Thursday, March 31, 2011

When You're Beat


PRINCIPLE: “When you’re beaten, don’t tell the fat lady how to sing.”

“It isn’t over until the fat lady sings.” Those words are usually uttered by someone who’s behind in a game and is hoping for a comeback. But I want to use it in a little different way.

Back in the days I was coaching soccer, I had an interesting experience. I was coaching my oldest sons’ team. We knew our next game was against a good team, and their best player had played for us the previous year. He was not only good, but our guys really liked him. So their talk during practice was all about him – the boys were looking forward to playing him and were taking it as a personal challenge. So I decided that, rather than avoid him during the game, it would be best for us to go straight at him and put our best people on him and against him; put our strength against their strength. If the guys were going to be watching his every move anyway, why not focus on him. Game day rolled around and we beat them; he never scored. Our team had fun. The fat lady was singing. As soon as the game was over I headed to the other coach for the obligatory hand shake. As we shook he said something to the effect of “I don’t know why you focused so much on him and ran everything against him; you should have kept the play away from him so he wouldn’t have as much of a chance to do some damage.”  Now, let me get this straight. You just lost, we just won, he didn’t do any damage but you’re telling me how I should have coached the game. What’s wrong with this picture? Does the losing coach really have the right to tell the winning coach how to coach?  When you’ve just been beaten do you have the credentials to talk about winning strategies? I don’t think so. “When you’re beaten, don’t tell the fat lady how to sing.” You haven’t earned the right. Besides, it won’t do any good.

It makes me think of Moses. God appeared in that burning bush and told Moses the game with Egypt was over and God had won – and it would be up to Moses to follow through. Moses must have missed the part about the game being over. He still wanted to change the strategy. Moses should have known that when God speaks, it’s over. You’re done. He will have His way. But he kept trying to get out of leading (see his excuses in Exodus 3 & 4). He just didn’t like the song God was singing. But Moses didn’t have the right to tell God how to song. Too bad Moses hadn’t heard “When you’re beaten, don’t tell the fat lady how to sing.”

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not condemning Moses. In fact, I love him. I’ve used every one of his excuses, more than once, during my life. I, too, have tried to negotiate with God, to change the strategy after the game was over and the die had been cast. And I do know the when God speaks, it’s over. I’m done. He will have His way. But I try to tell him how to sing anyway. But I don’t have the right to tell God how to sing. For that matter, who does? Isaiah wrote “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘He did not make me?’ Can the pot say of the potter ‘He knows nothing?’” (Is. 29:16) Paul picked up that theme as well (Rom. 9:20-21) “But who are you, o man, to talk back to God? ‘Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?” When God calls, when God commands, when God directs, when God sends we’re beaten. “When you’re beaten, don’t tell the fat lady how to sing.” When life seems unfair or unjust, when we feel like God should treat us differently or change our circumstances to our liking, remember “When you’re beaten, don’t tell the fat lady how to sing.” As Paul concluded his thoughts he wrote (9:22-24), “What if God…did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy…?” Do we really want Him to change His plan so we can miss the mercy?  I don’t think so. So “When you’re beaten, don’t tell the fat lady how to sing.”
  






Thursday, March 24, 2011

Pity Parties

PRINCIPLE: “When you’re feeling sorry for yourself, go home.”

It happened way back in the 9th grade but I still remember it vividly. (In that bygone era 9th grace was the end of Jr. High – Sr. High started with 10th grade. Some of you ‘young uns’ need that clarification.) The faculty asked for suggestions for a theme for the 9th grade graduation ceremonies. I dutifully submitted my entry – “The End of the Beginning.” It was from a wartime speech of Winston Churchill – “Now this is not the end; it is not even the beginning of the end; but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” I really liked it. Apparently someone else did as well – it was selected as the theme. I was elated!

Graduation night rolled around and there was a big banner in the gym with the theme in printed bold letters. There was a printed program bulletin with the theme on the cover. Now I was even more elated – until I realized that nowhere was credit given to me for coming up with the theme. “Well,” I consoled myself, “Someone’s probably going to say something during the ceremony.” Guess again – nothing, no how, nowhere. I was crushed. I was hurt. I was angry. How unfair, how inconsiderate, how rude! Certainly I should have been credited or somehow duly noted. After all, if I hadn’t come through there would be no theme – or at least not one this good. I didn’t want attention – just credit (or so I told myself!) On and on it went in my mind.

