Thursday, June 28, 2012

Anchored

PRINCIPLE: “With no rudder or anchor, you’re at the mercy of the current.”

Barb and I recently spent 24 hours at Cran-Hill Ranch. We couldn’t head for home without spending some time in a canoe. (It all goes back to the summer of 1968 when we worked there, met each other, and fell in love – all a story for another time!) So we rented a canoe and paddled across and around the lake. That’s when Barb threw out the challenge: “There must be something here for your Pikkup Notes.” Of course my mind froze – it doesn’t get clever under pressure! Nothing registered. Besides, I just wanted to enjoy the beautiful day, outstanding weather, and the spectacular surroundings of the camp and lake. Why spoil it by heating up my mental cells? We went there, after all, to take a break from working and thinking – to relax.

But the fuse was lit. Barb knows me too well. She knew something would spark and begin to burn. And it did. At several points we just sat in the canoe, paddles at rest, trying to capture the quietness and peace. Each time we did so, I – sitting in the back, being the designated driver in charge of steering – had to resume paddling before we drifted too far into the lily pads or swamp area. Otherwise we ran the risk of getting stuck. And that’s when the spark lit the fire. As long as we paddled we controlled our direction and pace; we determined where we go. But “With no rudder or anchor, you’re at the mercy of the current.” Then we end up going with the flow, no matter where the flow takes us.

James actually said the same thing centuries ago. When it comes to determining direction in life, he said “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.” (James 1:3-5 NLT) To go in the right direction, pray – but pray anchored in trust. Without trust, we’re like a wave – or a canoe without a rudder or anchor. And “With no rudder or anchor, you’re at the mercy of the current.”

Maintaining the right direction, steering the straight course through life, has gotten to be very difficult. Our culture and our media hit us with gale force winds, trying to steer us towards their ideals, goals, and philosophies for life. “With no rudder or anchor, you’re at the mercy of the current.” So it is important, critically important, that we have a strong rudder and heavy anchor - a rudder that will help us steer the right course and an anchor that will enable us to stand firm against those opposing gale force winds. Jesus Christ is our anchor, for He is anchored to God Himself. (Heb. 6:19-20 NLT) “This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary. Jesus has already gone in there for us. He has become our eternal High Priest in the order of Melchizedek.” Or as The Message puts it, We who have run for our very lives to God have every reason to grab the promised hope with both hands and never let go. It's an unbreakable spiritual lifeline, reaching past all appearances right to the very presence of God where Jesus, running on ahead of us, has taken up his permanent post as high priest for us, in the order of Melchizedek.”

When the way grows confusing, when the road ahead is dark, when the winds of the world blow with hurricane force, when it’s hard to stay headed in the right direction, remember: “With no rudder or anchor, you’re at the mercy of the current.” But Jesus knows the way. He is, after all, “The way, the truth, and the life.” Stay close to Him. Follow Him. In fact, let Him steer your life. Just “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in is wonderful face; and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”

Happy canoeing!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Habitual Habits

PRINCIPLE: “When you're in need of a habit, look to your habits.”

I hope this isn't too personal, but I want to share with you about my morning shower time. For several years I kept my shampoo on a built-in ledge on the side of the shower wall and kept the spray bottle of tub cleanser/rinse on a rack that hung from the shower head bar. After several years I changed the two around because the sizes of each dispenser had changed. It seems simple enough – except for the power of habits. After several years of automatically reaching for shampoo on the ledge, I found it was difficult to automatically reach up for it from the shelf. That means, of course, that on more than one occasion I almost sprayed my head with shower cleanser! I was amazed at how long it took me to get to the point where I automatically reached up for the shampoo. Reaching over rather than up had become an ingrained habit.

This repeated scenario set me to thinking about the power of habits. Habits, whether good or bad, are established over a period of time. And once ingrained they are automatic and therefore hard to break. That's why God repeatedly told the Israelites to form good habits. In Exodus, for example, God gave them the 10 commandments, the habits by which to live. In Leviticus He laid out worship and sacrifice habits to provide a framework for holiness.  In Dt. 6: 5-6 He commanded them to establish teaching habits: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.”

So it is really not surprising that when His people started letting go if these habits, they began wandering into the land of disobedience and walking further and further away from Him. So God sent the prophet Jeremiah with a message (6:16):  “This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” He told them to return to the proven ways, the tried and true habits, of their ancestors. In other words, “When you're in need of a habit, look to your habits.” These habits were the paths that would return them to rest and renewal.

Centuries later Jesus offered this same rest through the same way (Mt. 11:28-30): “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”   Knowing the heart of people, knowing the tendency of humans to lose self-discipline and therefore to wander, Jesus invited His followers, and us, to take up His yolk, His habits, His way of life. “When you're in need of a habit, look to your habits.”

