Thursday, January 27, 2005

Cold Water and Good News

“Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a distant land” (Proverbs 25:25). I love that. I live fourteen hours from my parents. Twelve hours from the small town where I grew up. Ten hours from my nearest sibling or from my wife’s siblings. Our family dynamics don’t call for a whole lot of communication with me, the fourth of four children. No animosity, just a lot of independence.

Bad news from my past has no trouble reaching me. I’ve got a good friend who is on his death bed. A couple of churches that I love have had major struggles. A college buddy left his wife. Sometimes I feel like I could say, “Like a desert wind to an already parched soul is bad news from distant land.”

It’s not that I don’t want to know the bad news. How can I pray if I don’t know the difficulties? But I want the good news to travel fast to my ears like the bad news seems to.

So what do I do with Proverbs 25:25 besides acknowledge its truth and remember some recent good news from far way? I’m going to take some time to let someone I love know about some good news that will be important to them. I’ll email some family and let them know about some of the good things happening in my life. I’ll call a friend and surprise him with encouraging news. And maybe I’ll do it often enough that they will actually long for contact from me, like a weary soul longs for cold water.

Dear Son, I know I ain’t written,
But sittin' here tonight, alone in the kitchen, it occurs to me,
I might not have said, so I’ll say it now
Son, you make me proud

I hold it up and show my buddies,
Like we ain’t scared and our boots ain’t muddy, but no one laughs,
'Cause there ain’t nothing funny when a soldier cries
An' I just wipe me eyes
I fold it up an' put it in my shirt,
Pick up my gun an' get back to work
An' it keeps me driving me on,
Waiting on letters from home.

(John Michael Montgomery, “Letters from Home”)

That’s Life at Work!

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Blue Skies on the Inside

John was on his knees peering out the living room window. His mouth was drawn into a frown, his brow was wrinkled with anger, his eyes were dull with disappointment. “This rain is really making me mad! I hate the rain!” he said. “I want to be riding my bike, but now its raining and after a rain like this the grass will be too wet to ride in for the rest of the day. This rain is really making me mad!”

John’s mother was hearing him while she fixed his lunch. “Why don’t you get out your Lincoln logs and build a log house, John.”

“Because I want to ride my bike outside,” John answered. “All this rain is making me mad.”

“The anger is all in your own heart,” John’s mother said. “If there were blue skies on the inside then you wouldn’t be so angered by the rain on the outside.”

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me-put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you”
(Philippians 4:4-9; NIV).

Paul is in prison, yet he is encouraging the arguers, the worriers, the harsh, and the doubters. His reasons for them to be encouraged include the fact that their names are written in the book of life and that the unbelievable peace of God will guard them.

The path to happiness is prayer in the difficult times, thinking on the true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable things, and rejoicing in them. In other words, have blue skies on the inside.

Next time you find yourself with your mouth drawn into a frown, your brow wrinkled with anger, and your eyes dull with disappointment, getting really angry because you are focusing on the outside things, STOP IT! “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -- think about such things.” That’s Life at Work!

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

We're Not Worth! We're not Worthy!

“We’re not worthy. We’re not worthy.” It’s possible that when you think of those lines, you picture Wayne and Garth on their knees in front of Alice Cooper. They were sure that they did not deserve to be in his presence. There are better stories, though. Stories like Isaiah falling to his knees because he is before the throne of God. Then there is the story about the Centurion whose servant was sick. He sent messengers to Jesus with the words, “I am not worthy to have you in my house.” The great man of God, John the Baptist said that he was not worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals. Each of those stories reflects humility. The people in those stories believed that they had reason to be incredibly grateful to be in the presence of their heroes.

As Paul spoke at the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch, the Jews got jealous in their hearts and abusive in their language. Paul told them he had to speak to them first, but because of their rejection of the Word, he was going to turn to the Gentiles. He said, “You don’t consider yourselves worthy of eternal life.” Did they not consider themselves worth saving? Were they having a self-esteem crisis? No, they weren’t. They were not about to expel Paul from town because they had too low a view of themselves. Their actions were not prompted by humility. What does it mean that they did not count themselves worthy of eternal life?

When Jesus was sending out the twelve to the lost sheep of Israel, he told them, “Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town” (Matthew 10:11-15; NIV).

Later, Jesus told a parable about a man who hosted a wedding banquet for his son. He sent out messengers with invitations, but those he invited didn’t come. Some just went on with their own business; others actually killed the messengers. The man killed those who had harmed the messengers, burned their city, and then gave this explanation and command: “The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find” (Matthew 22:8-9; NIV). According to the parable, the banquet was filled to capacity, with good and bad people.

The people who were originally invited didn’t deserve to come. But people good and bad, who were not originally invited, were worthy. Why is that? What made the home worthy for the apostles to stay in on their journey? Worthiness in these contexts is based entirely on willingness to listen to what is said, and willingness to accept the invitation that is offered. Neither those who would not listen, nor those who rejected the invitation were deserving. Understand, it isn’t that their lack of worthiness was discovered by their rejection. It was the rejection that made them unworthy.

Why didn’t the Jews consider themselves worthy of eternal life? It was more pride than humility, I promise. They were unworthy. They were unworthy because they would not believe.

Are you worthy? You are if you’ll listen, follow, and believe. That’s Life at Work?

