Telling People They’re Good


Some time not long ago Western society started lying to kids. You can do ANYTHING, parents and teachers and coaches and TV stars and sports figures all say in unison. ANYTHING. Except that isn’t true.

Case in point. When I was coaching, I had a seventh grade girl who made the basketball team as an “understudy”–a player who would practice with the team, sit on the bench during games, but who would not play. This particular girl hadn’t played before, so had no bad habits to break. What’s more, she was sharp, attentive, and willing to work. But she was also slow and weak and not particularly quick.

Nevertheless, all her hard work earned her a spot on the team the following year. In fact when she went into high school, she made the freshman team of her fairly large public school, all because she had great fundamentals. But she still wasn’t fast or quick or strong. No matter how much that girl may have wanted to play pro basketball or make the Olympics (I have no reason to believe she wanted either) that was never going to happen. Never.

Her story repeats itself time and time again, and yet all these parents and teachers and coaches and TV stars and sports figures continue to lie to kids.

What bothers me so much is that at the same time, those influential people are missing what kids really need to hear: the truth. They need to hear what they need to improve and they need to hear what they do well.

I wrote a post some years ago over at Spec Faith about writing reviews. I’m a big believer that we need to be balanced in what we say about books—and that would apply to movies, too, or songs, or people.

Yes, people.

We are all a mixed bag. We were created in God’s image, with a sin nature. How much more mixed can we get? We have talents and character strengths and physical prowess and mental capacity. A lot of that is wired in our DNA. We did nothing to make ourselves as tall as we are or as creative or adventurous. We have those things because God gave them to us.

At the same time, we are prideful, lazy, greedy, selfish, vengeful, dishonest, and a host of other things–not stuff we had to learn, but stuff that is innately ours as sin baggage we’re born with.

How great, then, if the influences in our lives told the truth about us. Things like, You are such a gifted athlete, but your pride will stop you cold from ever being a good teammate.

I’m not sure people need to hear both sides of the equation at the same time, but hear it, they should.

Also over at Spec Faith, on one of the writing challenges I ran, of those posting an entry remarked that the environment created by commenters as they gave feedback was positive and encouraging. I honestly hadn’t thought about it until he mentioned it, but he was right.

Good, I thought. Writers get bad news ALL the time—rejections from agents, contest entries that don’t place, critiques from partners pointing out what needs to improve. All of that is fine and legitimate and part of the process of learning and improving.

But what happened to telling people what’s good? We learn that way, too. Peter in his first epistle points to Christ and His suffering on our behalf and says, that’s the way to do it. He didn’t sin, didn’t lie, didn’t hurl invective back at those who jeered Him, didn’t threaten payback while he was suffering. That’s the way to live, Peter says.

Paul does the same kind of thing with the Thessalonians. You’re doing well, he says, but now excel still more.

Maybe it’s time for us to start telling the truth to each other, not just to our kids. We can’t do everything. But what we do well, shouldn’t we tell each other? Shouldn’t we be happy to sing the praises of those in our lives when they show kindness or work hard on their job or pick up their socks? Sometimes I think we’re waiting for great things. But maybe we need to mention the every day things, then at the appropriate moment let them know they can excel still more.

I have my suspicions that telling people they are good at filing or being on time or taking out the trash without being reminded will go a lot farther than telling them they can do anything.

Published in: on July 18, 2017 at 5:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Thoughts On Prayer


woman-praying-840879-mMy mom prayed. Among others, I know she prayed for me. Every day. When she passed away, it dawned on me that I no longer had someone praying for me on a daily basis. It was a sobering thought. I felt a little as if someone had removed my safety net.

As time passed, I realized I wanted to be more like my mom in a number of ways. She was a good correspondent, writing notes to people she knew decades earlier and consistently sending birthday cards to family members. She was disciplined—had regular eating and sleeping habits, kept her home neat and clean and her checkbook balanced. And she prayed.

I’m not my mom, so the discipline and the correspondence, when I think about them, are dreams, at best, but prayer … now that’s a different story.

Prayer is something God asks of all Christians, not just the disciplined ones or those who are particularly good at staying in touch.

So prayer is something I need to work at.

Interestingly, among the things of my mom’s that I kept was a prayer journal. Not one she used. In fact, it might actually have been my dad’s, but at any rate, I acquired this volume that neither of them had written in.