And what was Jesus' way of life? Time apart – alone – with his Father, seasons of prayer, days of ministry, and holy living. Then time apart – alone – with his Father, seasons of prayer, days of ministry, and holy living. Should ours be any different? Whenever we feel we're wandering away from God, whenever we feel apart from Jesus, when life is tiring us out it's time for a time out. It's time to get back to basics, to return to our habits. “When you're in need of a habit, look to your habits.” And the more firmly entrenched our habits become, the harder they will be to break.

Feeling tired, worn out? Have you moved, even so slightly, away from Jesus? What are your spiritual habits? “When you're in need of a habit, look to your habits.” The amazing truth is these habits do not constrict us. As the Psalmist wrote (119:32): “I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free” “You will find rest for your souls.” Whether in the shower or in our daily lives, ingrained habits are hard to break. So make sure the habits you diligently acquire are good ones. Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Thursday, May 10, 2012

More Bite

PRINCIPLE: “If you want more bite, face forward.”

I was being the good husband. There were tree branches and limbs that needed to be cut down and cut up. While I'm not the handiest handyman around the house, this is something I've done and can do. So I readied our chainsaw and got to work. Things rolled along smoothly for a while - until the chain got stuck and came off the blade. Still no problem – I've put the chain on before. I had to loosen everything, take the chain off completely, and then put it back on and tighten it. So I did that – and began to cut away again – except that the saw wasn't cutting. After some looking I discovered that the teeth of the chain were facing the wrong direction; therefore they had no bite. Thus my lesson for that day: when it comes to chain saws, “If you want more bite, face forward.”  It would be nice to tell you that once I removed the chain again and put it back on everything was fine – but I kept getting it wrong and it took several efforts – and a great deal of time – to get it right. (Remember I said I wasn't the handiest handyman!) I suppose there are some lessons there as well but I do not want to digress.

So back to the direction of the teeth. The principle, “If you want more bite, face forward,” is not limited to saws. If I want to have more bite in my witness, more bite in my testimony, more power in confronting the darkness of our world I must face forward. I cannot turn my back or assume that “If I live right the world will notice.”  The letter to the Hebrews is both instructive and inspiring. Chapter 12, verse 2 states (NLT), “We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.”  The context of the chapter is that it follows the great 'Hall of Heroes' in chapter 11. After offering this long list of inspirational Christian witnesses, the author is ready to make his application. I think Eugene Peterson put 12:1-3 well in The Message: “Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we'd better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he's there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!”  “If you want more bite, face forward.”

Such living, exemplified in Hebrews 11 & 12, will take a big bite into our world. Such living will cut down the rotten limbs, clear away the sinful brush, and make room for the good healthy branches to grow and produce richer fruit. So how is it with you?  How big is your bite? How great is your impact? Which way are you facing? Is it time to strip down, face forward, and start running – no spiritual fat or parasitic sins?  Is it time to focus your eyes on Jesus? Is it time to go over His story again? After all, “That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!” “If you want more bite, face forward.”

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Big Randy

PRINCIPLE: “When fear sets in, retreat.”

I was, admittedly, scared. It was a typical opening to the school day – as the doors to my Junior High School opened, there was an instant mass of students in the entry foyer. Shoulder to shoulder, hollering morning greetings to friends, squeezing and pushing our way to our lockers - everything was routine. Until – big Randy hollered from across the foyer. Big Randy was tall, very tall – so tall he could see over the sea of humanity and spot me. Big Randy wasn’t often mean, but could be if he chose to be. He and I hung in different crowds. Big Randy and his crowd frequently got into trouble; my crowd did not.

And therein was the problem. Big Randy had been to juvenile court, and had apparently appeared before the judge, who happened to be my father. And Big Randy wasn’t happy about it. Now he was calling to me from across the foyer. Somehow I knew it wasn’t to thank me for having a wonderful father! At the sound of his voice I knew I could be in trouble. I wasn’t a fighter, I didn’t like conflict, and Big Randy was ready for both. The only thing separating us was a sea of fellow students. In an instant I was scared.

But before I could even decide what to do Pat, a friend of mine who got along fairly well with Big Randy, moved over to Big Randy and said something – I think he reminded him that his problem was not me and that the momentary pleasure he might have in confronting me would be short-lived because he’d only have to see my father again. But whatever Pat said worked – Randy backed off and it was over.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but Pat was my refuge – he protected me in the time of trouble. In the Old Testament we find that God established cities of refuge for people accused of murder but who might be innocent. In a city of refuge they would be safe. When filled with the fear of being caught and condemned, they could run to refuge. “When fear sets in, retreat.” In that context, Ps. 46:1-3  takes on significant meaning. God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” God is our refuge and strength. “When fear sets in, retreat.”

