“Living Purposefully”

How many are familiar with the “Battle of the Bulge”?  No, not the battle that was fought during World War II, but the struggle that many face with their waist.  I am a long-time veteran of that struggle, and have lost more of the individual conflicts than I have won.  It is a difficult battle to fight, and if you keep losing long enough, it will eventually lead to deteriorating health problems.  About the middle of February of this year, I decided to investigate the possibility of having “gastric bypass” surgery.  I read the literature about it, studied the different kind of procedures that were possible, checked to see if my insurance would cover the expense, scheduled the appointment with Roller Weight Loss and Advanced Surgery Clinic, and made the commitment to do whatever it takes to be successful with this surgery.

My first appointment was on March 15th, and it was a 4 hour appointment, and they educated me on a lot of different things that I needed to know.  The thing that I remembered the most, was that I needed to learn to “Eat Mindfully.”  The nutritionist explained that they wanted me to think about what I was going to eat, take small bites, chew my food completely, eat slowly (laying my fork down between bites), and to quit when I was satisfied (not stuffed).  I will be perfectly honest, I was going to have to go through a learning process to do that.  Up to that point in my life, what I had been most concerned about was did it taste good and was there enough of it!

The way that I decided to attack the problem was to keep a journal of what I ate.  So every day, since March 20th, I have written down what I have to eat and drink, and when I have it.  I have avoided sugar, fat, carbohydrates, caffeine, and carbonation — concentrating on proteins and liquids.  My surgery was scheduled for May 30th, and the clinic told me that I needed to lose 16 pounds, before the surgery.  Well, I lost 29 pounds before the surgery, and have lost 47 since the surgery.  I still write down everything that I eat and drink, still keep track of protein and liquids — still trying every day to eat mindfully.  The surgery that I had was an invaluable weapon in my battle against the bulge, but losing the weight (and learning to keep it off) is still a lot of work.

Well, some of you are probably thinking, Bill, we’re happy for you, and proud of you; but, why in the world do we need to know all of this?  This morning, in my devotional reading of Philippians, there was a passage reminded me of all of this, and, in particular, the concept of being “mindful.”  Look at what Paul has to say:

It’s not that I have already reached this goal or have already been perfected, but I pursue it, so that I may grab hold of it because Christ grabbed hold of me for just this purpose. Brothers and sisters, I myself don’t think I’ve reached it, but I do this one thing: I forget about the things behind me and reach out for the things ahead of me. The goal I pursue is the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 3:12-14, CEB)

In that passage, Paul says that there is a single-mindedness, or a purposeful behavior, in the way that he lives his life, and in particular his Christian life.  Their is a goal that he is pursuing, and his purpose is to reach that Goal — …God’s upward call in Christ Jesus.  In pursuing that goal, he doesn’t allow himself to be hindered by past failures or accomplishments, but focuses on the things that are ahead of him.

I wonder how many of us live every day haphazardly, particularly in our walk with the Lord.  Not purposefully living every day pursuing the upward call of Jesus.  Do we get up in the morning thinking about what we can do to serve the Lord that day — reading His Word, communicating with Him through prayer, sharing the story of Jesus with someone we know or meet, caring about other people, etc.

If I am going to be successful in losing weight, and maintaining that weight loss, “eating mindfully”  is going to have to become a part of who I am!  It will be no accidental lifestyle for me to reach the goal of the Christian life.  I am going to have to dedicate myself to living “purposefully.”  Will you join me on that journey?  Peace.

(I have been reading Philippians every day for the last week, and reading it from a different translation each day.  This morning I read from the CEB, the Common English Bible.  This is the first time that I have ever read from this translation, and so far the review is mixed.  Obviously, my opinion is going to be based on readability, not on the accuracy of the translation — that will have to be left to the scholars.  There were some things that I like about it, and there were some things that I didn’t.  Bill.)

 

“Seeking God”

Does it seem to you that we spend our whole life chasing something?  How many movies have been made about the endless pursuit of “something”?  There are those that are comedies, dramas, adventures, and tragedies — but they all portray man’s pursuit of what they deem to be most important, or what will make them happy.  The Billy Crystal movie, “City Slickers”, where Jack Palance kept reminding him of the “one thing”, is one of the premier examples of that.