It wasn’t revolutionary in its content. In the introductory section, those who put the journal together (Peter Lord originally, and with Daniel Henderson in the current version) gave Biblical instruction about praise and thanksgiving, confession, intercession, including how to pray for the unsaved, and petition.

And then the journal. Above all, it provides a way for me to think about who I should pray for.

There are pages to record requests for national and state leaders, judges and civic leaders, school board members and principals and teachers.

Another page is reserved for recording requests for enemies. Another for friends.

Several pages focus my thoughts on missionaries. One page lists Biblical needs to pray about for persecuted Christians around the world.

There is a “heart burdens” page (this is were I pray for Christian fantasy writers and the success of the genre). There’s a page for praying for my pastor and for other pastors and church leaders.

You get the idea. The journal focuses my attention on the people God says we are to be praying for and the things Scripture says we are to be praying about.

Yes, there’s also a page for “my stuff,” so I am still praying about the things that used to dominate my prayer time—the very things that made prayer feel redundant and boring, even to me. But now, I see them as part of a greater whole. My perspective is different and my stuff doesn’t seem as urgent as it once did.

The biggest difference is the praise and thanksgiving time the journal has led me to include consistently. By focusing first on God, I realize that He is bigger than my prayer concerns, that His concern for these same issues is greater than my own, that He who has shown Himself to be faithful in times past, is still faithful and true and trustworthy.

One last thing. The journal editors encourage recording answers to prayers by giving God the glory—praise Your holy name, or PYHN for short. It’s a great short-hand way to look back and see what God has done in answer to prayer.

Sound mechanical? I suppose so, but I needed structure. My prayer life was … nothing like my mom’s, and I wanted that to change.

This post is a re-print of one that first appeared here in May 2010—because I needed to re-read this one too.

Published in: on January 19, 2017 at 5:37 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Thanksgiving Psalms


David017I may have mentioned in the past that there are some psalms I have a hard time with. Not so the praise and thanks psalms, especially those in chapters between, say, 90 and 104. Those psalms magnify God by recounting His character, seen in His dealings with His people.

My favorite might be Psalm 103. Might, I say, because I also really like some of the others, particularly 91. But 103, one David wrote, contains some memorable lines, and it throws the spotlight on God in such a beautiful way:

1 Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And all that is within me, bless His holy name.
2 Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And forget none of His benefits;
3 Who pardons all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases;
4 Who redeems your life from the pit,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;
5 Who satisfies your years with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.
6 The LORD performs righteous deeds
And judgments for all who are oppressed.
7 He made known His ways to Moses,
His acts to the sons of Israel.
8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.
9 He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.
12 As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
13 Just as a father has compassion on his children,
So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.
14 For He Himself knows our frame;
He is mindful that we are but dust.
15 As for man, his days are like grass;
As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
16 When the wind has passed over it, it is no more,
And its place acknowledges it no longer.
17 But the lovingkindness of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him,
And His righteousness to children’s children,
18 To those who keep His covenant
And remember His precepts to do them.
19 The LORD has established His throne in the heavens,
And His sovereignty rules over all.
20 Bless the LORD, you His angels,
Mighty in strength, who perform His word,
Obeying the voice of His word!
21 Bless the LORD, all you His hosts,
You who serve Him, doing His will.
22 Bless the LORD, all you works of His,
In all places of His dominion;
Bless the LORD, O my soul!

Published in: on January 28, 2016 at 5:49 pm  Comments (1)  
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Sacrifices Of Thanksgiving


NOT the drive thru I was at

NOT the drive thru I was at

On another site I’ve had a discussion with an atheist about the context of Scripture—for instance, how God gave the Mosaic Law to the Jews because they lived in a theocracy. These same laws, then, are not intended for Christians to slavishly obey. In fact, the Law shows us we cannot please God by trying to do good and obey, primarily because . . . sin.

Then what’s the point of the Mosaic Law? Why are those chapters describing the sin offering and the guilt offering and the peace offering and the thank offering in the Bible?

Undoubtedly there are many reasons, but one certainly is that an understanding of the system of sacrifices gives us a picture of offering up to God that which pleases Him.

Always the requirement of sin has been shed blood. Adam and Eve sinned, and God covered their nakedness with the skin of an animal—an animal that had to die. From that point on, men offered sacrifices to God. Spilling the blood of an animal was part of worship. Noah, Abram, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, and on, the people of God built altars and made sacrifice to God.

And then Christ.