It’s worth noting that the phrase “an ever present help” can be translated “God lets himself be found in trouble.” We don’t need to look for God or wonder where He is – when trouble comes He’ll let Himself be found. Verse 7 reinforces the concept: “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” So “When fear sets in, retreat.” Ps. 91 states it beautifully (1-12 CEV). “Live under the protection of God Most High and stay in the shadow of God All-Powerful. Then you will say to the Lord, “You are my fortress, my place of safety; you are my God, and I trust you.” The Lord will keep you safe from secret traps and deadly diseases. He will spread his wings over you and keep you secure. His faithfulness is like a shield or a city wall. You won’t need to worry about dangers at night or arrows during the day. And you won’t fear diseases that strike in the dark or sudden disaster at noon. You will not be harmed, though thousands fall all around you. And with your own eyes you will see the punishment of the wicked. The Lord Most High is your fortress. Run to him for safety, and no terrible disasters will strike you or your home. God will command his angels to protect you wherever you go. They will carry you in their arms, and you won’t hurt your feet on the stones.”

Whatever your fear, whatever is threatening you, whenever your Big Randy appears, whenever your world seems to be falling apart: remember who and whose you are. Don’t fight, don’t run, don’t panic - “When fear sets in, retreat.” God is waiting to be found; He’s waiting to help; He’s got you covered. “When fear sets in, retreat.” And nothing, no one, anywhere, anytime, anyplace can ever separate you from His love made known to us through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Roundhouse

PRINCIPLE: “When you're stopped in your tracks, remember the roundhouse.”

I grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Among my many fond memories are the times we drove past an old roundhouse. A roundhouse was a large round building that was built at the end of a section of railroad tracks. When a train had reached the end of its tracks, the end of its journey, it would go into the roundhouse where the tracks would pivot and turn the engine around. Then it could go back in the opposite direction. For some reason, I was fascinated by the concept. But little did I realize that this roundhouse would eventually become a symbol for my Christian life.

Turning around means to repent, to get in the roundhouse and change directions.  While we most often think of repentance as seeking forgiveness – which is one of its meanings – it's important to remember that at heart it means to change direction. Think about the message of John the Baptist (Mt. 3:1-2 CEV): “Years later, John the Baptist started preaching in the desert of Judea. He said, "Turn back to God! The kingdom of heaven will soon be here." “The Message” translates verse 2: "Change your life. God's kingdom is here." “When you're stopped in your tracks, remember the roundhouse.”

I now realize how many times in my life I came to the end of the tracks only to have God lead me to repent, to turn around and head somewhere else – somewhere He wanted me to go. When I entered college I was a music major; by the end of my freshman year I was headed for the ministry. When I headed home for the summer following that freshman year, I had a fairly serious relationship with a girl who was a fellow student; within a matter of weeks she cut off the relationship and I had met Barb, my current wife. When I graduated from seminary I was offered the opportunity to serve in an exciting young church where we could be near parents and in-laws; I wound up in a well established, traditional, exciting church northwest Iowa. I once said I doubted I would ever serve in Michigan; I've served in Michigan for over 30 years. I also said I would certainly never serve in my home town of Kalamazoo – not because I didn't like Kalamazoo but because people just don't serve in their hometowns; I served 81/2 years in Kalamazoo. And there are so many more visits to the roundhouse in my life. But get the picture? Time and time again I came to the end of my tracks and God put me in His roundhouse and turned me around, back to Him.

The roundhouse experiences of my life simply prove God’s truth once again: “We make our own plans, but the LORD decides where we will go.” (Prov. 16:9 CEV) “The Lord directs our steps, so why try to understand everything along the way?” (Prov. 20:24 NLT) “I know, Lord, that our lives are not our own. We are not able to plan our own course.” (Jer. 10:23 NLT) I'm glad this is true – though I still may not understand all the reasons and times God has put me in the roundhouse, I can honestly say that not once did I regret repenting. Whenever I have turned back to His way it has been good and right. No wonder Isaiah prophesied, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength...” (Is. 30:15) I am trying to be more sensitive to those times when I'm nearing the ends of the tracks, headed the wrong way – because I'm still learning the importance and beauty of “When you're stopped in your tracks, remember the roundhouse.”

Perhaps you've reached an impasse in your life; maybe your life has become dull and routine; it could be that you're sensing that your life has lost is meaning; or it's possible you're traveling along at a rapid pace and haven't even thought about the direction you're heading. Whatever the case, pause for a while and examine your life. Ask God for discernment. Eugene Peterson, in “The Message” translates Jeremiah 10:23, “I know, God, that mere mortals can't run their own lives, that men and women don't have what it takes to take charge of life. So correct us, God, as you see best.” Make that your prayer – today and every day. It's a whole lot easier to spot the roundhouse coming at the end of tracks than to go crashing into it. Perhaps the principle should be “When – or before - you're stopped in your tracks, remember the roundhouse.” Correct us, God, as you see best.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The End

PRINCIPLE: “When the journey is difficult, remember who's at the end.”