For some reason I didn’t really enjoy that might very much! The faculty spoiled it for me. At least that’s what I thought then. As I look back from my wiser adult years I see and learn some things. I see, for example, a comrade in self-pity. “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ (Lk. 15:25-30). I realize now that on my graduation night the older brother and I were twins. And, if I’m honest, since that night there have been many other times I’ve ‘twinned up’ with him. The malady is called self-pity. If only the older brother had gone home and joined the party! He might just have had a good night! If only he had listened to his father: “When you’re feeling sorry for yourself, go home.”

I now realize that going home, joining the party, brings to mind some important truths. First, self-pity simply means I have forgotten the blessings that surround and fill my life every day. The father told his older son, “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” When self-pity sets in I need to go back to the place of blessing, back to my Father. “When you’re feeling sorry for yourself, go home.”

Second, self-pity means I’ve forgotten that I already have the most important recognition and approval of all – that of my heavenly Father. In reality, His is the only one that counts. “When you’re feeling sorry for yourself, go home.”

Third, self-pity means I’ve failed to remember that it’s not about me – it’s about God. Any honor in my life should always go to Him. I just need to get back home with my Father to remember this. “When you’re feeling sorry for yourself, go home.”

So from now on I will try to see self-pity as a special delivery message from my Father, inviting me home. Hopefully I’ll have enough wisdom to do so. “When you’re feeling sorry for yourself, go home.”

Friday, March 18, 2011

Soar

DECEPTIVE, BUT FRUITFUL

I chose to read and review Kenny Luck’s book because the title, “Soar,” intrigued me and the question on the cover grabbed me: “Are you ready to accept God’s power?” I want to soar and I want to be filled with God’s power – so reading this book made sense. 

Reading the book has been fruitful. Luck does an outstanding job of thoroughly dissecting and presenting the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit in fresh ways. I consider it a unique theological work and a solid Biblical study. What keeps it fresh and stimulating is his creative approach and contemporary illustrations. Each chapter begins with an image or story and that theme is always perfectly related to whatever aspect of the Holy Spirit he’s discussing. For example his stories of flying an airplane, receiving a special Christmas gift, and his son’s broken arm are all outstanding images for understanding certain aspects of the Holy Spirit. Some chapters clarified my understanding, in some I learned something new, and in some I discovered a new, refreshing way to present an old concept.

Luck divides the book into three sections, which I found helpful. Part 1, “Transitions” deals with changes in the way we normally think about the Holy Spirit. Part 2, “Transformations” discusses how the Holy Spirit impacts and changes us. Part 3, “Transactions” points to how the Spirit impacts others through us. This is a nice summary of the purpose and ministry of the Holy Spirit, but it also allows readers to focus on each aspect of the Holy Spirit’s ministry for an extended period of time.

And when I say an extended period, that’s what it really needs to be. “Soar” cannot be a quick read – nor is it intended to be. Since I was reading it with the intent of writing a review, I tried to read through it somewhat quickly. But I would have benefited even more if I had really taken the time to utilize the great study guide, either alone or in a group setting. A group setting would, I believe, bring about the most beneficial study. Luck has put great thought into how to apply what the reader learns along the way. While my reading was fruitful, it could have been abundantly fruitful if done within a group.

I do have two criticisms or concerns. One is Luck’s repeated references to his earlier books. I found his repeated parenthetical comments referring to something he covered in one of his previous books as intrusive to the flow. A comment in the Introduction or in a footnote along the way mentioning that reading his previous books would be helpful could suffice. By weaving the repeated references into the book itself I found myself asking “Should I stop and read that book before continuing? Is he trying to sell me his previous book? Is he saying I can’t understand this without reading his previous book?” I kept wondering what it would be like if, during my sermons, I repeatedly said “I covered this last week, last month, etc.)”

My second concern is that the book is billed as part of the “God’s Man Series,” which means it’s written for men. That’s where the deception comes in. While Luck does, at times, try to draw some application to men, I found those applications fitting for women as well. Nothing he said screamed at me “This is for men only.” Since it’s billed as for men, I wonder how many women will ignore it and thereby miss what could be a vital study and life-transforming experience.

