Lessons from a summer evening….

Yesterday evening I stepped outside and was met with a deafening roar.  The cicadas were in rare form.  One was singing with all its might right above my head, and it had plenty of neighbors waiting to answer.  I know that these little insects are a source of annoyance to some, but the sounds they produce are music to my ears.  It is an absolute marvel of God’s creation that these tiny creatures can make such a powerful noise.  They don’t have vocal cords, they don’t have lungs, and they don’t rub their wings together (like crickets).  They have a special organ called a tymbal, which has a series of ribs that sort of pop when they flex their muscles.  (Picture the noise produced by playing with a bendy straw.)  When you put many of these popping sounds together you get the characteristic buzzing sound.  What is particularly amazing is that these little guys produce a sound that can travel up to a mile and a half!  Isn’t God amazing!  So, here come a few lessons from a summer evening.

Photo by Michael Kropiewnicki from Pexels

Lesson 1.  You are not a bug.  When the psalmist says, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (139:14), he means it.  As a human being, you are so much more complex—and capable!—than a bug.  God put special effort into you, so much so that Jesus said, “You are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:31).  A bug you are not!

Lesson 2.  You are small, but not that small.  All we can do is speculate as to exactly why God made the universe as vast and grand as He did.  David had given it some thought and concluded this: “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained, What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him?” (Psalms 8:3-4).  In comparison to the cosmos, we are tiny, minuscule, insignificant.  And yet God knows you, knows where you are, what you are doing, and is even mindful of the very hairs of your head (Luke 12:7).

Lesson 3.  You make noise.  While the sound of your voice may not travel 1.5 miles across hill and dale, you have an impact.  You make a difference.  The world is not the same without you.  More importantly, the church is not the same without.  So make some noise.  Make some noise about Jesus.

“You make darkness, and it is night, In which all the beasts of the forest creep about” (Psalms 104:20).  Isn’t God amazing!

Biblical Ornithology

We are deep into summer now, and the time that fledglings have left their nests is long past, so this is not a super-timely topic, but isn’t God amazing?  Literally countless generations of birds have followed the same migratory and reproductive patterns to perpetuate their species.  Every spring they lay their eggs, those eggs hatch, they rear their young, and then the young leave the nest.  Sure, there are problems.  Poorly located nests, storms, and predators all took their toll, but the majority of those baby birds grew to maturity and are now out on their own.  From the time those eggs were laid, that was the objective of those parent birds—to get the kids out of the nest.

Photo by 42 North from Pexels

You have likely never thought of the church as a nest, but that is much like what it is.  It is a place be nurtured, to grow, to be fed, to be protected from the dangers of Satan and his world, and we should be ecstatic at having our children in such an environment.  The farther they are removed from the safety of the nest, the greater the chance that they will be overtaken and destroyed.  Injured, sick, maimed, or handicapped birds do not survive on their own.  When that fledgling is removed from its nest before it is ready, we would be honestly more surprised if it survived on its own than otherwise.  That is just the way it is.  Nor will our children survive spiritually on their own.  We make all kinds of excuses as to why this happens (and it happens way too frequently).  If we were ornithologists and were studying why this was happening among birds, we would be identifying problems and working to correct.  The base problem should be obvious: they need more nest time, so let’s keep them in the nest.

But there’s another side to this little parable.  That side dealt with leaving the nest too soon.  The other side deals with the birds that never leave the nest at all.  Sure, the nest is comfortable and life is easy, so why would I want to leave.  But if we stay with the analogy of the nest and the church, we need to get back to the objective of the parent birds—to get the kids out of the nest.  Are we leaving the nest to evangelize (Matthew 28:18-20)?  Are we leaving the nest to meet the needs (spiritual and physical) of those around us, in the church and out (Galatians 6:10)?  When are we going to leave the nest?

“How Hot Is It?”

It’s that time of year again when jokes start being made about the heat.  “It is so hot….”  “How hot is it?”  “It is so hot that the polar bears are wearing sunscreen.”  Or, “It is so hot that the cows are giving evaporated milk.”  Or, “It is so hot the Optimus Prime transformed into an air conditioner.”  I’ve got dozens more, but I will spare you.  The point is that we tend to measure things in extremes because extremes tend to grab our attention.

Jesus often used this same strategy.  He said in Luke 11:9-13: “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”

From the jokes we may tell, the point should be obvious: it is hot.  From the examples Jesus used, the point should be just as obvious: God is good, so ask away.  What if we were to ask a different question?  “How good is God?”  “God is so good that He created everything.”  “God is so good that He gave you life.”  Or, “God is so good that He gave His only begotten Son.”  Now, if you read these and happen to think, “What’s so extreme about that?” let me please encourage you to stop and think about it.  Who else can do these things but God?  God did not do these things because He had to, nor did you do so because of a challenge or a dare, nor did He do them out of pity.  He did them because of love.  God is so good that David said, “Many, O LORD my God, are Your wonderful works Which You have done; And Your thoughts toward us Cannot be recounted to You in order; If I would declare and speak of them, They are more than can be numbered”—Psalm 40:5.

