Shoe Laces And Life Lessons


Sometimes I’ve thought, as I’ve worked to connect some electronic device or tried to find something on my map or read something I didn’t quite understand, “It ought not to be this hard.”

Those are minor examples, but I think you get the idea. The same thought might be true of something in the bigger areas of life—finding employment, getting involved in a relationship, selling a piece of property. I see other people doing what I’m trying to do, and they don’t seem to struggle as much as I am. Why, I wonder.

I know people who go through such experiences and conclude that someone is out to get them. The boss hates them or their father-in-law is against them. The store clerk is mean to them.

More troubling, some may think God is behind their troubles. Well, He is in the sense that He is sovereign and in control, but not in the “He’s out to get me” kind of way.

The other day I had an experience that clarified such situations a bit. I was getting ready to go for my daily walk, and I had slipped on one tennis shoe, but when I went to tie the laces, I tugged and tugged and couldn’t get one to move. Well, I’ve tied shoe laces nearly every day of my life since that moment I first learned how. That simple act ought not to be this hard.

I figured the lace must have gotten tangled in something somehow, so I took a closer look. Actually the problem was that in the process of putting on the shoe, I also managed to put it, with my foot now inside, on top of the end of the lace. Essentially as I pulled on the lace, I had been pulling against my own weight.

In other words, I was my own obstacle.

I wonder how many times when we’re struggling in life, that might not be the way things are.

Romans 8 gives the Christian some amazing statements about our relationship with God. Here are a few:

* God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son (from vv 28 and 29)

* If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? (from vv 31 and 32)

* For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (vv 38 and 39)

In spite of these great promises I come across people all the time, either face to face or on the internet, who say they are mad at God or disappointed with Him or simply don’t believe in Him any more because this or that happened and they don’t think a loving God would do that.

Well, the truth is, we humans are standing on our own shoe laces. And we as individuals are often standing on our own shoe laces. The trouble isn’t with God at all. It’s with us.

God is good and wants to pour out His love on us, but we’re too intent on loving ourselves so we get in His way. We need to stop pulling against our own weight. We need to allow Him to be the God who leads, beside quiet waters and through the valley of the shadow of death. He isn’t beside us in the one but not the other. He wants to go with us through all of life. If we’ll simply get off the lace we’ve been standing on.

Published in: on August 11, 2017 at 5:25 pm  Comments (2)  
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So What Exactly Happened?


On April 12th, as near as I can tell, I had a stroke. Not a massive stroke. I wasn’t paralyzed and I didn’t slur my speech. I had no horrible headache. Just a small dull one. And a loss of balance which I thought was a result of an ear infection.

As a result, I did nothing (well, not quite nothing, but I didn’t do all the things you’re supposed to do for a stroke victim, though I did take an aspirin to deal with that dull headache, and did a couple things to help with my phantom ear infection). Until two days later. By that time I was not getting better and the loss of balance now included some weakness in my left arm.

Long story short I went to the ER and was quickly admitted because I had dangerously high blood pressure. They began to monitor me for stroke symptoms and to work to bring my blood pressure down. They ran a series of tests, including a CT scan and an MRI where they discovered that I’d experienced a 1.7 centimeter infarction on the right side of my cerebellum. They also monitored my heart and gave me several tests, including a stress test, and discovered that I’d also experienced a small heart attack.

The culprit, apparently, was the high blood pressure, and for good measure, they diagnosed me as diabetic, too.

Besides a number of medicines, I went on a low sodium, constant carbohydrate diet, and I started seeing a physical therapist daily.

Each day I could see progress, and when my blood pressure leveled out to what the doctor had set as the new parameter, and when the stress test showed no blockage in my heart, they discharged me.

Ever since, I’ve been on the mend. The “weakness” in my arm, which presented more as a lack of coordination, has almost completely disappeared, which is why I can again type. My left leg was affected more, but I’ve graduated from the walker to a cane, and my home physical therapist said, the day he discharged me, that he didn’t see why I couldn’t regain full use of both leg and arm.

My endurance isn’t there yet, but it’s also getting better. I’ve had wonderful help and support, which has been such a blessing, but more on that another time. Suffice it to say, I walked through the fire, but not alone. (Isaiah 43:2) I did nothing “right,” but in the midst of my distress I did call out to God. He heard my cry for help and has sent me just the people I’ve needed. Praise Him for His provision.