Neither of these concerns keeps from recommending this outstanding book. God blessed me – or should I say the Spirit blessed me as I read, studied, and prayed. In fact, I was deeply moved be Luck’s repeated use of passages from John, Romans, and Acts. Perhaps our Lord knew I was planning on preaching from John during Lent, from Romans next summer, and Acts next fall! For me, it was God’s sign that the book was meant for me. Read “Soar” and you will find it meant for you as well.
("I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group fopr this review.") 



Thursday, March 17, 2011

When Anticipating a "No"

PRINCIPLE: “When you’re sure of a “No”, make the call.”

One of my all-time favorite television ads featured a young teenage boy trying to call a girl for a date. He was nervous and hesitant, sure of a “No” answer. But he calls anyway – and when the girl answers “Yes” he’s so stunned all he can say is “Really?” Then he’s speechless. I confess that I loved this ad because it reminded me of me in my teen years. Yes – I know it may be hard to believe that I was shy and lacked confidence but believe me – I was shy and lacked confidence. Calling a girl to ask her out was a big deal for me. I spent an unbelievable amount of time rehearsing her possible responses and what I would say in response to her responses. Then I’d pick up the phone – hesitate – and put it back down again; I needed to go over it all one more time. . Then I’d pick up the phone – hesitate – and put it back down again; I needed to go over it all one more time. . Then I’d pick up the phone – hesitate – and put it back down again; I needed to go over it all one more time. You get the picture. And while I wasn’t always as fortunate as the boy in the ad, it usually turned out okay. But the funny thing is that when I did get a “No” it was usually with some response I hadn’t rehearsed!

I’m glad I don’t have to call for dates anymore! But through the years, as I’ve thought and chuckled about that teenage struggle, I’ve concluded that it’s better to try and get a “No” than to never try and never get a “Yes.” So “When you’re sure of a “No”, make the call.” I’ve also learned that this principle is especially true when it comes to calling God. First of all, if the answer really is “No,” God will confirm it and we’ll be within His will. But, second, God often surprises us. But if we don’t call, He won’t answer! The truth is. He’s waiting for us to call. “O people of Zion…you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help. As soon as He hears, he will answer you.” (Is. 30:19) “Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.” (Is. 58:9)Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.” (Is. 65:24) “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (John 15:8-9). “When you’re sure of a “No”, make the call.”

What do we have to lose? If we get a “No” we are certain of our Father’s will. And if we get a “Yes” we are certain the Father’s will. So the only way we will not be certain of the Father’s will is to not call. “When you’re sure of a “No”, make the call.” God is waiting to share with us, to give to us, to free us, to empower us. We just need to make the call – even is we’re sure God will say “No.”

I have one final thought from my experiences of calling for dates. Sometimes I was just flat turned down – no reason given. But the tone and silence communicated the feelings. That hurt. I’ve discovered that while God sometimes says “No,” He never just flat turns me down. It may feel that way but sometime, somewhere along the way the reason will be clear. He cares too much to just leave me in the dark. He is, after all, the Light of the world. So the next time you’re uncertain, or want to get in touch with our Father, even “When you’re sure of a “No”, make the call.”

Thursday, March 10, 2011

When You Wreck It

PRINCIPLE: “When you wreck it, thank God.”

Barb & I were so excited! We were finally entering the process of getting a ‘new’ car. In those days they called it a ‘used’ car, but it would be new for us and better than what we had at the time. A wonderful man in our congregation, Ade, sold used cars and was happy to work with us. He showed us one we wanted to try so he told us that since he trusted us we could drive it around a while and check it out. So off we went. Eventually we ended up in downtown Holland and parked on the street while we did a couple of errands. A short time later we came back to the car – and it had a huge dent in the side! Someone had rammed it – and of course they left no information. We were sick – it wasn’t even ours and now we had to take a wrecked car back to this nice man, and tell him what had happened. Sure, it wasn’t our fault, but we were embarrassed, hurt, and sorry all at once. Ade had taken a risk with us and all he got in return was damaged goods.

