Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Weight Loss Plan

At the end of “How the Camel Got His Hump” Kipling has this little ditty:

The Camel’s hump is an ugly lump
Which well you may see at the zoo
But uglier yet is the hump we get
From having too little to do ........
The cure for this ill is not to sit still,
Or frowst with a book by the fire;
But to take a large hoe and a shovel also,
And dig till you gently perspire

Laziness is a sin we do not often address, but it is condemned repeatedly in the scriptures. The Proverbs mention it numerous times (12:24; 12:27; 13:4; 15:19; 19:15; 19:24; 20:4; 20:13; 21:25; 22:13). In the New Testament we also find straightforward condemnation of this fault. Typical of the biblical attitude is this command, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thes. 3:10).

Instead of being lazy, the Christian should be a diligent worker. “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Col. 3:23-24).

Our society has come to accept laziness. Most people see nothing wrong with trying to get something for nothing, with obtaining and spending other people’s earnings. But the Christian attitude should be the antithesis of the common approach. Rather than seeking to get other people to support us, we ought to be seeking to help others. “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Eph. 4:28).

Let’s have a careful look at how we spend our time. Let’s be more diligent in our work. It might help us with our unsightly lumps. It will definitely make us more pleasing to the Lord.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Adrift At Sea

Windell Howard was a coworker with us in Nigeria. Windell was an adventurous missionary. Being a single man, he sometimes took risks that the married men would have hesitated to take. Once he traveled to an island off the coast. He went there by airplane, but did not have enough money to return the same way. So he attempted to return by sea.

In Africa people tend to overload things. It is not unusual to see a van carrying thirty people. Cars often carry eight or ten. I have seen small motorcycles used to move refrigerators, and bicycles stacked high with mattresses or firewood. The boat Windell entered was not an exception. It was extremely overloaded.

Halfway back to the mainland the engine gave out. There they were, adrift at sea, with no radio, no life jackets, no safety equipment of any kind. They were drifting somewhere off the coast of Nigeria, near the border with Cameroon. At the time, Nigeria and Cameroon were almost in a state of war because of a border dispute. As it turns out, that border dispute may have saved their lives. A Nigerian patrol boat spotted the drifting vessel, came to investigate, and towed them to safety.

I suppose the moral of the story could be, "When you travel, make sure you have return airfare." Or maybe it is, "Don’t overload your boat, have reasonable expectations." Or maybe it is, "Even silly border disputes can sometimes be good for someone." Or maybe the key to unlocking this event is found in the book of Ruth, or Esther, or Philemon. Think about it, see what lessons you find.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

What Is Missing?

A flyer was mass mailed to every home in the area last week. A certain church in town claims that it has “high energy music” (but it never says who the music praises) and “a great community” (but it never says who the community is centered on). This church has lots of service times to choose from (but they never tell us who they are serving during these service times). The ad claims, “Your kids will love coming.” It also indicate that the location is an advantage; it is “closer than you think.”

What is missing?

Nowhere in this ad is God mentioned (Father, Son, or Holy Spirit).

Even from a purely practical point of view, this ad is misguided. Research has repeatedly shown that postmodern Americans are interested in spiritual things, but suspicious of churches. Yet this church puts itself forward, and leaves Christ entirely out of the picture.

It ought to be the other way around. As Paul told the Corinthians, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2).

I pray that the Lord may have mercy on the misguided people at that church. I love Christ’s church, but a church that is interested in promoting itself, rather than Christ, is worse than useless.

It is not about us. It is about Christ. Remember that, and make it clear when you speak of His church.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Paradox

Have you ever pondered the meaning of Psalm 76:10? In the ESV it reads, "Surely the wrath of man shall praise you." Several translations indicate that the translators found the statement difficult and tried to find a way around it. But the more literal translations all stick with the difficulty. The KJV, the NRSV, and the NAS support that translation. The NIV has it in a footnote.