Jesus died once for all, the just for the unjust. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. As a result, we’re free from the need to offer sacrifices over and over so that we may be in right relationship with God. Because of His grace and forgiveness, Jesus became the final sacrifice. His blood is sufficient to save, and no other sacrifice is necessary.

Then what are these sacrifices of praise and thanks? I wrote a post on this topic back in March entitled “Praise Is More Than Positive Thinking” but I think the topic is worth revisiting.

Scripture makes a case for the fact that God is delighted by our sacrifices. Paul equates the monetary donations he received from the church in Philippi with “a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice.” Not to him. Their giving to Paul was a form of worshiping God.

The writer of Psalm 107 said

Let them also offer sacrifices of thanksgiving,
And tell of His works with joyful singing. (v 22)

Because he coupled “sacrifices of thanksgiving” with telling of His works through song, I suspect the former isn’t referring to the animal sacrifices but actual verbal expressions of thanks.

The writer to the Hebrews clearly was referring to words:

Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. (13:15)

Paul identified thanking God as something consistent with His will:

in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thess. 5:18)

Amazing, isn’t it, to think that we can be sure we’re praying according to God’s will if we’re thanking Him. I mean, how many times do we think, if only I knew what God wanted me to do. Well, there it is. God’s will is for us to thank Him.

I was feeling a little peevish this morning. I was on my way to the grocery store and stopped for some breakfast at a fast food place. I decided to treat myself to a combo! But the attendent was trying to over charge me and couldn’t seem to understand what I was ordering. I got a little brusque with her and even said I’d leave if they didn’t have the combo I requested at the posted price.

When I reached the window I was starting to wonder if she might not be new to the job. She kindly asked me how many creams and sugars I wanted for my coffee, but when she brought them, I had to request a stirrer. She came back with one and apologized, “All I could find was a straw.” Well, the stirrers at that restaurant do have straw-like properties, but now I was sure she was new. So my peevishness turned into guilt. And as I was eating, I wondered why I hadn’t at least apologized for being short with her.

What a bad morning!

Except, not really. I started thinking about events that had happened before I reached the fast food place, and I began thanking God for them. And as I type, I can thank God for His forgiveness for my shortness with that fast food server. How kind of Him to not treat me the way I treated her.

Sacrifices of thanksgiving?

One more point. I posted on Facebook just this week how much I appreciate people who share my posts. If I feel that way, why wouldn’t God? When we praise Him or thank Him, we are recognizing who He is and what He’s done.

Without question, what we do can please God:

Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. (1 Thess. 4!)

So too, our words, our praise, our thanks can be pleasing to God—a fragrant aroma, an act of worship, a sacrifice of thanksgiving.

Published in: on November 19, 2015 at 6:07 pm  Comments (3)  
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Spiritual Disciplines


prayerThe jargon in Christian circles changes. Years ago, we talked a great deal about spiritual disciplines. Today we talk about spiritual formation and being missional. I’m not sure I see a great deal of difference in any of it, as long as it is Biblical. What we name things isn’t really the important thing as much as is our obedience to what God calls us to.

There are a few things that once were known as spiritual disciplines—largely because they required self-discipline to develop the habit of doing these particular things that would enhance spiritual growth—i.e., a closer relationship with God.

They really were no-brainers. Like any relationship, our relationship with God depends on communication. So the spiritual disciplines were things like spending time every day reading Scripture and praying. In other words, communicating with God.

I don’t recall ever seeing a list of spiritual disciplines, but they would undoubtedly include meditating on God’s word, going to church regularly, telling others about Christ, fasting, and serving others. What we rarely talked about then or now is memorizing Scripture.

We didn’t talk much about praising God or thanking Him either. Oh, we sometimes included praise and thanks in our teaching about prayer. There’s the cool acronym ACTS that serves as a “what to include in prayer” guide. If I remember correctly, A is for adoration—another word for praise. C is for confession, T for thanksgiving, and S for supplication, or asking God for the things we perceive as needs.

Still, praise and/or thanksgiving never seemed to get their own special place among the other spiritual disciplines. I suppose many people assume that praise is taken care of if a person goes to church because there’s “a time of worship,” which generally means singing. Sometimes singing does involve corporate praise, but I don’t think it’s a substitute for praising God personally.

It’s kind of like the difference between sitting in an audience and applauding a performer versus going up to them afterward to tell them how much you enjoyed what they did. Both are good, but the personal “why I liked it” or “what it meant to me” or “how it affected or influenced or changed me” goes deeper. I think that’s what individual praise of God can do.