The trips were long, and not always easy – certainly not relaxing. It's not that I had to take them – so why did I? It was my sophomore year of college. I had met the most wonderful woman during the previous summer. I didn't want to go far without her, but because of her job she stayed behind in Kalamazoo, Michigan when I returned to college in Pella, Iowa. I knew there would be several trips back home to see her – and there were. And not one of them was smooth or easy. If I rode with someone for the holiday weekends (I had no car), there were huge traffic jams getting out of Michigan (the interstate system was not yet complete). If I took the train, it was crammed with people, I had to pass through and wait in Chicago, and someone had to pick me up in a very small town in Iowa, not near Pella. If I flew, it was stand-by since I couldn't afford full price and there was no Orbitz or Travelocity or Price Line. And stand-by was always risky and arriving with my luggage even riskier. Not once during that year was it a smooth, easy trip.

So why did I persist and keep making the trips? Because Barb was at the other end! I quickly learned that “When the journey is difficult, remember who's at the end.” It's the same lesson I'm learning from Jesus. He knows the faith journey is not an easy one, that it's seldom smooth and trouble-free. Think about His disciples; as Jesus neared the time of the cross they were having a difficult time and would face even tougher times. So on the night of His betrayal He addressed His disciples about their troubled hearts: “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.” (John 14:1-3) “When the journey is difficult, remember who's at the end.”

Nothing has really changed. The faith journey is not easy; the road is rough. And often it's long. At times we wonder if we'll make it. We get tied, worn out, beaten down. The tragedies, the pain, the sorrow, the opposition overwhelm us. And sometimes we may even wonder if it's worth it. Can we really be sure of how and where it will end? It seems so hopeless; it's hard to rely on what we cannot see. Faith may well mean being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we cannot see – but sometimes we don't feel so sure and certain. At such times it is important to remember “When the journey is difficult, remember who's at the end.”

In Randy Alcorn’s novel Edge of Eternity, Nick has been to the edge of heaven (Charis), but is being sent back to finish his life on earth (Skiathuros). God speaks to him: “Friday has passed,' he said to me.  ‘Tomorrow is Sunday. I send you back to the world's Saturday. Know that the never-ending Sunday comes, and even until it does I am with you. I listen to you, and I weep with you that you may one day laugh with me.' My eyes burned. 'Listen carefully, Nick, for in a moment I send you back to the true Skiathuros. Before I do, I want you to look once more at Charis. I am preparing this world for you – and I'm also preparing you for it. Charis isn't just a world I make for you, it is the world for which you were made. Every part of it resonates with who you are, who you really are, not the old Nick Seagrave, but the one I've made you to be. I have a new name for you. You're not ready to hear it yet. But I will give it to you when we meet face to face in our home.”[i] “When the journey is difficult, remember who's at the end.”

Whatever you're facing right now, whatever you may face tomorrow, no matter what direction your life seems to be heading, you can make it to the end – because you know the way. Jesus continued speaking to His disciples: “And you know the way to where I am going.” “No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” (John 14:4-6) Set your compass on Jesus – He's the due north. He will always guide you towards home. If necessary, in fact, He will send His angels to accompany you. Like the father of the prodigal son, Jesus is waiting for the day He can run to greet you, throw His arms around you and say, “Welcome home my child. Come, join the party – it's for you!” “When the journey is difficult, remember who's at the end.” Don't let your heart be troubled – trust in Jesus.


[i] Edge of Eternity,  Randy Alcorn, Waterbrook Press, Colorado Springs, Colorado, © 1998 by Eternal Perspective Ministries, p. 321

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Going After Your Princess

                                                                                                                                       
PRINCIPLE: “You will never marry the princess until you first kill Goliath.”

In the end, I enjoyed writing my book “7 Habits of Highly Healthy People.”  But I learned a lot along the way. I had great sayings posted in my office and in our home office – things like “If you want something you've never had you must do something you've never done.” And there were several more. I learned they do no good unless you follow them. If I wanted the rewards, the satisfaction, then I must pay the price. The work won't get done unless I do it – regularly and faithfully.   

It reminds me of a familiar story from the life of David – 1 Samuel 17. It's where he meets and kills Goliath. I'm always struck by verse 25: “They said to each other, "Look how he keeps coming out to insult us. The king is offering a big reward to the man who kills Goliath. That man will even get to marry the king's daughter, and no one in his family will ever have to pay taxes again." Do you see it? “You will never marry the princess until you first kill Goliath.”

What a principle, not only for leadership but for all situations and circumstances in life. Think about it. What is your princess? What are some of the things – or perhaps the one thing – you really want to do, to see, to accomplish? What's stopping you? “You will never marry the princess until you first kill Goliath.” What is your Goliath? What vice, what habit, what problem, what sin, what lack of discipline, what relationship, what obstacle – what giant – is standing in your way? “You will never marry the princess until you first kill Goliath.”

