. White. We are individuals who need help, wise yet comforting words, and a warm embrace. Paul wrote that the love of Christ compelled him. The embrace of the love of Christ compels us, too. It squeezes the pride out of our hearts, it makes us aware of our need for salvation, it prompts us to die to ourselves in humility, it urges us to follow him. . . it disarms us!
Jesus is calling to you through his word, the New Testament. He knows your heart, even better than you. He knows of your life lived in vain, even if you don’t. He knows of your potential for life abundant and life eternal. He knows and he cares. He cares so much, that he died so that it would be available to you. He cares so much that he died so that you be shocked into caring, too.
The sad truth is that Nurse Black could have been wrong in her assessment of what to do about Sopehia White. White could have seen her coming, heard her words, felt her warmth, and then blown her away. It would have been something like yelling, “Crucify him. Crucify him.” But that kind of reaction to that kind of compassion is not unheard of, is it?
How have you respond to the loving call of Christ? Bring your burdens, beginning with your burden of sin, to him. He can handle it. He has asked for it. He wants you know accept his help, heed his wise yet comforting words, and feel his warm embrace.
What Shall I Do With Jesus?

What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?” That is the question of Pilate recorded in Matthew 27:22. It is a question for all of us to answer today.
What will you do with Jesus who is called the Christ? Some of you will ignore him. You’ve no doubt heard of Jesus. You probably know some things about him. Because of your busy life, however, you’ve never taken the time to know him.
Some of you think he’s a pretty interesting historical character like George Washington or Napoleon, but that’s about it. You like what he says about judging others but you wouldn’t turn the other cheek for him.
Some of you reject him. You’ve read the evidence, maybe had it preached at you, but you don’t believe it; or you’ve responded to it like you don’t believe it. You don’t see anything in him to cause you to change your life or respond in faithful obedience. He is not the Christ for you.
Others of you have convinced yourselves and others that you are his disciple, his follower, but you know your secrets and your heart. If it really came down to him or you, you would yell “Crucify him.”
There is a right answer. That answer is complete submission to Jesus of Nazareth, as both Lord and Christ. What will you do with Jesus?
“What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?”

Thursday, February 12, 2004

I watched Matt Lauer interview Sergei Ivanov, minister of defense, in Russia. The interview discussed things like U.S. presence around Russia and differences regarding the War in Iraq. With a sincere smile on his face, Ivanov said at the end of the interview, “We won’t get back to the situation of the Cold War. Never. I believe that.” Peace is a good thing.
Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” Here are some things I believe I can assure you in regard to the peace Jesus wants you to have: God wants your home to be a home filled with peace. God wants you to have peace in your heart in concerning your relationship with him. God wants your relationships with your friends, extended family, church family, and neighbors to be characterized by peace that comes though Jesus himself.
Even if you’ve been in a cold war for years, you can get to a point where you will say, “We won’t go back. Never. I believe that.” Peace is a good thing. God can help you find that peace. That’s Life at Work!

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Where do you find a dog with no legs? Right where you left him!
Paul told Timothy to “fan into flame” the gift of God that had been given to him. You’ve got a gift from God, too. You possess something - some quality, some talent, some vision, that God has given you to use for his glory. If fear keeps you from using it, or anything else restrains you, God will find you as a small flicker rather than a flame. He wants you to fan into flame what he has given you to use. Remember that God did not give a spirit of timidity. God has given you a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Tim 1:7; NIV).
If you allow fear, misplaced priorities, indifference, or laziness to keep you from fanning the flame, God will find you right where he left you. If you fan into flame the gift God gave, he will find you blowing and going, bringing glory to him, and on that road that leads to life. That’s Life at Work!

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

In A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, William Law wrote, “One man succeeds in everything, and so loses all; another meets with nothing but crosses and disappointments, and thereby gains more than all the world is worth.” We need to hear that message, that commentary on the words of Jesus, over and over again. Hearing them and believing them will help us deal with the frustrations, disappointments, and feelings that injustices reign in the present. It will also help us plan and prioritize our futures in a way that will lead us to long-term triumph rather than short-term satisfaction. Is your idea of safety and security in this world enough like Peter’s that Jesus would say to you, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” That’s Life at Work!

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Aaron Weaver died last Thursday. He, along with eight others, perished when their helicopter was shot down in Iraq. He was supposed to come home next month. Aaron was a hero. Having recently battled cancer, the Army was not going to send him to Iraq. It wasn’t that he wasn’t important to the battle; in fact, Aaron’s heroic actions in Mogadishu, Somalia, won him the Bronze Star in 1994 for "extreme courage." He was even mentioned in the best-selling book Black Hawk Down about that an attack on American soldiers in Somalia and the rescue that followed. He convinced the Army that he was well enough to go, according to the New York Times.
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Christian warfare is ongoing daily sacrifice. We must answer the call every day! Are there experiences of the past or circumstances in the present that have taken you out of the battle and stolen your faith to get in the fight? I’m so glad that America has men like Aaron Weaver who know the value of staying in the fight for freedom. We should be that dedicated to the true freedom offered by the Son of God. Don’t let them keep you out of the battle for your soul! That’s Life at Work!