Saturday, October 5, 2019

Lesson of a New Stove

I picked up a new stove on Monday. We do not go in for fancy. So, the new one is a lot like the old one. It is the same color, uses the same type of heating element; the control knobs are in the same places. The new stove is, in every way it could be, just like the old one. But the heating elements are located differently. They are the same size and type as the old elements, but the large are where the small were and the small where the large were.

One might not think that a little change like that would matter, but it does. When the ingredients for breakfast are set on the counter, it turns out that they are in the wrong place. The oatmeal is where the sweet potato needs to be; and the sweet potato is where the teapot ought to be. It is amazing how the placement of the heating elements changes everything. We will get used to the new arrangement eventually, but we might as well learn the lesson the stove is teaching us.

Change is rarely as easy and straightforward as we expect it to be. If we were learning to use a stove with all the latest technologies, we would expect a “learning curve.” But the truth is, even when one sticks to the simplest model available, there will be unexpected complications. Let us remember that and try to be patient.

Let’s remember that and try to be patience when the church makes changes to its programs. Some people believe it should be simple to make changes in a church, but often small changes have unexpected consequences. It takes time to work out the details. Be patient.

Let’s remember that in our attitude toward others. Some people are struggling with uncomfortable changes in their lives. Perhaps an old familiar voice is absent, or a new voice is making itself heard at all hours of the night. Such changes upset the pattern of our lives and may lead us to be less able to cope with other things. Change is a necessary part of life, but it is never as simple as we think it should be. Let us be kind and considerate of one another.

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph 4:1-3, ESV).

Friday, September 13, 2019

Busy or Faithful?

The busiest generation in history may not be the most productive one. An article that I read recently suggests that complaints about being busy are at an all time high in America, but that evidence of actual work getting done is lacking.

People say they are busy, and they may be quite busy, but relatively little is being accomplished by all this busyness. For too many, working long hours has become a substitute for working effectively. In many companies, those who work long hours are honored as martyrs, while those who work shorter hours (even if they accomplish more) may be belittled as lazy. It is a shame that this is happening in the business world, it is worse yet when it spills over into the church.

With Christians there are two things almost sure to be neglected when we begin to honor busyness.

Prayer will be neglected. From a human point-of-view it is counter-intuitive, but if there is a big and important job to be done, we should NOT get busy on it right away. We should pray before starting, while working, and after we have finished working on it. We may find that we will not be as busy, but we might be more effective, and we certainly will have been more faithful.

Preparation will also be neglected. The kind-hearted person who sets up a doctor’s office without “wasting time” going to medical school will soon be in deep trouble with the law. He may argue that he needs to get busy saving lives now, but his claim will not be heeded. Those who are too hasty sometimes take on work for which they are ill-prepared. They will likely stay very busy; but great harm may be the result. With regard to the medical profession there are clear guidelines to protect us from the hasty. Within some circles in the church, the practice of appointing the ill-prepared is an honored tradition. But it is one against which the scriptures warn (1 Tim 3:10; 5:22).

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Dead Unto Sin

Bradley Wright is a sociology professor at the University of Connecticut. He admits to having that common problem of overdoing certain behaviors. It is not a sin to eat an occasional dish of ice cream, but he found himself eating too much, too often. He tried to practice moderation, but it did not work. Then he made an interesting discovery. He explains it this way,

In actuality, abstention is usually easier than moderation.
“How can this be? As I understand how the brain works, it loses neural connections underlying a behavior once we stop doing that behavior. Use it or lose it. Moderation keeps brain circuits active. Abstention lets them atrophy.” (quote taken from an email newsletter, emphasis is in the original)

It is easier to give up a harmful or dangerous behavior completely than it is to practice it in moderation. If we attempt to cut back on sin, we keep the neural connections that cause us to desire it alive, and there is virtually no chance of success. If we consider ourselves “dead unto sin” (Rom 6:11) the connections begin to atrophy, and we have a much better chance of success.

Too many of us are trying to walk the tight rope, or to skirt the edge of the canyon. Instead we should be getting as far away from sin as possible. We should “put to death therefore what is earthly” in us (Col 3:5). We should “make no provision for the flesh to gratify its desires” (Rom 13:14).

As a preacher in my hometown used to say, “Too many people have just enough Christianity to make them miserable.” He was right. Half-way Christianity is no fun. It does not work. Go all out for the Lord or you will never find success or happiness in your faith.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Overcoming Bigotry

I do not remember the young man’s name; but I remember what he said, and the look on his face when he realized what he had said. His words were, “I hate bigots!”

If he had said, “I hate bigotry” it would not have been the same. If he had said, “I hate the fact that I still find a bit of bigotry in myself” it would have been significantly different. But he said, “I hate bigots.” That was nearly 40 years ago. I still wonder how life has gone for that (no longer young) man.