Published in: on May 22, 2017 at 5:00 pm  Comments (22)  
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Solomon: The Ultimate Testimony To Man’s Success


businessmanFor years I’ve had a problem with Solomon, King of Israel, son of David. I’ve complained about his life style and even declared his book of Ecclesiastes my least favorite book of the Bible . . . until his book of Song of Solomon edged it a few years ago.

Of all the people in the Bible, I understand him the least. I mean, this guy had it all. As a newly anointed king, he had an encounter with God. As a result, he experienced God’s faithfulness and fulfilled promises, specifically riches, honor, and wisdom.

In addition his father was “a man after God’s own heart,” so Solomon had a spiritual heritage. Unlike David, Solomon never lived in a cave, never had to run for his life, never experienced a civil war or open rebellion.

Though he stockpiled horses and chariots—the military might of his day—Israel lived in peace. Other kings paid tribute to him and allied with him.

His building projects succeeded, his trading ventures brought in incredible wealth. His influence expanded.

Solomon didn’t know defeat or failure or financial ruin. He never lost his job or went bankrupt or faced foreclosure.

I’ll say again, he had it all. He was the ultimate success. Status? He had it. Fame. Yep. Money, comfortable lifestyle, bling—he had all that too.

Oh, yeah, the guy was wise. His counsel was sought after by other rulers. He apparently amazed the Queen of Sheba when she tested him by asking him questions, to the point that she said, “How blessed are your men, how blessed are these your servants who stand before you continually and hear your wisdom.”

From my point of view, the guy had no excuse for what happened toward the end of his life. Solomon had it all. All. Everything people dream of. He was the ultimate testimony to human success. And here’s what he did with it:

When Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians and after Milcom the detestable idol of the Ammonites. Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and did not follow the LORD fully, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable idol of Moab, on the mountain which is east of Jerusalem, and for Molech the detestable idol of the sons of Ammon. Thus also he did for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods. (1 Kings 11:4-8 – emphasis added)

So Solomon is a testimony to the truth that Mankind’s success means nothing when it comes to the eternal things of God.

In contrast, the Apostle Paul said, his weakness made room for God’s strength.

And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.(2 Cor. 12:9-10)

God lays it out clearly in Jeremiah,

Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD. (Jer 9:23-24)

What’s of lasting value, what matters most is that we understand and know God.

Instead, we are a people who boast in our own wisdom, riches, and might. We are not boasting in our knowledge and understanding of God. We know less and less of His lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness—the things in which He delights.

In other words, we are Solomon. And we should be Paul.

This post is a revised and edited version of one that first appeared here in December 2012.

Jacob Was No Abraham


Abraham wasn’t perfect, but he was pretty amazing.

Leave your home, God said. Abraham’s response: Where to? Just go until I tell you to stop, God answered. So off Abraham went “as the Lord had spoken to him.”

When it was clear that his flocks and his nephew Lot’s couldn’t pasture together any longer, he unselfishly gave Lot the pick of the land.

Later he pleaded with God to be merciful to Sodom on behalf of Lot and his family. Six times he interceded for them.

Later, when God told him to circumcise every male in his household as a sign of the agreement they had together, he took care of it the very same day.

When Sarah wanted to send Hagar and Ishmael away, Abraham objected, but God told him to listen to Sarah. So “Abraham rose early in the morning,” packed them up, gave them provisions, and sent them on their way.

One boy gone, but then God told him to sacrifice the son of promise. “So Abraham rose early in the morning,” took wood, fire, and his son and set off. Three days later they came to the place where God directed him to go. (Good thing Abraham listened since that’s where the ram was that would become the substitute sacrifice).

Compare this to Jacob. He swindled his brother out of his birthright; lied to his dad and fooled him into thinking he was his twin in order to obtain his brother’s blessing; manipulated his uncle’s animals to procure the best for himself, and sneaked away without saying goodbye.

On top of that, as he returned home, he got word that his brother—who, rumors said, planned to kill him—was on his way to meet him . . . with four hundred men. So Jacob, brave man that he was, sent a gift, divided his people and property in two, with the hopes that at least half of them could get away, and put it all in front of him.

Interesting, though. He had an encounter with God and the next morning he changed things up, putting himself ahead of his family, then falling on his face before Esau.

He was learning.