It is not just in movies where this pursuit is featured, it is featured in our lives.  There always seems to be something out there, that we think will make our lives a little better.  It seems to start early in our lives:  a place of acceptance in a certain circle of peers, a romantic relationship (with the one that sets our hearts to fluttering), a car (and not just any car, the right car), graduation from high school, college, and a host of other things that attract our attention.  Even as we get older, the “pursuit syndrome” is still there is still there.  We want a loving, lasting relationship; a job that pays well and makes us feel good about ourselves; a house that becomes a home for our safety; and security for the future; and, ultimately, retirement.

Have you ever wondered why we are that way, or at least most of us?  I believe that God intended for us to have this “pursuit syndrome“, and wanted us to focus it on a relationship with Him!  That we recognize, that the most important thing that we pursue in our life, is the relationship with a Holy God!

We have often wondered about “how” the Bible could say that David was a man after God’s own heart (I Samuel 13:14).  It certainly was not because of his sinless perfection!  The key word, in my mind, is “after” — that David was “seeking” God, and a relationship with Him.  Regardless of how man times he faltered and fell; he would get up, confess the wrong that he had committed, and begin to seek God again!

When you read the Psalms, there seems to be two ideas that jump off of nearly every page — the steadfast love of the Lord, and the admonition to seek God.  There is a beautiful description of what we are seeking, in Psalm 89:15-18 – – listen closely:

Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you,
     who walk in the light of your presence, Lord.
They rejoice in your name all day long;
     they celebrate your righteousness.
For you are their glory and strength,
     and by your favor you exalt our horn.
Indeed, our shield belongs to the Lord,
     our king to the Holy One of Israel.
May the “ONE THING” that we pursue be God!  Isn’t that what Jesus said, Seek first his
kingdom and his righteousness, … (Matthew 6:33, NIV).  Peace.
(This was first posted on Facebook, May 12, 2016.  It is being posted here, as one of our “Psalms for Saturday.”  It is our prayer that it will be a blessing to you.  Bill)

 

“Do You have a Prayer List”

How do you go about your personal prayer life?  Do you have a regular time of day, when you stop and spend time with the Father in prayer?  How long do you spend in prayer? What method do you use as a reminder of those that have requested prayer?  How do you remember those that are in need of prayer, that may not have talked about it publicly — but you know of their needs?  Do you have a number of churches, or preachers, or individuals; that you pray for on a regular basis?  After you are through praying, do you have an epiphany — and remember someone (or something) that you forgot to mention?  Do you take the time to list all the things that the Father has given to us, or blessed us with, during your prayers?  How often do you spend time just praising God for Who He is?

I have always struggled with having the kind of prayer life that I wanted?  I willingly confess, that there have been times that my prayer life has been better, and it has been worse.  Probably, I’m not the only one that can make that confession!    Over the years I have struggled, looking for the best method of practicing my prayer life.  I have trusted things to my memory (and that option gets worse all the time), and always struggled to always remember everything.  I have used a list, or lists, and prayed for everything that was on the list, which worked out pretty well (if you can remember to keep your list(s) updated.  What has always worked the best for me, is a combination of a list, and a worksheet — where I write out my prayers, and the people, things, and situations that I am to remember in prayer.

At this particular time in my life, I am struggling with finding the time to pray like I want to pray.  Most everyone knows, that I had “gastric bypass” surgery a little over two months ago.  Well, I am very much a person of routine, and the my mornings were pretty scheduled — and worked really well for me.  Now, I spend 45 minutes to an hour, walking early every morning, and am tired when I get back — and so my mornings are not going like I want.  This morning, as I was reading through Philippians, I was challenged, and encouraged, to redouble my efforts to find a schedule that works for me.  Observe what the text says:

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.  (Philippians 1:3-11, ESV)

It is always encouraging for me to read the prayers of Paul!  I don’t know what method that he used in his practice of prayer, but he prayed for everyone and everything!  I want my prayer life to be modeled after Paul’s.  If you notice in this prayer, his prayer is full of joy because of his friendship and partnership with the saints in Philippi, and for that he is extremely grateful (who in your life, in your spiritual family, causes your prayers to be filled with joy, when you think of them).  But not only is he grateful for that joy: he prays that their love may abound, that they will approve what is excellent, and be pure and blameless.  I want to be that kind of prayer warrior, for those that I know and love.

