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.”