Thursday, September 20, 2018

Figuring Out What's Important

Thursday, September 20, 2018

O God, I beg two favors from you; let me have them before I die.  First, help me never to tell a lie.  Second, give me neither poverty nor riches!  Give me just enough to satisfy my needs.  For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?”  And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name.  Proverbs 30:7-9(NLT)

Proverbs is my go-back-to-place when it comes to measuring my life’s progress and resetting the compass.  In the process of setting (or re-setting) the moral compass these three verses are huge. 
The writer begins with a prayer for God’s help.  When you need to press the re-set button, it pays to do it right.  Enlisting God as your accountability partner means going right to the best source – the one Who can be trusted, and who won’t miss anything when it comes to helping you do right.  God also won’t gossip about what He’s heard!
The two requests this proverb-writer begs of God are truth and restraint.  Above all this writer understands the value of telling the truth in all things.  Solomon may have been the writer, or simply the publisher of Proverbs 30, but he would recognize the value of truth.  His father, David, set in motion a world of problems for the whole tribe that followed him with his lack of integrity sinning with Bathsheba, and the coverup that followed.  A lack of truth brings much pain.
In this prayer Solomon asks for the blessing of a life filled with neither too much, nor too little.  Too much leads to arrogance, while too little brings coveting into play; both are painfully tied to greed or necessity and rob the soul of genuine peace. 
This part of the prayer is much like the Lord taught his disciples to pray:

And don’t let us yield to temptation.  Luke 11:4b(NLT)

Resetting the compass means figuring out what’s important and setting our sights on that as true North.
Don’t lie, and don’t steal are two very prominent commandments of God’s original ten.  They ought to figure prominently in resetting the compass for each of us. 
There have been times in my life when, in deep, soul-searching prayer, I have discovered areas of untruth and lack of integrity.  I have had to do some apologizing to people, and some begging, just like this Proverb-writer, for God to come with me to the altar, and to re-set my moral compass to His north.  In times like that I have found what Isaiah found:

I am overwhelmed with joy in the Lord my God! For he has dressed me with the clothing of salvation and draped me in a robe of righteousness. I am like a bridegroom dressed for his wedding or a bride with her jewels.  Isaiah 61:10(NLT)

For You Today
Genuine integrity brings much joy, when there is nothing held back in your relationship with either God or your fellow humans. 
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day.

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[1] Title Image: Photo Courtesy of Pixabay.com

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Bonhoeffer and the Peacock

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

After the Lord has used the king of Assyria to accomplish his purposes on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, he will turn against the king of Assyria and punish him—for he is proud and arrogant.  He boasts, “By my own powerful arm I have done this.  With my own shrewd wisdom I planned it.  I have broken down the defenses of nations and carried off their treasures.  I have knocked down their kings like a bull.  I have robbed their nests of riches and gathered up kingdoms as a farmer gathers eggs.  No one can even flap a wing against me or utter a peep of protest.”  But can the ax boast greater power than the person who uses it?  Is the saw greater than the person who saws?  Can a rod strike unless a hand moves it?  Can a wooden cane walk by itself?  Therefore, the Lord, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, will send a plague among Assyria’s proud troops, and a flaming fire will consume its glory.  Isaiah 10:12-16(NLT)

Assyria’s world domination was a blip on history’s radar; the king just a footnote.  Sennacherib, king of Assyria had been like a peacock, strutting his accomplishments around like an arrogant gasbag!  That didn’t last long; God brought Sennacherib’s so-called power to nothing; actually, less-than-nothing, as God showed him what real power looked like.
In the mid-20th century Adolph Hitler tried using Sennacherib’s playbook, but he fared no better than the Assyrian terrorist.  Germany’s self-aggrandizing dictator bragged that his leadership was going to bring Germany to power over the entire universe.  When all was said and done, the would-be ruler of the world committed suicide rather than being captured to face the trials (and probably execution) that were sure to come.  One thing he did NOT escape was standing before God with the blood of millions on his hands.
In the end it was the humility of a preacher named Bonhoeffer that played a pivotal role in bringing down the despot. 
Notwithstanding the tendency of some preachers to abuse or use politics in the pulpit, a preacher’s call from God includes looking-after the people over which politics rule.  When the politics are coming crossways against the Scripture, and leading the people astray, preachers are supposed to speak up.  In the late 1930’s some German pastors were speaking out, congratulating Germany on having Hitler as their Messiah:
"The time is fulfilled for the German people of Hitler. It is because of Hitler that Christ, God the helper and redeemer, has become effective among us. … Hitler is the way of the Spirit and the will of God for the German people to enter the Church of Christ." So spoke German pastor Hermann Gruner. Another pastor put it more succinctly: "Christ has come to us through Adolph Hitler."[2]
History told the story that a madman of no conscience, a sociopath at best, and a schizophrenic psychopath, or perhaps demon-possessed tool of Satan at worst, was not the Messiah.  Neither was Sennacherib.  Nor is any American president who acts with the same absence of moral compass.
Now, please save the cards, letters, emails, tweets and the like; I make no judgment on the policies of the current administration other than my own personal observation and opinion. 
But what I have tried to say is in direct response to those who have said explicitly, or implicitly that we don’t elect a pastor to the White House; we elect a President.  My response is that you cannot separate morality, conscience and ethical behavior from what a leader must be who leads a nation committed to ethical and moral behavior with good conscience.  To do so makes it permissible for the fox to rule the hen house.
I can say emphatically that this preacher is not without sin; I have apologized to God and my fellow humans more times than I care to remember for my trespasses.  We currently have a leader who has stated publicly he feels no such need to apologize…ever. 
Knowing a little about human nature, that makes me tremble.  And here’s why:

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”  James 4:6(NLT)

If the leader of this nation will never humble himself before human beings, much less God, how can we expect a different result from that of Sennacherib or Hitler?
For You Today
Join me in praying for our leaders; they can use it, whether they know it or not.
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day.