But he made more mistakes, most notably favoring Joseph, his wife Rachel’s firstborn. To be fair, he learned about favoritism from his parents. His mother Rebekah favored him—which was why she came up with the idea for him to steal his brother’s blessing—and his father Isaac favored Esau. So Jacob was carrying on the family tradition. It’s just that it didn’t sit well with his ten older sons. They eventually kidnapped Joseph, sold him, and reported to Jacob that they found his bloody coat.

Believing Joseph to be dead, Jacob shifted his protection and possibly his favor to his youngest, Benjamin.

Fast forward some thirteen years, and famine forced Jacob to send his sons to Egypt to buy food—all except Benjamin. Unbeknown to the brothers, Joseph was the man they bought from, and he told them not to return unless their youngest brother was with them.

Time passed, food dwindled, the famine continued, and Jacob wouldn’t send Benjamin. Ruben tried to give his father assurances, to no avail. Judah tried and was turned down, but finally things grew desperate, and Jacob was forced to relent.

Here’s the big turning point of his life, I believe. He went from saying

“My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he alone is left. If harm should befall him on the journey you are taking, then you will bring my gray hair down to Sheol in sorrow” (Gen 42:38)

to saying

“may God Almighty grant you compassion in the sight of the man, so that he will release to you your other brother and Benjamin. And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved” (Gen 43:14)

It took him a long time to get there. In the meantime, God gave him the same promise He had given Abraham and Isaac—one not connected with the blessing he stole. He also protected him from his uncle and from his brother, appeared to him more than once in visions and dreams and perhaps even as the pre-incarnate Christ.

At last, he stopped grabbing and grasping and holding on. He opened his hand and relinquished his son. Only then did he receive Joseph back, alive and well.

Two patriarchs—one quick to obey, the other, oh, so slow. One willing to give up his sons, the other holding on as if he could care for them better than God could. In the end, God used them both, but I can’t help but think Abraham took the better road.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in August 2012.

Published in: on August 25, 2016 at 6:46 pm  Comments Off on Jacob Was No Abraham  
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Joy And The Holy Spirit


Most Christians have probably heard or read that joy is not the same thing as happiness. I think we’re pretty clear about the distinction.

A quick study reveals that joy is grouped with patience, peace, love, faithfulness, and a few other traits to constitute the fruit of the Spirit.

Why, then, I ask myself, do I think I need to manufacture joy?

And since the Holy Spirit is the source of joy, wouldn’t it be fair to say, if I’m not experiencing joy, I must be quenching the Holy Spirit?

I mean, Galatians 5:22-23 doesn’t make joy an optional piece of fruit. If we have the Spirit, we have the fruit. It’s a matter, then, of walking by the Spirit (Gal. 5:25). Or not.

As I’m writing this, the little chorus “The joy of the Lord is our strength” comes to mind. The words simply repeat that line over and over — a line from Nehemiah 8:10.

The returned exiles, struggling to make a go of it in the homeland most of them had never seen before, asked Ezra, one of their leaders, to read the book of the law. He read from dawn to midday. A group of others then explained the text and taught the people what it all meant.

Their reaction? Nope, not joy.

They were weeping and mourning. The Law exposed their sin, and they were undone.

That’s when Nehemiah stepped in. Stop crying, he said. Today is a holy day, set aside for the Lord. Get up and let the feast begin. Don’t grieve. The joy of the Lord is your strength.

And the people calmed down, got up, and celebrated “because they understood the words which had been made known to them” (Neh. 8:12).

Except, two verses earlier, their understanding caused them to grieve. But now? Celebration. How can that be explained apart from the joy of the Lord?

The Spirit convicts of sin. The proper response should be sorrow leading to repentance. And then comes joy, not a manufactured joy or an inauthentic emotion.

The reality was, their circumstances hadn’t changed. They were still returned exiles struggling to get it together. In their own estimation, they were still slaves:

Behold, we are slaves today,
And as to the land which
You gave to our fathers to eat of its fruit and its bounty,
Behold, we are slaves in it.
Its abundant produce is for the kings
Whom You have set over us because of our sins;
They also rule over our bodies
And over our cattle as they please,
So we are in great distress. (Neh 9:36-37)

Under those circumstances, Nehemiah gave them that salient truth: The joy of the Lord is your strength. Not bitterness or complaining, certainly. But not continued grieving, either. And not what we rely on today, a can-do spirit.

Their strength came from what only the Spirit could provide — joy from the Lord.