So go ahead and ask.  Ask big of God.  Ask plenty of God.  Ask often, and ask thoroughly.  How good is God?  He is better than we can possibly imagine.

Tech Pushback

Hey, I get it, we’re all tired of tech. Even the ones for whom technology has been a part of their everyday lives for years are tired of it now. Many people are currently having to figure out how to work from home, and truth be told, aren’t excited to have that part of their lives invading their home life. And for many, too, technology has become essential to maintaining their connection with church. For some that has not been any more challenging than turning on their TV or picking up their smartphone, but for others, it has been much more difficult, much more expensive, or just flat out impossible. We’ve been dealing with this for three and a half months now (feels much longer, right?), and the harsh reality is that the overall situation is not likely to improve anytime soon. And that means that like it or not, at least some of this technology is here to stay (for an extended time, anyway). But we have reached the point where we’re tired of it, we’re pushing back against it, but we still need it. So where do we go from here?

Go “old school” whenever you can. Sure, the sermon notes might be on the app with all of its convenience, but pull your Bible out—the physical, hardcopy book with paper pages! Ditch the tablet and pick up the Good Book to do your daily Bible readings and studies. (This method also ensures the only notifications you get while studying are from God!)

Learn a new (useful) tech trick. It is likely that the phone, tablet, computer, or even television that you are using has all kinds of features you have never knew about. Some of those tricks are really cool (like the tape measure and level), but utterly useless when it comes to our worship and service to God. Others, though, can make things easier (like creating shortcut icons). Exploring the technology that you are suddenly relying upon to access worship, Bible study, and even “virtual fellowship” can make your use of it more comfortable.

Don’t get too comfortable. Sure, “church” in your pajamas may hold a certain appeal, but everything needs its place. Worshiping from our living rooms is not the ideal! Bible study over the internet is not as effective as in-person. There is nothing ideal about this situation. But we cannot afford to allow the casualness to overtake our devotion.

Just do it. Tired of tech? Yeah, so are we. Technology, however, is providing opportunities to stay connected like no generation has enjoyed before. We’ve got it, so let’s use it the best we know how to do the most that we can do for the glory of our God.

A Little Campfire Story

Some stories, as you know, only get better with the telling.  This story relates to the Lads and Dads camping trip that several of us participated in this past weekend.  (Some names have been changed to protect the innocent.)

First of all, let me say thanks to Jared for organizing this event and to all who participated.  This was a great idea, not only an opportunity to get out into nature, but also one for spending time with others of “like precious faith.”  I love events where you don’t have to worry about what someone is going to say or how they might act.  These young men (and their dads) are the best of the best!  What a joy to spend time with them.

I was only there on Thursday night, so I freely admit that there may be some inaccuracies in my chronicles of what happened on Friday night.  But Thursday night was perfect.  The weather was perfect.  The food was great.  The campfire conversation was stimulating.  The stars were brilliant.

Cue the raccoons.

At sometime during the night, the stealthy procyonids began making their way through camp.  I heard them but didn’t get up because I thought that everything was secure.  They didn’t make a lot of noise, nor were they there long, and I soon drifted back to sleep.  The morning sun revealed, though, that the midnight marauders’ mission was not in vain.  They managed to get into one of the coolers and made off with pork chops and sausage.  The stories of Friday night, however, told a different tale.  According to the various reports of the eyewitnesses, they made 3 or 4 passes through the camp with their strength estimated to be somewhere between 5 and 32.  They knocked the lid off the metal trash can, turned on a radio and were dancing on the table, let the air out of car tires, opened the latches of the rubbermaid tote containing the food (but could not get the lid off because they were evidently sitting on it), but ultimately made off with nothing more than a bag of Chex mix.  No one slept on Friday night.

In Luke 11, Jesus talked about an unclean spirit going out of a man, only to return finding him clean and in order.  The spirit then returns with 7 others, and the Bible says “…the last state of that man is worse than the first” (Luke 11:26).  Sin and temptation may take a holiday from you, but Satan is always looking for the chance to return and wreak havoc.

Be ready.  Satan is ready to cue the raccoons.

Meeting Trials of Various Kinds

It seems like our nation has gone nuts: impeachment proceedings, coronavirus, racial imbalance, rioting, tyranny, economic meltdown, the list seems to go on and on. And if some or a lot of this can truly be attributed to election-year antics, that’s bad, because that means it is likely to get worse. But aside from making for depressing news cycles, there is something we need to remember: the tensions and resulting chaos is real. Real people are scared. Real people are being challenged in ways they never have before, financially, emotionally, and spiritually. Real people are hurting.