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[1] Title Image: Photo Courtesy of Pixabay.com
[2] Christian History, Issue 32, 1991, Christianity Today

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Elevate Your Game

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand.  Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.  For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.  And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.  So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires.  Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.  Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming.  You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world.  But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language.  Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds.  Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.  In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free.  Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.  Colossians 3:1-11(NLT)

Paul used athletic illustrations to talk to the early church about how to live the Christ-life.  He called it a race, chasing the prize of crowns (as in the Olympic games), and doing training like a prize fighter.  But here, to the Colossian crowd, Paul points to the seminal, most basic disciplines for elevating our game – getting rid of the kind of raw crudeness that so permeates our culture today.
Anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language; my, oh, my, one would think Paul is talking about political campaigns in recent memory…or Hollywood movies!  And, I think, one would be correct.  But don’t be too quick to jump to the conclusion that Paul is missing the mark on every-day, normal, not-so-famous people like us. 
It is said that culture reflects art, and vice-versa.  It’s true; both the behavior of people and the art produced out of that culture inform and influence each other.  Seeing an image of a shooting plants an indelible image on a person’s brain.  Producing “art” that reflects a violent act increases the influence of that image to others.
If “pure” art (painting, video, photo) has power to influence people who view the art, imagine how much influence our actions, which are also an art form, possess to influence people.  It’s like a tornado’s cone – the more the wind and pressure build, the bigger it gets.  The more seedy our behavior, the worse the total effect on those around us. 
This is why Paul encourages us to strip off all the crude, rude, harmful behavior.  We may feel independent and perfectly justified to act, talk, think like we want, but a Christian is never free to exert any influence except Christlikeness, the agape’-love of God.  Elevating our game means passing over the base nature and setting our sights on higher things.  We are to aspire to the honor of Heaven in the way we treat people, talk to people, and lead people with our influence (our actions). 
Granted, this is a lot harder than just acting the way that pleases you most; a whole LOT harder!  But, this is the kind of living which pleases Christ, and builds others up.  The only other choice is to tear down and destroy.
For You Today
That new nature you were given when you gave your heart to Jesus means you’ve said goodbye to the old nature.  But don’t forget this:  that old rude, crude, and destructive nature will still try to come back home and have its influence over you.  So, just like you get ready to meet each day by dressing with physical clothes, elevate your game; keep stripping-off that old nature garment, and putting-on Christ as your new nature garment.
You’ll be best-dressed wherever you go!
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day.

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[1] Title Image: Photo Courtesy of Pixabay.com

Monday, September 17, 2018

Bitter & Beloved

Monday, September 17, 2018

But as for me, I almost lost my footing.  My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone.  For I envied the proud when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness.  

Then I realized that my heart was bitter, and I was all torn up inside.  I was so foolish and ignorant—I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you.  Yet I still belong to you; you hold my right hand.  You guide me with your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny.  Whom have I in heaven but you?  I desire you more than anything on earth.  My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever.  Psalm 73:2-3, 21-28(NLT)

We have dogs!  That’s something of an understatement.  We have two old castaways who stole our hearts and would love to steal each other’s food.  Dinnertime is a test of ingenuity.  On Elizabeth’s and my part, feeding time means trying to keep the two little philistines from going to war over the last scrap to hit the floor; on their part it is working out the last details of stealth and distraction, so they can get what the other possesses!  Their bitterness and jealousy fade quickly into full bellies and lying next to each other in dreamland (they sleep 18-52 hours a day!).  Being dogs, they don’t hold on to bitterness.
In this Psalm the writer has a dawning/saving moment as he realizes the bitterness envy has created in him.  He realizes his mental stability and his relationship with God and all humanity is at risk because he has allowed the green monster of jealousy to take over. 
And in the next thought he marvels that, despite his wicked and envious, jealousy, despising others, God still loves him and even holds him close, gently guiding him back to the fold. 
In this instant of self-discovery and realization (that he is loved), the Psalmist blurts-out a doxology of praise:  Whom have I in heaven but you?  I desire you more than anything on earth…God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever.
Bitterness is a strange and repugnant quality; yet it is a condition that infects much of the human family.  Envy is a kissing cousin to bitterness; one follows the other with building blocks of misery.
In Stephen Crane’s poem, In the Desert[2], a rider has a conversation in the sand with a beast:
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter—bitter,” he answered;
“But I like it
“Because it is bitter,
“And because it is my heart.”
Bitterness spawns all kinds of terrorism in strange places – from preschool to the geriatric ward.  It guides the hand on the controls of a 747 crashing into a World Trade Center building or giving the order to annihilate a whole population.  It rests in dark places and never rests at all.  It is, as the Psalmist points out, that which makes its’ host all torn up inside…foolish and ignorant like a senseless animal.
If there is anything that can (and will) turn bitterness away and restore a dark heart, it is the unconditional love of God.  There is just something about being loved which calms and soothes the most ferocious of us, despite our bitterness and anger.
For You Today
It’s a good idea to periodically take some time to root out bitterness before the root of bitterness has a chance to be at home in your soul.
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day.

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[1] Title Image: Photo Courtesy of Pixabay.com
[2] Stephen Crane, In the Desert, 1895, Copeland & Day (courtesy of Wikipedia)