Ironic, then, that quenching the Spirit leads to the opposite of what someone going through difficult circumstances needs — strength. The little recap of Jewish history in Nehemiah 9 spells it out:

You gave Your good Spirit to instruct them,
Your manna You did not withhold from their mouth,
And You gave them water for their thirst. (v. 20, emphasis mine)

Indeed, forty years You provided for them in the wilderness and they were not in want;
Their clothes did not wear out, nor did their feet swell. (v 21)

You also gave them kingdoms and peoples … (v. 22)

You made their sons numerous as the stars of heaven … (v. 23)

So their sons entered and possessed the land… (v. 24)

They captured fortified cities and a fertile land… (v. 25)

But they became disobedient and rebelled against You (v. 26, emphasis added)

Therefore You delivered them into the hand of their oppressors who oppressed them. (v. 27)

Listening to God’s Spirit strengthened the people; rebelling against Him, didn’t.

So what was it those Israelites Nehemiah addressed, understood that made it possible for them to calm down, stop grieving, and celebrate?

Not a change in their circumstances, as I’ve noted. Not the promise of a change in their circumstances either. Rather, I believe they understood how faithful the Lord is and how He had not left them or forsaken them, and that He would not. They had the Lord, so they had His joy which gave them strength.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in August 2011.

Does God Play Favorites?


ThreeSheepIn the atheist Facebook group I visit from time to time, one person brought up the idea that God favors the Jews, which is bound to make everyone else feel bad. I admit, when I was growing up, I was sad to learn that I was not one of the “chosen people.” But that was because of my ignorance.

Scripture states unequivocally that God picked the people of Israel to be His because of what we would consider their weaknesses. They weren’t strong, they were few in number, they weren’t influential.

So why them?

Scripture tells us that too:

The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the LORD brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments (Deut. 7:7-9)

The people of Israel benefited from God’s love and faithfulness, not from their own abilities or cleverness or obedience or wisdom or service. They were wayward, weak, needy, complaining, disobedient. But God had promised, and God is faithful.

The question still lies there: why choose any one nation at all?

God’s purpose from the beginning was to use His son to mediate between Himself and His creation. Adam filled that role at first when God put him in control of all creation, to rule it and subdue it. He was God’s ambassador to creation.

After the fall, God chose a nation, Israel, who he called His son, to show the way for the nations to find Him.

When their disobedience was complete, God sent His Son to be the beacon to the world.

Now He is building His Church to be those who reflect His glory, who shine the light of salvation to all the world.

So where is favoritism?

God hasn’t left anyone out.

Granted, He gave Adam and then Israel and now the Church unique roles. But certainly not favored roles. Would anyone say that God was showing favoritism to Jesus by sending Him to die at Calvary?

Israel wasn’t favored either. It was to serve as an example before the nations of a people who worshiped the one true God and obeyed Him, so that others would come to Him. They were sort of like the test case, the prototype. All the others could see how it was done, iron out the mistakes, and do it better.

If anything, Israel was under a microscope. They had to get it right, not just for themselves, but for all the watching nations around them.

But, of course, they didn’t get it right.

Their “favored nation” role became a place of judgment and condemnation, with a caveat: God promised them a remnant and a Savior.

Jesus is that Savior. Although His mission on earth was to teach and heal the people of Israel, as He Himself said (see Matt. 15:24), He made it clear that His ultimate goal was to seek and to save the lost. He came because God loves the world, not just the Jews (see John 3:16). He provided Israel every opportunity to claim Him as Messiah, but they would not.

Consequently, new branches were grafted into the vine, and now we who were not a people, have become the people of God.

Just like the Jews, however, we haven’t been chosen because of some merit in ourselves. Rather, God choose the weak and the foolish of this world, that His power and glory will be all the more evident.

For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD.” (1 Cor. 1:26-31)

Such an ironic question—does God play favorites. Throughout Israel’s history, He instructed them to care for orphans and widows and strangers. When Jesus came, He spent a great deal of His public ministry healing people who were the castoffs of society. And His entire purpose for coming to earth was to rescue the perishing. All who believe, even the very last little lamb who’s gone astray.

Yeah, no, God isn’t partial and doesn’t play favorites. Peter, in his first letter, tells us God impartially judges. James tells us there’s no partiality with God. Scripture also tells us that God wants all to come to repentance, that He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked.