I wonder if he would have hated Pete. Pete was a preacher in an earlier era. He preached about how much God loved everyone. He preached about taking the gospel to everyone. But he was unwilling to eat with people of other races. God might love everyone, and he might even be obligated to say so in his preaching, but surely God did not expect Pete to eat with Gentiles.

So Peter thought and so Peter practiced. Even after the Lord gave Simon Peter a vision regarding inclusiveness and commanded him to change his practice (Acts 10 & 11), he still fell back into his bad habits at times (Gal 2:11-14). Peter was wrong, and Paul rebuked him sharply for it. But Paul did not hate Peter, bigot though he was.

It is hard to hate the bigotry and yet love the bigots. It is hard to hate the sin and yet love the sinner; yet most of us manage to do it with reference to ourselves. We hate our sin; and yet manage to avoid hating ourselves. Could we not extend the same grace to others?

Someday we will approach the gate of heaven. If the old jokes are correct, a recovering bigot named Peter will be there to greet us. Will we hate him? I hope not. Because if we get inside that gate we will find the city full of people who had failings, and who never completely overcame most of those failings in their earthly life. Eternity will be rather tedious for us if we choose to focus on those failings.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Constructive Criticism

We should always accept “constructive criticism,” or so we are told. But does that really make sense? I recently read an article that suggests otherwise. Sally Illingworth said, “What I’ve learned is to take constructive feedback from only those whom have constructed something in their life….”

Now that makes better sense.

Should a master mechanic spend time listening to advice from a person who cannot tell a dipstick from a differential? Should a parent take parenting advice from those who have shown themselves to be disastrous parents? Should a carpenter build according to advice given by someone who has never built so much as a birdhouse?

Not all advice is of equal value. Eve should not have listened to the dietary advice of a snake; it would have saved a world of trouble. Rehoboam should not have listened to the advice of his immature friends; it would have saved the Kingdom of Israel if he had ignored them.

We should not heed everyone’s advice. The book of Proverbs instructs us to listen to certain people and just as clearly tells us to ignore others. Those who have proven themselves by godly living and by service to others are to be heeded (1 Cor 16:15-16).

To heed everyone is at best a waste of time and will often lead to disaster. Choose your advisors carefully and prayerfully. Take constructive criticism only from those who have been constructing something good.

The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice (Psalm 37:30, ESV).
The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable, but the mouth of the wicked, what is perverse (Proverbs 10:32, ESV).

Friday, August 9, 2019

Missed Opportunities

On my first trip to Africa in 1985, I changed planes in New York. As my inbound flight taxied toward the terminal, we had to stop to allow another plane to land. I had a window seat. A Concorde landed right beside us. But I did not snap a picture. It was a lost opportunity that will not occur again. The Concorde no longer flies.

Later, from another airplane during that same trip, I had a chance to get a photo of Mount Kilimanjaro. I figured that I would see plenty of that mountain. I did not take the picture. I have seen Kilimanjaro again and taken photos of it; but I have never had another opportunity to take a photo of it from the air. It was a lost opportunity that is unlikely to occur again.

Every day is full of opportunities. Many of those opportunities will never occur again. Missed photo opportunities are not a huge issue, but some of the opportunities we let pass are far more significant.

Encourage someone today. Yes, you may get another opportunity to encourage someone tomorrow; but you will never get today’s opportunity back.

Speak the gospel to someone this week. Yes, you may have the chance to do so again later, but then again, you might not.

"Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going" (Ecclesiastes 9:10, ESV).
So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10, ESV).

Friday, August 2, 2019

Inability is no Excuse

Inability to do one task is no excuse for refusing some other task. The oft-quoted (and misquoted) words of Edward E. Hale still ring true.
“I am only one, but still I am one.
“I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.
“And because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”

Helen Keller (blind and deaf from childhood) was one who often quoted these lines. Many people, with all their senses working perfectly, have excused themselves from trying by focusing on their inabilities.

C.S. Lewis spoke to another common excuse when he told a group of students during World War Two, “If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favorable conditions never come.”

Of course, we cannot do it all. Of course, conditions are unfavorable. But if we hide behind these excuses Satan will see to it that favorable conditions never develop, and what ability we do have will atrophy. The person who does nothing soon reaches a state where he can do nothing.
As some else states,

Moses had a walking stick.
David had a sling.
Samson had a jawbone.
Rahab had a string.
Mary had some perfume.
Dorcas had a needle.
All were used by God.

So, do something. It may not be much but do it and wait for the Lord to bless your effort.
For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have (2 Corinthians 8:12, ESV).