When we told Ade what had happened he was, not surprisingly, very gracious. He basically said, “It happens.” In the years since then I’ve learned how right he was – it happens. God takes risk with us every day. Think of what he loans us – children, talents, gifts, and resources. Think of the responsibility He’s given to us – to share the Gospel and build His Church. Think of how often we return things back to him in a wrecked condition. We come up short; we fail to use what He’s given and entrusted to us and return to Him only damaged goods. It should make us feel sick, embarrassed, hurt, and sorry – especially since it is our fault.

Yet, what I have learned is “When you wreck it, thank God.” If God didn’t loan us all these things and entrust us with all these responsibilities we wouldn’t have anything to wreck! The fact that God trusts us enough to keep taking such risks with us is a sign of His grace – He keeps on trusting us.  So “When you wreck it, thank God.” Thank Him for loving you enough to give you second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth – indeed unlimited – chances. Imagine, if God expects us to forgive ‘seventy times seven’, how many more times will He forgive us? I’m not saying we should take it easy and not worry about all He gives us nor be irresponsible with it – far from it. But, “When you wreck it, thank God.” Thank Him that “...in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” He will even …increase your store of seed and enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. He promises You will be made rich n every way so that you can be generous on every occasion.” (2 Cor. 9) He’ll just keep taking the risk with you.

So do all you can the best you can. Yet, “When you wreck it, thank God.” Thank Him, as Paul wrote, for His indescribable gift!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Writing Good Letters

PRINCIPLE: “When recommending Jesus, write a good letter.”

There I was in my first year in my first pastorate, in the small town of Sioux Center, Iowa, serving as an Associate Pastor of youth & Education. That meant I was responsible for about 150 9th – 12th graders who were part of the church families. The Youth Leaders and I had met and wanted to do something special for the youth and decided on a formal banquet to honor them. One advantage of a farming community is that good food is abundant – like roast pig. So the menu was not an issue. Adult volunteers were not an issue. Entertainment and some type of encouraging message –that was an issue. I had no files, no contacts, and no backlog of resources to draw from. And how could I even begin to think about pulling in some big name person or group without it being a huge cost? After all, there is no easy way to get to Sioux Center (halfway between Sioux City Iowa and Sioux Falls South Dakota). Then I remembered – one of the youth had given me a business card of some singers she had heard at a conference shortly before this – she said they were really good. With nothing to lose I called Steve & Maria Gardner – and they came (for an affordable rate!)

Wow! What a night. They were the perfect fit with wonderful, youth-appealing music and an inspiring, challenging message for the youth. And they radiated Jesus – boy did they radiate Him. Barb and I hosted them – and their infant daughter – and fell in love with them and were deeply blessed by them. Jesus was just so evident in their lives! WE had a retired pastor who was at the banquet and afterward he told me, “You know, when they started to sing I wasn’t to sure about them and their music. But once that young man started to speak and I felt the Spirit and saw the attention of the youth, I knew they were right and that Jesus would be honored!” They radiated Jesus.

As I think about that great time my mind goes to the Apostle Paul who, in 2 Cor. 3:1-3 (MSG), wrote “Are we beginning to praise ourselves again? Are we like others, who need to bring you letters of recommendation, or who ask you to write such letters on their behalf? Surely not! The only letter of recommendation we need is you yourselves. Your lives are a letter written in our hearts; everyone can read it and recognize our good work among you. Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This “letter” is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts.” Steve & Maria were Jesus’ letters of recommendation. I learned “When recommending Jesus, write a good letter.” When you want a letter of recommendation you want someone reputable to write a good reference letter, to represent you well. So it is with Jesus – He relies on us to write Him good letters of recommendation.

In fact, because we are Christians, we represent Jesus everywhere we are, in everything we say, and in everything we do – and even in what we do not say and do not do. At all times and in all places, we represent Jesus. So “When recommending Jesus, write a good letter.” I think of all the times I’ve let my guard down, or let my temper flare up, or let the devil get hold of my tongue or mind and therefore wrote a poor letter for Jesus. “Lord, forgive me – and give me grace and strength to be that vibrant, Spirit-filled living letter of recommendation for You.”

You are always representing Jesus – you are always a letter pointing to Him.  What kind of letter will you be today – and tomorrow – and every day? “When recommending Jesus, write a good letter.”