It's up to you to arm yourself for doing battle. David's comrades thought Goliath was too big to fight – David thought he was too big to miss. Like David, do not think about the bigness of the giant; think about the greatness of God. You will only overcome human weakness with divine power; you will only overcome fear with faith.  Look at verse 37: “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.”  God will not do for you what you can do for yourself – so do your part and God will, as always, do His. If you believe you are on God's side, drop the armor, the fear, the weapons that are hindering you. Pick up your stones and start hurling. As the old hymn “Yield Not to Temptation” puts it, “Each victory will help you some other to win.” You will never marry the princess until you first kill Goliath.”

I should have known all this – the book should have been finished earlier. After all, I've had to apply this principle to developing and improving my preaching life over the years. It doesn't just happen. It takes work – constant work. It's much easier to slide and be satisfied with where I am and how I'm doing. But that's not the goal – nor is it my calling. And there are always many obstacles in the way – many Goliaths loom large. But I will never marry the princess unless I first kill Goliath.

I invite you – urge you – to go after your princess. I promise to go after mine as well. Let's encourage each other. Only then can we say with the Psalmist (115:1) “Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.” Go now, and kill your Goliath! Ready or not Princess – here I come!




Thursday, April 5, 2012

New Name

PRINCIPLE: “When you feel inferior or worthless, remember your name.”

Every once in a while my mind goes back to the summer Barb and I worked at Cran-Hill Ranch. Being the very first summer it was open, there was a lot to be done. One fun thing that sticks out in my mind was that one of the horses needed to be named. No one knew if she had a name – so in essence she had no name. Someone suggested we call her that – NONAME (pronounced 'no-nah-me'). Pretty clever! And it stuck. Noname was a great horse – even though her name was no name.

We are most often associated with and identified by our name. If someone wants to refer to me they don't say “The man with the balding head and blue eyes...;” rather they say “Curry Pikkaart.” They identify me by my name. In that sense I am identified by my name; I get worth from my name – what people think of Curry Pikkaart they think of me.

It's tragic that so many people, especially young people, have no sense of worth, or no sense of identity. Their name represents lostness and confusion. Perhaps, at first glance, the admonition, “When you feel inferior or worthless, remember your name”, wouldn't mean much to them. But here's the thing: It's not the meaning I give to my name that counts most. It's the meaning God gives to my name that counts most of all. What really matters is what God calls me, and the meaning and worth He gives to me.

The truth is Jesus values your current name – whatever it is; even if it's no name. In Exodus 28:9 we read that God ordered the names of the sons of Israel to be on the breast of Aaron's clothing – so He could be their priest and bring them into God's presence. Their names would be forever in front of God. Later God spoke through the prophet Isaiah (49:15-16): “Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you! See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands.” God knows your name and He values you. Still later Jesus said (Jn. 10:3) “The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”  Jesus knows and values you. So “When you feel inferior or worthless, remember your name.” After all, Jesus does!

But that's not all. Jesus has a new name in store for you, a name reserved only for you. In Revelation 2:17 Jesus said “To Him who overcomes I will give him...a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.” That's fantastic! Jesus has a secret name just for you! What do you think it is? You are and will forever be uniquely His!

Yet that's still not all! In Revelation 3:12 Jesus made one more astounding claim: “All who are victorious will become pillars in the Temple of my God, and they will never have to leave it. And I will write on them the name of my God, and they will be citizens in the city of my God—the new Jerusalem that comes down from heaven from my God. And I will also write on them my new name.” Who you have been, who you are, will meld into God and Jesus and your eternal dwelling. You will be one with Jesus! Your identity will be totally absorbed in Him. I can't even begin to describe or imagine it.  But until that time, remember you are already on the way. Get your worth, your identity from Him. With Jesus there is no one with no name – there are no NONAMES. Not even you! So “When you feel inferior or worthless, remember your name.”

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Sting


PRINCIPLE: “When you get stung, remember the sting.”

I enjoy mowing our yard and taking care of the lawn – as much as time allows me to do so. The trimming I could do without but it's part of the job. So I do it. I say that because on two separate occasions, while trimming around the ditches by the road, I have been attacked and stung by bees that were nesting in a whole hidden by the tall grass. That's no fun!  But I have learned some things from those stings.

One, of course, is to look carefully, and often, for signs of the bees and the holes. But beyond that there are at least two spiritual lessons. One is that I take some comfort in the fact that once a bee has stung me it will not sting anyone else. A bee can only sting once. Remember what Paul said in his great resurrection treatise in 1 Corinthians 15:55? “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”  Since death stung Jesus it cannot sting again! Its sting is gone. “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (15:57) Nothing in this life or this world can harm us. There is nothing in heaven or on earth or under the earth that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord! So “When you get stung, remember the sting.” It may not ease the pain but at least it will give you consolation that you've just saved someone else from the pain; and more importantly it will remind you of Christ's victory over death.