Back to memorizing Scripture—when I was in school, memorization as a learning tool was in disgrace. I think that idea carried over to the Church until we pretty much stopped emphasizing it altogether.

The thing is, Jesus said the Holy Spirit would bring to our remembrance His words. But how can He bring to our remembrance what we’ve never learned?

He’s God, so He can work around our own failings, but if we are serious about our relationship with Him—if we truly want to hear His voice, we need to draw near to Him, as James says (“Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” James 4:7).

Of late I’ve been working harder at memorizing Scripture, and one thing I’ve noticed: verses I’ve read any number of times suddenly have greater meaning. I “get” them. I suppose it’s really that I personalize them because I’m thinking about them so much more and repeating them more often. Because that’s the secret to memorizing verses or passages of Scripture: repetition.

That’s the secret to memorizing anything. I use the times tables as my measurement of memorization. In school I needed to memorize the times tables. I had a teacher who tested us on our times table over and over. At some point, even though I wasn’t reviewing the times table or being tested on it, I could still pop off and answer, Whats 5 times 6, without a pause.

In other words, I own the times table. I know it as well as I know my own name. I have it memorized.

In contrast, too often in the past I would memorize a verse or a passage of the Bible and then go on to something else. At some point I would realize that I no longer could quote that verse by heart any more. That was true of something so well known as Psalm 23. I knew it as a child, knew it into adulthood, but at some point, I could no longer call it up like I could the times table. Why? because I hadn’t repeated it any time in the last decade or so!

I’m not good at memorization. We all have different learning styles and one model identifies some learners as “global,” meaning we grasp the big picture over and above the specifics. Consequently, I learn concepts more easily than I learn particulars. I could tell you, for example, the causes of the Civil War more easily than I could tell you what general fought in what battle on what date. Other people have no problem learning the particulars. They come easily and they stick. Me, I have to work at it and work at it and work at it.

In fact, I’ve figured out that I need to learn a verse at least three times before I have it actually learned. I mean, I can say a verse word perfectly in the morning. I mean, I’ll say it, check myself, say it in context. I have it. Until the next day. Then it’s like I’ve never seen the verse before. So I start over. I may remember some parts of the verse, and re-learning it isn’t as hard as the first time, but come day three, it’s like I never even looked at the verse. So I re-learn it once more. By that time, I’m making connections and figuring out key words that can cue me to the next phrase. Generally by day four I can struggle through, but I need to keep reviewing.

There are some verses or passages I’ve left too soon, and when I go to review them later, I have to spend considerable time with them because I make so many mistakes.

And yet, as much as it’s work for me to memorize Bible verses, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It’s one of the coolest disciplines that draws me closer to God. And, get this, it doesn’t take as much time as you might think. Consider this. Once you have a verse memorized, it doesn’t take any longer to say it than to read it. How long does it take to read John 3:16? Maybe 20 seconds? Probably less.

So if I’m memorizing a verse, and I say it over and over and over and over and over—if I break it into parts, as I do, and repeat a phrase three times, then do the same for the next phrase and then add them together until I have the whole verse, that’s what, 20 seconds multiplied by maybe 18 repeated phrases, or six minutes to memorize a verse. Six minutes. I can think of a lot of six minutes I waste, even though I say I’m oh, so busy.

The key for me is . . . well, discipline. I have figured out a place and time that works for me to spend time reading, praying, whatever. Eventually, after repetition, these disciplines aren’t actual disciplines any more. They’re habits.

Now if I could just get in the habit of cleaning the house. 😉

Published in: on May 8, 2015 at 7:23 pm  Comments Off on Spiritual Disciplines  
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Praise Is More Than Positive Thinking


anchors-in-suffolk-england-955234-mA number of studies reportedly show the benefit of a hopeful attitude. Patients, for example, who expect a positive outcome have a higher recovery rate. Praise supposedly helps students perform better as well. So along with discouraging corporal punishment, society now pushes positive reinforcement.

This has been going on for some time. In order to make all little leaguers feel loved and accepted, everyone receives a trophy. Regardless of talent or ability (or attendance at practice), all kids must play. Never mind that the idea behind competitive sports is competition—the kind that produces a winner and a loser, or a runner up, if you prefer. But clearly, not everyone playing is a winner.