Thursday, January 13, 2005

What God Promised He Has Fulfilled

As we watched the video in the “Measure of a Man” class on Wednesday night, I considered my character. We listed some ways that we already know we may have harmed our reputation. We are supposed to think about things that we might do to have a better reputation – to be above reproach. I need to be sure that I follow-up on things that I say I’ll do. Sometimes I’ll say I’m going to do something – make a call, check on someone, perform some task, or complete some project – but when there is a glitch, or a slow beginning, I forget about what I was doing and get busy doing something else. The people to whom I said I would do something don’t know why I haven’t done what I said – they just know I haven’t done it. I need to get better at following up. I don’t want to be known as someone who doesn’t do what he says he’ll do.

Paul told the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles who had gathered to hear him, “What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us…” (Acts 13:32-33; NIV). God told Abraham that all the nations of the world would be blessed through his seed. From the time that he made that promise to the time that Paul preached at this synagogue in Pisidian Antioch, God had done a lot of other stuff and a lot of time had passed. God wasn’t lying when he made the promise, though, nor did God let all the other stuff he did cause him to forget the promise he made to Abraham.

God followed up with a loving sacrifice and a powerful resurrection. Because he is so thorough, the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Paul says that is good news. He’s right. That’s Life at Work!

Monday, January 10, 2005

Do You Ever Scoff?

Do you ever scoff? I asked myself that question the other day when I read

“’Look, you scoffers,
wonder and perish,
for I am going to do something in your days
that you would never believe,
even if someone told you.’”
(Acts 13:41;NIV)

I scoff at weather reports. My family loves cold temperatures and snowy days. We used to get excited when the local weather forecasters would tell us snow was likely. Not anymore. I find myself saying, “They don’t know what they’re talking about. They won’t know what it is going to do on Friday until Friday.” I make fun of their confidence, and I laugh cynically when they get their forecasts wrong. It’s a weakness, I know.

Paul said to be sure that we are not the fulfillment of the prophecies that warned against scoffing. Something great has happened – something you wouldn’t believe. Jesus, a descendant of David is the Son of God. He resurrected from the dead because God would not let his body see decay. He is the fulfillment of the blessing that God promised would come to the world through Abraham’s descendants. Paul said Jesus brought forgiveness of sins and the way to be justified before God.

Did you scoff? Did you say, “Jesus wasn’t God’s Son”? Did you wrinkle your nose thinking that it is ridiculous to believe that Jesus resurrected? Do you think that God’s promises are nothing to bank on? Do you doubt that you can be forgiven – or that you need to be?

Don’t scoff. Though it’s too good to believe, it is all true. That’s Life at Work!

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Keeping them from Faith

Elymas was not interested in following the way of faith. That’s not really a surprise, I don’t guess. I thought of a few things that might have turned Elymas off. For instance, he probably knew that the faith that Paul and Silas professed stood in opposition to his false prophecy and trickery. If, in fact, his relationship with Sergius Paulus was his way of lining his pockets, he had to choose between God and money. He wouldn’t have been the first to choose money. Maybe Elymas had some kind of warped idea that despite his false prophecies and his sorcery, he was still a Jew in good standing, and he opposed Paul in defense of the Old Law. Don’t laugh, there were several times in Jewish history that the Israelites had an “I’ll break it, but don’t you knock it” attitude. Maybe Elymas, whose father was named Jesus, had a crummy childhood and swore he would never follow anybody named Jesus again.

There are hundreds of reasons why some choose to avoid the Way. But Elymas didn’t just shun faith himself, he tried to keep Sergius Paulus from faith. The Pharisees tried to keep people from believing in Jesus, too. Jesus told a gathering of the hypocrites, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to” (Matt 23:13; NIV). Similarly, Jesus warned, “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come” (Matt 18:7; NIV)

Some of you have friends who have mentioned an interest in spiritual things, but you’ve deliberately changed the subject. Maybe your adult son told you he was going to take his family to church, and you asked him to go fishing with you on Sunday morning claiming it was the only time you could go. Has your daughter ever asked you to take her to Bible School on Sunday morning and you slept in instead? Have you ever tried to convince a buddy that laughing with the sinners is better than crying with the saints?

Twice Jesus gave a “woe warning” about influencing people away from faith and righteousness. Don’t ignore the warning. He knows people will reject him, but he has special plans for the hellbound who are hellbent on convincing others to go with them. That’s Life at Work.

Monday, January 03, 2005

The Sword and the Sorcerer

Elymas the Sorcerer lived in Paphos on the island of Cyprus. The word “sorcerer” is related to the words used to describe the men from the east who followed the star that led them to Jesus. Elymas’ name means magician, but it is his behavior, not his name, that distinguishes him from wise men. It is his behavior that identifies him as a sorcerer rather than a wiseman.

Elymas was a false prophet. He had gotten in with Sergius Paulus, a leader in Paphos. Most likely, the curiosity of the intelligent proconsul Paulus prompted him to surround himself with magicians of various backgrounds. Elymas falsely represented Yahweh, no doubt telling Paulus exactly what he wanted to hear.

He also tried to turn Paulus from the faith. Paulus, you see, asked to hear what a couple of visitors to Paphos were saying. Those visitors were Paul and Silas. They were spreading the word in Cyprus and had arrived in the city of Paphos. It is not clear in the text of Acts 13 whether Elymas actually tried to keep Paulus away, or if he attempted to discredit the message. It is clear that that the Sword, the Word of God, had power over Elymas, because Paul blinded Elymas, and Paulus believed the teaching about the Lord.

You would never play the role of keeping someone from the word, would you? Do you have people in your family who have asked to learn about Jesus, but you have kept them away or attempted to discredit the message? Have you fought the drive that you have within yourself to pursue knowledge about Christ? You can be closer to the life of a sorcerer than the life of a wiseman even without the name Elymas. It is your behavior that makes the difference. Are you pursuing Jesus? That’s Life at Work.