Yet there's a second lesson here also. The bee gives its life to save other bees from potential harm. It gives its all to sting the enemy. I wonder if I am always willing to give my all to sting the enemy? Am I willing to lay down my life, even to die, to protect others from the pull and power and destruction of Satan? How deeply committed am I to spreading the Gospel, to sharing the good news of salvation? How concerned am I about those who are lost? What about you? “When you get stung, remember the sting.”

God has given us a stinger – His name is Jesus. Through His victory we can sting the enemy, not just once but over and over again. And how do we do that? Paul concluded (58) “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” Paul's not talking about being dramatic, or even doing some major deed or work. Rather he tells us to do it day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. That kind of firmness and perseverance will sting the enemy time and time again. As The Message beautifully translates this verse: “With all this going for us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. And don't hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort.” Day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute nothing we do for him is a waste of time or effort. We know, because of Jesus Christ's sting.

Have you been stung lately? Whether  stung by a bee literally, or stung by the words or actions of someone else, or by life itself, “When you get stung, remember the sting.” Then give yourself fully to the work of the Lord.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Hills

PRINCIPLE: “Whether you're going down or going up, remember the hills.”

When Barb and I visited our son and his family in Texas, our condo was about 35 minutes from their house. The last 2/3 of the drive to the condo was all hills – and lots of curves. So much for Texas being flat! It was really like riding a roller coaster – often we could not see what was ahead until we either got to the top of the hill or around the curve; it made driving in the dark an adventure!

During one of the trips I thought about the hills, which led me to one of my favorite Psalms, Psalm 121: “I lift up my eyes to the hills— where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD watches over you— the LORD is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all harm - he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” The hills are wonderful, exciting, even exhilarating – but my help and strength come from the Lord who made them. As The Message translates verses 1-2, “I look up to the mountains; does my strength come from mountains? No, my strength comes from God, who made heaven, and earth, and mountains.”  

What a glorious truth! No matter how high the mountain, nor how steep the climb, or how swift the descent, God is guiding, leading, and protecting. What an awesome affirmation for the ups and downs of life. “Whether you're going down or going up, remember the hills.” You may be at the very bottom, wondering how to ever get back to the top. Or perhaps you're at the very top worried you might not stay there. You could be in between, not sure if your next move will propel you upwards or thrust you downwards. It might be that you are moving forward but can't see around the next curve; you're concerned about what lies ahead. No matter what, “The LORD will keep you from all harm - he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” 

Let me take a little liberty and offer a 'Curryean' paraphrase: “The LORD will keep you from all harm - he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going, your ups and your downs, your bends and your curves, both now and forevermore.” “Whether you're going down or going up, remember the hills.” You can travel safely no matter what the road!

So let the hills and curves, the ups and downs, remind you of our faithful God who never tires, slumbers, or sleeps so He can be our constant guard and protector. “God guards you from every evil, he guards your very life. He guards you when you leave and when you return, he guards you now, he guards you always.” (7-8 in The Message) Wherever you are at this moment, “Whether you're going down or going up, remember the hills.”

Right alongside this favorite Psalm is my favorite benediction (based on Numbers 6:24-26) which I pronounce for  you today: “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace”...in your going out and your coming in, in your lying down and in your rising up, in your labor and in your leisure, in your ups and in your downs, in your laughter and in your tears – until you come to stand before him in that day in which there is no sunset and now dawning through Jesus Christ our Lord. “Whether you're going down or going up, remember the hills.”

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Love Those Apples!

PRINCIPLE: “To raise up a child, use the apple.”

We were in a restaurant eating lunch with our son and his family. As usual we tried to split the grandchildren up so we could be sitting next to all three of them. One of our granddaughters ended up next to Barb; Barb, therefore, helped her order her entree. On this day she did not want a selection from the Kids Menu; she was determined to order something from the adult selections. So that's what she did, with grandma's permission! A short time later the waitress brought the food to our table. After she was done our granddaughter looked down at her serving and said, with a brilliant smile, “I have an adult plate!” Whether or not she would enjoy the food didn't matter – she felt like an adult.

I was reminded again that such simple things – like allowing a child to order like an adult – mean so much. We all crave positive encouragement; we long for anything that raises our self-esteem. And more often than not, our simple, well-chosen words offered to someone else, accomplish this for them. Consider Proverbs 25:11 - “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.”  “To raise up a child, use the apple.” As Prov. 15:23 adds: “What a joy it is to find just the right word for the right occasion!”

