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.