I was at a gathering of preachers several years ago when the conversation turned to a particularly divisive topic. A preacher for whom I have a great deal of respect stopped the discussion and made a statement I have never forgotten. Brother Powell said, “Brethren, sin is sin.” Whether we’re talking about murder, stealing, sexual immorality, racism, or rebellion, the problem always goes back to sin. And sin is always going to lead to fear, anxiety, heartache, and pain.

James wrote, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2-3, ESV). The “trials of various kinds” which cannot be overlooked are the ones that come into our lives tangentially. We didn’t go looking for them, we didn’t invite them home with us, but here they are. We “met” them, and through that meeting, they became a trial to us, and now they are testing us. Here are 4 things we can do to make it through:

Identify sin as sin. If something is a lie, don’t repeat it. If something is truth, do not fear it. But do not try to justify sinful activity in the name of expediency, political correctness, vengeance, or injustice.

Weep when you need to weep. See Matthew 5:4 and Romans 12:15. Trials are going to hurt. We need to understand that and acknowledge it. Mourn over the sinfulness of yourself and others, have a shoulder to be cried upon, and have your own shoulder ready for those who need it.

Look for steadfastness. James says it is coming, but we have to make it through the trials first, and in the process we are being prepared for whatever is coming next.

Count the joy. No, there is no joy in trials, only in the strengthening of our faith and the resulting steadfastness.

Our joy is in our God, who sees what we must endure, and has prepared something much better for us.

Falling Down Hurts

Falling Down Hurts

Oh, sure, there may have been a time when we could fall down and not even notice, but we all reach a point where we don’t want to fall down anymore because we know it is going to hurt. And when we have reached that point, the very thought of pushing someone else down or tripping them and causing them to fall is something we would not rationally entertain. Why not? Because falling down hurts. We know this to be true physically, and by and large we practice caution for the sake of others, but how do we handle this spiritually?

“Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.”  (Romans 14:13)

Paul spent all of Romans 14 making this point. He used the example of meats which had been offered to idols, but this is his point: resolve to not make your brother fall down. Sure, Romans 14 gives us a tight line to follow. You have to do what you know to be right, but at the same time not let what you are doing trip anyone else. And sometimes it gets tough. Really tough. That means that sometimes you have to refrain from doing things that you might have the right to do in order to keep those around you safe; sometimes you have to do what you have to do, but in as gentle a way possible. Sometimes you have to swallow your pride, your stubbornness, and your attitude to be the person that someone else needs you to be. Why? Because falling down spiritually hurts, too.

Think about it. If you trip someone and cause them to fall—accidentally, it is hoped—they fall, they feel the pain, they suffer the consequences. You might be apologetic, help them up, dust them off, apologize again, and part ways. You won’t be there, though, when they struggle to get out bed the next morning or can’t even tie their shoes because of being sore. Spiritually, the reactions and the consequences are much, much worse. If you cause someone to fall spiritually—please, pray it is accidentally—the possibility exists that you will never apologize, never help them up, and never dust them off. Why? Because you can’t see the spiritually pain you have inflicted. You may even think to yourself that it wasn’t even your fault and they should have known better than to have tripped over that. You won’t be there, either, when they can’t sleep at night because of the pain, nor will you be helping hold them up on the Day of Judgment when they must answer for their transgressions, the very ones you helped to cause. (Incidentally, they won’t be standing beside you, either, when you have to answer for your own transgressions.)

Falling down hurts. Don’t fall down, and don’t make anyone else fall, either.

So Who Did the Chiefs Play?

First, let me be clear that this is not a post about my-team-is-better-than-yours. While I am personally thrilled that the Chiefs won the Super Bowl, I feel obligated to include that Sunday’s game was the only NFL game I watched all year, and this would be as true from either perspective.

At some point on Sunday night, I got to thinking about all of the talent, skills, passion, and payroll that the two teams on the field represented. (This is true of any professional sport and any game.) And despite all of those wonderful things represented on that field, half of those players were going to go home as losers. Talented? Yes. Passionate? Definitely. Well-paid? More than they deserve. And yet despite all of that, losers. Because of that, the viewpoint of Super Bowl LIV will always be the one that the Chiefs won, and not the one that the other guys, whoever they were, lost. While the players and stakeholders of the losing team may lament the loss and ponder what might have been, there was only one place with a victory celebration so big that it was detected by weather radar. (That really happened.)

The world, our community, and the church is well represented with lots of intellect, talent, skills, passion, and a spiritual payroll that is out of this world (cf. Romans 6:23). Thanks to the bountiful blessings of a benevolent God, with the blood of Jesus, every person is a potential winner. The celebration in heaven boggles the imagination (cf. Luke 15:10). (Angels, however, are not detected by radar.) Your name can be in the Book of Life (Philippians 4:3), and a crown of life is of much higher repute than even a Super Bowl ring (cf. James 1:12; Revelation 2:10).