The statement is difficult of itself, it might also seem to stand in tension with the statement of James that "the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires" (James 1:20). But perhaps this is just the point.

Even when humans are doing what they ought not to be doing -- being unjustly angry, for example -- even that, God can work to his glory. The hardness of Pharaoh, the injustice of Pilate, the deceit of Judas were all used to accomplish God’s will. What they did was wrong, but even human wrongs can be used for good, by God. As Paul tells us, "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose" (Rom 8:28). He says "all things." That includes even bad things.

This certainly does not mean that we should intentionally do wrong. It does not mean that we should be unconcerned about our behavior. We should do our best to live in love, joy, peace, ...., to produce the fruit of the Spirit every day.

But when we slip up and do wrong, or when we see that others have done wrong, we should not despair. God can redeem our errors, and even the sin of an entire world. Even the wrath of man shall be turned to the glory of God. I do not know how, but I trust in God’s promise.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Reprinted by permission -- this is just too good to miss

O. K., so it is known as an atheistic country. Does that mean we have nothing to learn from them? I keep remembering that Jesus said, “ the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8).

Take the lottery, for example. Despite the editorials against it in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, we Arkansans voted it in. And before it has even started, there is a storm of protest over the salaries being paid to those who will run it. (Stay tuned for further developments.) Then a headline caught my attention: “Russia bans all gambling and shuts casinos.”
Why did they do it? Moscow deputy mayor Sergei Baidakov said the ban was to “protect the health of society.” Even some of the addicted gamblers thought the ban might help them. “This is all a good thing. I’m a family man and I come here every day and lose all my money. I’ll be happy to see them go,” said a 40-year-old Muscovite.

The other headline that arrested my attention was: “Religion will return to public schools in Russia.” It is estimated that only about five percent in that country are “observant believers,” so what has Russia learned that we haven’t? In contrast, a St. Louis federal appeals court has upheld a ruling that prohibits the distribution of Bibles to gradeschool pupils in a rural southern Missouri district. For more than three decades the district, about one hundred twenty miles southwest of St. Louis, allowed representatives from Gideons International to give away Bibles in fifth-grade classrooms. The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit and no Bibles have been distributed at the school district since 2005.

I can hardly wait to see what Russia is going to do about religious license plates because I noticed last week that specialty plates in South Carolina featuring the words ‘I Believe’ are being challenged in federal court. In the words of comedian Yakov Smirnoff, “What a country!”


Friday, September 11, 2009

Understanding a Tool

When my family gathered to divide up our parents’ belongings, I was given most of my father’s tools. Among the tools I inherited was a small object that looked like a pizza cutter, but which, I had once been told, was used to install new screen wire on windows and screen doors. That tool lay in my tool box for about three years. I looked at it occasionally, but I never figured out how to use it.

Last week, my wife asked for a new drying rack for use when she makes soap. I figured a screen would be just the thing. So, using a tool that I had never used, and never even seen used, I attempted to assemble a screen. My first effort was a complete failure. On my second try I managed to get the screen assembled, but it did not look very good. On my third try I produced a screen as good as most you would buy in the store.

That little tool is really handy, once you learn how to use it. But you never can learn to use it without using it. Practice may not make perfect, but practice is the only way to make even an imperfect screen. The tool resting in the toolbox does nothing and teaches nothing. The tool taken in hand and applied may not work perfectly, but it begins to make a difference -- both in terms of accomplishment and understanding.

There are many great truths resting, unused, in our Bibles. We complain that we do not understand them. Some suggest that they never do anyone any good. The key is to get them out and put them to use. We will never understand until we do so. Understanding a tool requires using the tool. Understanding God’s word comes only when we sincerely attempt to put his teaching to use in our lives. Apart from obedience, we will not understand. As Jesus said, "If anyone's will is to do God's will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority" (John 7:17, ESV).