Many of the kids may have shown a work ethic or the ability to cooperate or a team spirit. But in the end, some kids are better than others; one team is pronounced the champion. Others may have done their best, but their best didn’t produce enough points or enough defense to put them ahead on the scoreboard when the last out was recorded.

Praise, as it turns out, is only temporary unless it is tied to truth. I can say all day long that I’m the best basketball player in my age and gender group, but that does not make it true. I might feel good about myself because of my perceived ability, but what happens when I play against someone better than I am?

As it turns out, a recent study indicates a connection between “too much” parental praise and narcissism in children.

True praise will not ascribe something false to another just to puff them up.

In contrast to the fakery of parental praise—or if not feigned, then manipulative (if I tell him how great he is, then he’ll perform the way I want him to)—praise offered to God stands on the truth of God’s character. He is worthy to be praised because He genuinely is the greatest, the sovereign, the almighty.

Praising God is merely recognizing Him for who He is. He is kind, consequently He deserves praise for His kindnesses that are new every morning. He is love, consequently He deserves praise for His love that never fails. He is just and therefore deserves praise for his righteous judgments. He is merciful and therefore deserves praise because His mercies never cease.

When we recognize the truth about God—about His Person, plan, work, and/or word—either we can respond directly to Him in the form of thanksgiving (publicly or privately) or we can reflect what we see by offering Him praise (corporately or personally). Scripture refers to these responses as sacrifices—of thanks or of praise.

I will render thank offerings to You.
For You have delivered my soul from death,
Indeed my feet from stumbling,
So that I may walk before God
In the light of the living. (Psalm 56:12b-13; emphasis mine)

No, we do not live under the sacrificial system any longer. Jesus Christ died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust so that He might bring us to God.

But God delights in our sacrifice of praise:

Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. (Heb. 13:15)

Jesus modeled this act of praise to God. Many who Jesus healed and even those who witnessed the miracles praised God for His marvelous work. Some of the disciples, when they were persecuted, responded by praising God with psalms and hymns.

In fact, the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving is the very mark of His Church:

you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:15)

Praising God is not wishful thinking or hoping for the best or positive mind speak or any of the other human endeavors many engage in. Praising God is anchored in the truth of His character, His promises, His acts of mercy, His way of salvation. In other words, God deserves recognition.

When President Obama comes to California on one of his fund raising trips, nobody ignores him. He has police escorts and roads are closed off to allow his motorcade to pass. The media reports his arrival and covers his activities. People pay attention.

Recognizing someone’s existence or presence is not the same as praising them, however.

God wants more than our awareness of His existence or our willingness to meet with Him regularly. He wants us to shout our gratitude for His traits, for the wonders He performs, for the rescue He pulled off in transfering us from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of His beloved Son.

The psalmist rendered thank offerings for a reason: because God delivered his soul from death and his feet from stumbling. Our praise today should be no less anchored in truth.

Published in: on March 24, 2015 at 7:56 pm  Comments (1)  
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Which Comes First?


gatesSunday my pastor, Mike Erre, discussed a study of the book of Psalms by Walter Bruegemann in which he categorized the various psalms in three groups: Orientation, Disorientation, or Reorientation.

The Orientation psalms view the world based on an orientation toward God. They praise Him all-out. They speak of His mercy, His wonders, His glory. There are no shadows in those psalms. Psalm 100 would be an example of an orientation psalm, I believe.

Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth.
Serve the Lord with gladness;
Come before Him with joyful singing.
Know that the Lord Himself is God;
It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;
We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.

Enter His gates with thanksgiving
And His courts with praise.
Give thanks to Him, bless His name.
For the Lord is good;
His lovingkindness is everlasting
And His faithfulness to all generations.

They “express a confident, serene settlement of faith issues.” They “give expression . . . to the reality that God is trustworthy and reliable.” (Quotes from Spirituality of the Psalms by Walter Bruegemann).

As you might guess, then, the Disorientation psalms view the world as broken. They are the psalms that Job might have written at his lowest point. They could be considered laments. They mourn for what is lost and plead for God to hear and answer. And then they end. Psalm 88 is an example of a Disorientation psalm.

Then come the Reorientation psalms. These are songs that begin with questions, with a focus on the broken world, and then reach a turning point in which the psalmist sees the world more completely because he’s now taking God into account. Psalm 73 is a good example of a Reorientation psalm:

When I pondered to understand this,
It was troublesome in my sight
Until I came into the sanctuary of God;
Then I perceived their end. (vv 16-17)

The Reorientation psalms seem clearly to begin with a problem–affliction by enemies or an observation of the prosperity of the wicked or an unanswered prayer. As the psalmist cries out to God, he finds the answer to his situation in God.