God’s love is as complete and universal as it can be. It’s us humans who treat God unfairly, not the other way around.

Published in: on July 19, 2016 at 6:31 pm  Comments Off on Does God Play Favorites?  
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Faith That Moves Mountains


Brown_Mustard_SeedJesus talked about faith that moves mountains. A couple times. Matthew records one instance in chapter 17 and then a bit later, in chapter 21.

The first time Jesus mentions it, He says, somewhat surprisingly, that the size of our faith is unimportant. Maybe even immaterial. The point He’s making that the very smallest amount of faith, the size of a mustard seed, is able to move mountains. Except, He couples their mustard seed-sized faith and what it can do with a chastisement—that their faith was too small.

I can only surmise that any faith smaller than a mustard seed had to be no faith at all. This idea seems consistent with the second instance in which Jesus challenged His disciples to have faith the size of a mustard seed. On that occasion, He added an important caveat: “if you have faith and do not doubt” (Matt 21:21b).

So I’m wondering if faith that moves mountains is pure faith, no matter the size or the amount, not gobs and gobs of faith with just a little doubt.

We’re big on doubt these days. We applaud people who are “honest” about how they feel concerning God and how He’s “let them down.”

Certainly we have examples in the Bible of people who didn’t have the kind of faith that moved mountains. If fact, in the first instance Matthew recorded, when Jesus talked about mustard-seed faith, He was answering why the disciples couldn’t cast out a demon during the time He was up on the mount of transfiguration.

Peter, right after he’d declared that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God, showed his ignorance and doubt in what Jesus said. No, no, Peter declared, you aren’t going to be killed like you just said. That can’t happen!

Jesus’s response is very telling, I think: “Get behind me, Satan.”

He wasn’t sympathetic or compassionate. He didn’t say, I know how shocking this must be for you to hear, and I understand why you doubt my word, but trust me on this.

I kind of wish Jesus had responded that way. I mean, I think Peter’s response was understandable, given what he believed about the Messiah. He was expecting a victorious king to come and defeat the Romans. But he let what he thought was going to happen affect what he believed about what Jesus told him would happen.

It sounds like such a little thing, this crack in the faith statement Peter had just delivered, but it obviously wasn’t a little thing to Jesus. He wants faith that’s untainted with doubt.

George-MuellerI’m reading a biography of George Muëller right now. When he was a young man, he became convinced that he was to live simply, and completely dependent upon God’s provision. He was a young pastor, and he gave up his salary. At the time, in the early 1830s, the church received payment from the richer congregants for pew rental, and that’s where they got money to pay their pastor.

Muëller believed none of the church members should be treated in a better manner than any other. And he believed God would supply all he needed. So he stopped the practice of renting the pews and he refused a salary.

His trust in God to provide for his needs extended to his ministry. First he started an institute that supported foreign missions, funded six Christian day schools, two Sunday schools, and an adult school, along with various outreaches to the poor. Later he added an orphan’s home, then a second, and a third. Even when he had over 100 orphans under his care, his method for raising money was to pray. He would tell God, and God alone, about their needs.

People gave generously to his work even though they didn’t know what his specific needs were. But the cool thing about what Muëller did was that he was intentionally walking by faith so that other Christians would see and believe that God meant what He said in His word.

His faith was contagious, and it continues to inspire people even to this day. It inspires me. I want to believe that God means what He says, without any doubting. He’s proved Himself faithful in the lives of so many others, in the Bible and throughout history. Why would I think He’s grow tired of caring for His children.

He who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, is certainly not going to change His mind when I bring my needs before Him. He’s not going to give me a scorpion when I ask for bread because He loves me with a Father’s love.

The thing God asks of us is to seek His kingdom and His righteousness. A la George Muëller. He wasn’t seeking for his own aggrandizement or comfort or ease. He was seeking to tell others about the love of Jesus Christ and the good news that He covered our sins with His robe of righteousness.

As a result, God expanded Muëller’s opportunities to reach people with truth. The mountain that Muëller moved was the piles of provisions needed for his ministries. When some of his workers asked, what do we do if we have no bread in the morning, he never offered a plan B. His plan A was for God to provide through the generosity of His people, and He never wavered from that plan.

The result was that his orphans were always properly fed and clothed. And that more and more people understood just how faithful God is.

Published in: on June 28, 2016 at 6:57 pm  Comments (1)  
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