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A Disastrous Success

Archbishop William Laud hated the Puritans. He considered himself a Protestant, yet he wanted to keep the Church of England as close to Roman ritual and doctrine as possible. Together with Charles I, Laud persecuted the Puritans. Laud even stopped shiploads of Puritans trying to sail to the New World, forced them to stay in England, and tried to force them to worship according to his beliefs.

Parliament, led by Oliver Cromwell, eventually gained the upper hand over the monarchy in the English Civil War. William Laud was tried for treason and executed in January 1645.

It cannot be confirmed, but there is evidence to suggest that one of the ships Laud kept from leaving England may have contained a young man named Oliver Cromwell. Had Laud not stopped the Puritans who tried to leave, he and Charles might have kept Parliament in check and ruled Britain as they pleased for a long time to come.

Remember William Laud when evil seems to triumph. Or, better yet, remember the instruction of Psalm 37.

Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers!
For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb.
Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
and your justice as the noonday.
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
over the man who carries out evil devices! (Psalm 37:1-7, ESV)

Friday, September 4, 2009

A Mildewed Room

I am stiff and sore. Earlier in the week I spent a day working on a little project in the basement. Some years ago someone partitioned off a portion of the basement to use as a study. Not a bad idea, but it had its difficulties.

Open basements become junk rooms where little can be accomplished. Walls are needed to make better use of the space. But basements are often damp. Erecting walls cuts off circulation and makes the dampness a more serious problem. Our basement has a dehumidifier to take care of the dampness, but the room that was partitioned off did not benefit from the dehumidifier. The lack of circulation led to mildew.

I spent my day tearing out mildewed drywall and particle board. We still have the room partitioned off from the rest of the basement, but now it has a ventilation fan to draw fresh air through the room.

What might we learn from this?

We need boundaries in life. We need walls, partitions to set ourselves apart from the world and to set aside certain parts of our lives from other parts, but they cannot always be airtight.

Some people need to erect boundaries in their lives. They are so open that they are useless. It is good to be open, but there are limits. Some people have thrown the windows of their souls so wide open that any passing falsehood is given free play with their thinking.

On the other hand, some people have become so careful of the partitions in life that they have cut themselves off from any freshness. Their thinking becomes mildewed, like that room in my basement.

On the one hand, we need to remember what Paul told Timothy, "guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge,’ for by professing it some have swerved from the faith" (1 Tim. 6:20-21, ESV). Yet, when we do find new truth, we need to receive it with eagerness (Acts 17:11).

Cling to the fundamentals of the faith, guard them diligently. But don’t be afraid to think a new thought. Be prepared for fresh truth to enter your life. In fact, study God’s word with eager expectation of finding truth that is new to you.

Psalm 92 tells us that even to old age the righteous will produce fresh fruit, they will be "green and full of sap." Such freshness does not come by accident. It comes by the constant circulating of fresh truth in our minds.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Once There Was...

Once there was a congregation with an average attendance of about 150. This congregation was unusual in that all the members were equally committed. They varied somewhat in ability, but they were all equally committed and involved.

Every member of this congregation was just as active as you are. They all attended worship just as faithfully as you do. They all attended Bible class just as you do. They all volunteered to help with the teaching just as often as you do. They gave of their means in the very same way that you do. They all tried to share the gospel with their friends and neighbors just as you do.

After about ten years this congregation...

How would the story end? What would happen to the congregation if everyone showed the level of commitment that you currently show? Would we be able to carry on our work if everyone acted as you act? Would we be able to increase the work, or would we be forced to curtail it? Would we even be able to continue at all, if everyone acted as you do?

The sad truth is that many Christians ask not what they can do for Christ’s body, but ask only what the body of Christ is going to do for them. Christ has saved them, now they want his body to entertain them while they just go along for the ride. Too many have the desire to draw strength from the body without contributing in any significant way to the welfare of the body.

What would happen to a congregation of people with a level of commitment exactly like yours? Can you answer that question honestly and still think yourself a faithful Christian?