It sounds so simple, but it is not. It takes discipline to offer the apple regularly. In fact, as Paul was teaching the Ephesian church about new life in Jesus, he mentioned the critical nature of words and speech. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (4:29) He continued by explaining that this meant that they were to “...get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” Still later (5:4) he said “Nor should there be any obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.” A Christian's speech should be clean, clear, uplifting, encouraging, and enabling - especially when addressed to children. “To raise up a child, use the apple.”

I can testify to the power of the apple. I still remember receiving so many apples as a child and youth – words and notes of encouragement. They came from Sunday School teachers, pastors, youth leaders, school teachers, parents and other family members. One of my most vivid memories is, following a speech I gave at my High School graduation, receiving a note of commendation, appreciation, and encouragement from a local judge who was in attendance. His note, along with all the other apples, prepared me to answer God's call to ministry. Their words have profoundly influenced my life, and the many words I have opportunity to offer. “To raise up a child, use the apple.”

What were some of the apples in your life? Whose words influenced and impacted you? And to whom are you giving apples? Who has Jesus placed before you? What apples can you give out today? “To raise up a child, use the apple.”




Thursday, March 8, 2012

Costly Entertainment

PRINCIPLE: “When you're asked a question, answer the question.”

Maybe you saw it on the news too. The 'news feature' – and I use the term 'news' loosely – focused on a mother and her 6 year old daughter. Mom was proud as a peacock of her entertainment star daughter. That's right – six years old and already pouring hours of time and most all her energy into being a stage star. She does energetic, wild routines on stage – in performances and competition. While that raises a number of issues for me, I want to focus on just one aspect of the story.

The report revealed that mother, in order to give her daughter adequate energy for her performances, had concocted a special 'juice' for her. The juice was composed of two parts – Mountain Dew and Red Bull energy drink. In other words, pump her full of caffeine and sugar. I have no doubt that it would give her energy! I also have no doubt that there will eventually be potentially long term, negative consequences. Both caffeine and sugar, in large amounts, destroy the body. My heart, in fact, was pierced when the video showed the young girl raising her shirt and grabbing onto the rolls of fat on her your stomach – all with a smile on her face and a giggle in her voice.

Not surprisingly, this is the issue became the focus of the report. When asked by the reporter about health concerns, the mother calmly, and defensively, replied that there are many moms whose daughters aren't on stage performing who give the same to their daughters – so why, she mused, should anyone pick on her. A nice sleight of hand – or of voice – but she never answered the question. That's why I say, “When you're asked a question, answer the question.” There are only two reasons not to answer it. One – you don't know the answer. Two – you don't have an answer that is right or makes sense. If you don't know, admit that maybe you should find out; perhaps there's a good reason it was asked. And if you don't have a good sensible answer, then perhaps it's time to find one.

It appeared to me that this mother really knew the reporter might have had a legitimate concern but was ready to let go of the popularity of her daughter for the sake of her daughter's health and future. But if something is harmful, it's harmful whether we want to admit it or not. So “When you're asked a question, answer the question.”  It's for your own good.

While it would be appropriate to launch into Paul's admonition about the body being the temple of the Holy Spirit, I'd rather stick to the point about a mother's careless disregard for her child's health and well-being. Proverbs says it best. (10:10) “...a chattering fool comes to ruin.” (12:15-16, 23) “Fools are headstrong and do what they like...fools show their annoyance at once...fools broadcast their foolishness...” (14:24) “...foolishness leads to more foolishness.”  “When you're asked a question, answer the question.”

I feel sorry for this mother – I'm sure she loves her daughter. But either she doesn't get it – which is truly sorrowful – or she does and doesn't care – which is even sorrier. But I feel even more sorrow for her daughter – she's the victim in all of this. Unless things change, she will pay the price for mom's refusal to seriously answer a fair and serious question. That's why it is so important that “When you're asked a question, answer the question.”

So what questions have you been avoiding or failing to answer lately? Perhaps it’s time to stop being foolish and answer them. After all “...a wise man listens to advice.” (Prov. 12:15) Such listening might just be good for you – and for those you love and influence. “When you're asked a question, answer the question.”

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Bread


PRINCIPLE: “When you're hungry for more, give thanks for the bread.”

Barb and I were visiting our sons and his family down in Texas. Saturday afternoon we decided to search for a church we could attend Sunday morning. We were hoping for something somewhat familiar and with their help we found the address of a Presbyterian church very near their home and checked it out on the internet. We decided to give it a try. One of our granddaughters wanted to go with us, so we agreed to pick her up.

Sunday our first surprise came when we found the church building – much smaller than the website made it appear. But not to judge a book by its cover, we parked across the street in the dirt parking lot and bravely ventured forth into the church. We were quickly greeted by a couple of older women who were truly glad to see us. We soon moved into a pew row and sat down – only to look around and discover that among the maybe 30-40 in attendance our granddaughter appeared to be the only child there. The truth is, we were among the youngest there – we now knew why they were so glad to see us!  That was surprise number two.