Inevitably, unfortunately, lamentably, on the Day of Judgment there will be those who lose. All of the intellect, talent, skills, passion, and money in the world cannot be used to obtain the victory in Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:57) unless you are IN Jesus. While the Bible never uses the word “loser,” isn’t that what being “lost” implies? And if Jesus says to us, “I never knew you, depart from me” (Matthew 7:23), that would mean that despite having been given the advantages, gifts, and privileges administered by Jesus’ coming to earth, we would be the other guys, the ones who aren’t recorded in God’s book of life, the ones pondering what might have been. The losers.

Will There Be Minimum Wage in Heaven?

It was the better part of a century ago that a minimum wage was introduced in the United States on a national level. That minimum wage started out in 1938 at a whopping $0.25/hour. It has increased over the years until it stands today at $7.25/hour. The minimum wage in Missouri recently increased to $9.45/hour (which still leaves us more than $2/hour under the national average, but a whole lot better than some). Putting aside all debates regarding pros, cons, and political philosophies, I think we can all agree that it would be great if a minimum wage wasn’t necessary, for in such a world all should be compensated fairly and liberally for their labors.

Unfortunately, that is not the reality of our world. We have come to expect differing wages, and again unfortunately, we have come to expect different expectations based upon those differing wages. For some people, they might not be able to afford to do their “dream job” because of the lower wages offered, but for many people, those jobs offering only minimum wages are looked upon as undesirable. And again, unfortunately, many of those jobs are viewed as having lower expectations.

So let’s ask a couple of private questions. At your job, are you paid what you are worth, and are you worth what you are paid? You certainly don’t have to answer those questions out loud. Now think of your “wages” in the kingdom of God, knowing that Paul says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). If we ask if we’re being “paid” what we are worth, the answer most certainly is “no.” And now what if we were to ask, are we worth what we are being “paid” by God? If God had a pay scale, where should we be placed? Based on our worth to Him, would we be on minimum wage?

Going back a few verses in Romans 6, Paul had said, “But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered” (verse 17). God can be thanked that we have been given the gift of eternal life! God can be thanked that we are saved by His grace through obedience to the gospel! God can be thanked that His minimum wage is salvation from our sins!

Are we worth what God is giving us? Probably not. But that should be motivation enough to cause us to long that much diligently for the crown of life He has promised to those who love Him (James 1:12).

Do You See This Woman?

Everybody loved going to Simon’s house. He was a great guy who had lots of friends, and he loved to have them over. He always set a good table, had the best entertainment, and everyone always had a fantastic time. He was the life of the party, told funny jokes, had good stories, and was always the center of attention. And his guest list always included someone special, some celebrity, famous poet, or scholar…someone that everyone would be talking about having met. If you lucky enough to be invited to Simon’s house, you immediately dropped whatever other plans you might have had.

But there was that one party that everyone remembered. It wasn’t the one where he imported the Mediterranean caviar, nor was it the one where the guest of honor was that famous baseball catcher. It was the one where the guest of honor allowed himself to be touched by the lady with the bad reputation. Everyone knew who “he” was, but everyone there knew who “she” was, too. Her behavior was inexcusable. She was crying and just making a spectacle of herself. She cried so hard that her tears began falling on “his” feet. Then the poor thing didn’t have the decency to use a towel to clean up the mess she was making, so she wiped “his” feet with her hair. As if that were not enough, she started kissing “his” feet, almost like she was worshiping “him” or something. Then, in a desperate effort to take aways from her other social blunders, she stunk up the whole house by pouring some really fragrant (and really expensive) oil on “his” feet. Simon was beside himself. Of course it would have added to the embarrassment of the whole situation if he had caused a scene and thrown her out, but he said to himself, “Everybody knows who she is. Everybody knows what she’s done. Surely ‘he’ isn’t who ‘he’ says ‘he’ is, or ‘he’ would not have let her anywhere near ‘him’”.

“He,” however, knew exactly who she was. As a matter of fact, “he” greatly appreciated what she had done, things that Simon, as great a host as he was, apparently never thought of. So “he” said to Simon: “Do you see this woman?”

What a strange question! Of course Simon had seen her. Of course he had watched her having a crying fit right in his house. Of course he had seen her: he could still smell that obnoxious oil. But he hadn’t really seen “her.” All he had seen was what she had done in the past, and how her behavior didn’t come near matching the decorum he had established. But he never saw “her.” He never saw the sorrow and burden of her heart. He never saw “her,” the person, with struggles that were real. He never saw the desire she had to draw close to God. He never saw that she wanted help, needed help, was literally crying for help.

No, Simon had never seen “her” before in his life.