But what about the Orientation and Disorientation psalms–which comes first? The implication from what Pastor Mike said is that Orientation came first, then “reality” set in–or at least hardship did. All is well, so people praise God unreservedly. Then all hell breaks loose and people lament. At some point there’s a realignment of perspective that takes into consideration both the greatness of God and the disappointments of life.

But must it be so? Why couldn’t the order be Disorientation, brought on by the Fall, Reorientation, when the truth of God sinks in, and Orientation, when all is seen as under His sovereign ordering, so praise is not dependent upon circumstances in the least.

I’m mindful of this because of something I read this week by literary agent Lee Hough who has been battling cancer for a year or more. As he awaits to learn the effect of the latest treatments, he wrote in part

So, again, the cancer is back. Now what?

Whether I’m healed of cancer in this life or not – God is good.

Whether I’m healed of cancer in this life or not – God is faithful.

Whether I’m healed of cancer in this life or not – God is merciful.

Whether I’m healed of cancer in this life or not – God is loving.

His life has been disoriented, but his faith is firmly oriented. What private laments did he and his wife express? I couldn’t say. God has been the hero of Lee’s story since he first began writing about his experience with cancer.

It is in reading his praise of God, his unswerving trust in God, his undiminished confidence in God’s character that my faith grows. Obviously, Lee did not write out of a naive trust in God when all was bright and sunny, with his future here on earth looking rosy. He wrote from the unknown, from the valley of the shadow, caught between Pharaoh’s army and the Red Sea. He wrote as one “going, not knowing.”

And his words make me think of Paul’s:

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. (Rom 8:38-39)

It seems to me, the clearer we see God–when we no longer put our eyes on the enemies chasing us or the friends betraying us or the cancer, the famine, the lost income, or the prosperous cheats–when we see God without distractions because we know nothing can separate us from His love, I think our praise will be like Orientation psalms, like the praise of the angels around God’s throne. The more nearly we understand Him, the more clearly we’ll sing His praise–not because of ignorance of suffering or out of naiveté. Rather, because of an awareness of suffering and evil, knowing that God is greater than all of it. Therein lines the purest praise, I think.

Published in: on February 6, 2013 at 6:39 pm  Comments (2)  
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Treasure


treasureWho wouldn’t love to find a hidden treasure? I grew up reading stories about treasure–buried by pirates or discovered by teenage sleuths. Often a map showed the way.

The Bible has lots to say about treasure and is, in essence, the map showing the way to the treasure of which it speaks. Of course, too many of us misunderstand what “treasure” means in the Biblical context. My pastor gave a helpful definition on Sunday: treasure is whatever we value, prioritize, or order our lives around.

So the man in the parable who found a great pearl, then went and sold all he had to buy the field in which he found it, valued that pearl above all else. The Good Shepherd who left the ninety-nine sheep to find the lost lamb, valued the lost above all else. [As an aside, how great a picture is that of God pursuing us lost sinners?]

Jesus gave some clear instruction about our treasure:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:19-21)

Quite apparently, Jesus was contrasting treasure that is perishable with that which is imperishable. Our treasure trove, He says, should not be stuffed with valuables that don’t last but with those that do.

Interestingly, just before Jesus gave this treasure admonition, He taught about “religious activity”–giving to the poor, praying, fasting. In each instance, He says, don’t do what you do to be noticed by others. Then He launches in on a discourse about treasure.

I conclude that the accolades of men should be racked up with perishable treasure. But so should the money kind of treasure. A few verses later, Jesus states clearly, “You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matt. 6:24b).

My guess is, the preoccupation with acquiring treasure–earthly or heavenly–derails us from doing what Jesus commanded toward the end of His sermon. Our preoccupation isn’t to be about us. It’s to be about God and the things of God.

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matt. 6:33)

Too often we read that verse and immediately ask, What things is Jesus promising us? Well, He isn’t promising us anything. He’s speaking to those who seek first His kingdom and righteousness. By asking, what is Jesus promising, it seems to me we automatically rule ourselves out of the promise.

If we’re seeking after His kingdom and righteousness, we’ll come to that verse and say, How am I to seek after His kingdom and righteousness? What does that look like in my life? Where do I sign up? When can I get started?