Surprise number three – the organist began her prelude and as we sat listening the lady in front of us turned to us and whispered with pride, “Our organist is 102 years old.”  In all fairness, for 102 she did a good job. I would hope I could do that well at 102 – especially since I can't play the organ at all now! But I digress.

Surprise number four occurred at about the same moment – our granddaughter began shivering because the church was cold (it was an unusually cold Texas day) – and the overhead fans seemed to make it worse. Since Barb's jacket was heavier than mine she wrapped it around her – now Barb, too, was cold! After that the service moved along slowly but fairly well. Then the minister began to 'preach.' Surprise number four! As a preacher I tend to be fairly lenient when it comes to judging sermons – but I must say I'm still looking for his point and wondering what I was supposed to bring home. He rambled to first base then to left field then to third base then to center field then back to the dugout then to second base...well you get the point; he never made it home. By this time I was pretty empty – and hungering for some sense of the divine. Oh, Jesus was mentioned but mostly matter-of-factly.

Then surprise number five. When he finally concluded his message He went to the Table and began to serve communion. There was very little introduction or explanation, but the elements were distributed - and I was hungry no more. The bread and the cup placed Jesus before me. Then it hit me: “When you're hungry for more, give thanks for the bread.” I had fallen into the trap of wanting worship to feed me – I was accustomed to what I'm used to. I had stopped focusing on Jesus. Rather than be thankful for a place to worship and a small family of people who loved their Lord and were sincerely giving their all to Him in worship, rather than be thankful for the opportunity to sit in worship with my granddaughter, I hungered for something more. And to think I shake my head in wonder at the Israelites for clamoring for more than daily manna! I wonder how they could miss the miracle of the bread. But here I was – missing the miracle of the bread, the miracle of Jesus in our midst. “When you're hungry for more, give thanks for the bread.”

There's a reason God fed His people manna (bread) and water in the wilderness – that's enough to sustain life. There's a reason Jesus said He was the bread of life and the living water – He is enough to sustain life. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” (Jn. 4:14) “I am the bread that gives life! No one who comes to me will ever be hungry. No one who has faith in me will ever be thirsty.”

As I've thought about it, the lesson is not just for worship – it's for daily life. “When you're hungry for more, give thanks for the bread.” What have you been hungering for? What are you forgetting to be thankful for? Have you looked to the bread? When it comes down to it, what more do you need? “When you're hungry for more, give thanks for the bread.”

Friday, February 24, 2012

Aliens

PRINCIPLE: “When someone thinks you're strange, remember the aliens.”

Our son and his family moved to Texas. During our recent visit there our oldest granddaughter was sharing how her new 8th grade classmates greeted and accepted her, this Michigan transplant. She related that the funniest moment was when one girl came up to her and, in all sincerity, asked “Do they have TV's up there?”  What a hoot!

I doubt very much that our granddaughter was all that strange but someone certainly thought the place she came from was strange. It led me to think about the question. Perhaps, as Christians, we should expect such strange questions - after all, we are strange people. We are aliens in a foreign land. “When someone thinks you're strange, remember the aliens.”

Here's how Peter stated it: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Pt. 2:9-10) We are a strange, set apart people. We are aliens and foreigners in this world. “When someone thinks you're strange, remember the aliens.”

This means that we need to be intentional about our strangeness – not that we behave oddly just to be different but that we be holy so we will be different, for Christ's sake. Peter continued: “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.“ (1 Pt. 2:11-12) We are aliens, strangers in a foreign land and should live strangely – different from the natives of the land. Eugene Peterson, in The Message, puts some clarifying flesh on these verses: “Friends, this world is not your home, so don't make yourselves cozy in it. Don't indulge your ego at the expense of your soul. Live an exemplary life among the natives so that your actions will refute their prejudices. Then they'll be won over to God's side and be there to join in the celebration when he arrives.“When someone thinks you're strange, remember the aliens.”

The difficulty is that it can be hard to live as an alien. We can be shunned, mocked, hated, or even persecuted – because the natives do not understand. The Good News Translation emphasizes it by translating the verses this way: “I appeal to you, my friends, as strangers and refugees in this world! Do not give in to bodily passions, which are always at war against the soul. Your conduct among the heathen should be so good that when they accuse you of being evildoers, they will have to recognize your good deeds and so praise God on the Day of his coming.” The natives will accuse us but will later recognize the truth and testify for us and give praise to God in doing so.

Just how strange, how different, how thought provoking is your behavior? Has anyone accused you lately of being strange? Has your behavior and lifestyle drawn enough attention to warrant someone's negativity? How evil have you appeared in the eyes of the natives around you? If no one has thought you strange, examine your life and your witness – are you living in the light? And if you've been accused of being strange or your life has been questioned, “When someone thinks you're strange, remember the aliens.” After all, you are one – praise God!