The treasure, I suggest, is buried in the answers to those questions.

Published in: on January 7, 2013 at 5:48 pm  Comments (1)  
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Telling People They’re Good


Some time not long ago Western society started lying to kids. You can do ANYTHING, parents and teachers and coaches and TV stars and sports figures all say in unison. ANYTHING. Except that isn’t true.

Case in point. When I was coaching, I had a seventh grade girl who made the basketball team as an “understudy”–a player who would practice with the team, sit on the bench during games, but who would not play. This particular girl hadn’t played before, so had no bad habits to break. What’s more, she was sharp, attentive, and willing to work. But she was also slow and weak and not particularly quick.

Nevertheless, all her hard work earned her a spot on the team the following year. In fact when she went into high school, she made the freshman team of her fairly large public school, all because she had great fundamentals. But she still wasn’t fast or quick or strong. No matter how much that girl may have wanted to play pro basketball or make the Olympics (I have no reason to believe she wanted either) that was never going to happen. Never.

Her story repeats itself time and time again, and yet all these parents and teachers and coaches and TV stars and sports figures continue to lie to kids.

What bothers me so much is that at the same time, those influential people are missing what kids really need to hear: the truth. They need to hear what they need to improve and they need to hear what they do well.

I wrote a post today over at Spec Faith about writing reviews. I’m a big believer that we need to be balanced in what we say about books–and that would apply to movies, too, or songs, or people.

Yes, people.

We are all a mixed bag. We were created in God’s image, with a sin nature. How much more mixed can we get? We have talents and character strengths and physical prowess and mental capacity. A lot of that is wired in our DNA. We did nothing to make ourselves as tall as we are or as creative or adventurous. We have those things because God gave them to us.

At the same time, we are prideful, lazy, greedy, selfish, vengeful, dishonest, and a host of other things–not stuff we had to learn, but stuff that is innately ours as sin baggage we’re born with.

How great, then, if the influences in our lives told the truth about us. Things like, You are such a gifted athlete, but your pride will stop you cold from ever being a good teammate.

I’m not sure people need to hear both sides of the equation at the same time, but hear it, they should.

Also over at Spec Faith, I ran a writing challenge, and one of those posting an entry remarked that the environment created by commenters as they gave feedback was positive and encouraging. I honestly hadn’t thought about it until he mentioned it, but he was right.

Good, I thought. Writers get bad news ALL the time–rejections from agents, contest entries that don’t place, critiques from partners pointing out what needs to improve. All of that is fine and legitimate and part of the process of learning and improving.

But what happened to telling people what’s good? We learn that way, too. Peter in his first epistle points to Christ and His suffering on our behalf and says, that’s the way to do it. He didn’t sin, didn’t lie, didn’t hurl invectives back at those who jeered Him, didn’t threaten payback while he was suffering. That’s the way to live, Peter says.

Paul does the same kind of thing with the Thessalonians. You’re doing well, he says, but now excel still more.

Maybe it’s time for us to start telling the truth to each other, not just to our kids. We can’t do everything. But what we do well, shouldn’t we tell each other? Shouldn’t we be happy to sing the praises of those in our lives when they show kindness or work hard on their job or pick up their socks? Sometimes I think we’re waiting for great things. But maybe we need to mention the every day things, then at the appropriate moment let them know they can excel still more.

I have my suspicions that telling people they are good at filing or being on time or taking out the trash without being reminded will go a lot farther than telling them they can do anything.

Published in: on July 23, 2012 at 6:15 pm  Comments (3)  
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A Choice Keeper Nugget


I’ve really appreciated my church’s missions pastor, Dan Crane, who has stepped in to shoulder the bulk of the preaching while we searched for our next senior pastor. Pastor Dan has a real knack for seeing the way Scripture passages divide in an organized way or how they relate to one another.

So too, this Sunday when he preached from the end of Ephesians 3. As he reminded us, Paul spends the bulk of the first three chapters giving us the truth about our position in Christ and what that means for us.

He then noted some particulars Paul presented for praying for others. Good stuff.

The nugget, though, came right at the end. Paul closes this section with a wonderful statement of praise:

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.

Pastor Dan’s point regarding these verses? High theology leads to high doxology. Now that’s a keeper.

Published in: on June 18, 2012 at 7:10 pm  Comments Off on A Choice Keeper Nugget  
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