Just reading Paul’s prayer, and thinking about how he prayed, motivates me to do a better job!  How about you?  Peace.

 

“Get Out There and Try”

2003 was a really tough year for me.  I was working for a company that was not a good fit for me, and I was not a good fit for them.  We both really needed a change, and I needed to make it before they did.  I checked the “help wanted” listings every Sunday, and the web sites that were designed to help with a job search.  Resumes were sent out, phone calls made, and leads checked out — without having a whole lot of luck.  In the late summer, I went to a Springdale High School preseason football scrimmage; and while I was there I visited with Joe Kidd (my best man when Malia and I got married), and told him my situation.  Three months later, he called me and told me of a sales job that was available at Arkansas Insulation, and the General Manager was his brother-in-law.  I made the call, got an interview, was hired, and a starting date of right after the first of the year was agreed on.  Three days after I agreed to take the job, the company I was working for called me in and told me that they were going to have to let me go.  It was sure a good feeling to know that I had something lined up, and would not be without a job.

Arkansas Insulation hired me to be a sales representative, marketing the material (insulation, aluminum soffit and fascia, seamless aluminum gutter, and vinyl siding), and sub-contracting the installation, to residential home contractors for new houses.  The manager told me, he wanted me to spend all my time working with the contractors — that there were enough new houses being built to keep me busy.  If you remember 2004, Northwest Arkansas was in the middle of a housing boom — there was enough new homes being built to keep 3 salesman busy (and all of our competition).  The problem was everyone was so busy, no one had the time to really train me, and I needed training.  I did not know what walls you insulated in a house (I thought they were all insulated), didn’t know soffit from fascia, had no idea where to place downspouts for a gutter system, or how to figure the amount of siding that was needed for a project.  On top of that, I had to learn to take the needed material, write it on a work order (so that the installer would know what to do), and write out directions so the job could be found.  I met the corporate sales manager in late January, and he said that he would be down from Springfield soon to spend 3 or 4 days training me (I’m still waiting on that).  The manager, and one of the other sales guys, managed to spend about a total of 3 or 4 days with me, but, basically, I was put out to sink or swim.  Oh, I made stupid mistakes, and ran into things that I didn’t know what to do — but I made it, at least, good enough to last until I retired twelve years later.  I am really glad that while I was struggling to learn, the manager and all the other guys, were there to answer questions, and help me with the really difficult situations.

There is a series of  passages in Luke 9, that remind me of that experience.  Look at what the text says:

One day Jesus called together his twelve disciples and gave them power and authority to cast out all demons and to heal all diseases.  Then he sent them out to tell everyone about the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick.  “Take nothing for your journey,” he instructed them.  “Don’t take a walking stick, a traveler’s bag, food, money, or even a change of clothes.  Wherever you go, stay in the same house until you leave town.  And if a town refuses to welcome you, shake its dust from your feet as you leave to show that you have abandoned those people to their fate.”  (Luke 9:1-5, NLT)

After they returned from this preaching tour, several things happen to show that maybe they weren’t quite ready.

First, Jesus tries to slip away quietly with them to Bethsaida, but the crowds are too large, persistent, and demanding.   Why did He try to get away quietly with them?  It may be that He knew He needed more time with them, that they weren’t quite ready.  Several things happen to illustrate that.  For example — (1) not being to able to cast the demon out of the possessed boy (Luke 9:38-40), arguing about who was the greatest in the kingdom (Luke 9:46), telling those to stop using the name of Jesus to cast out demons, who were not part of their group (Luke 9:49-50), and wanting to call down fire on the Samaritan village, for not welcoming Jesus (Luke 9:51-56).  All of these seem to be examples, that they have a lot more to learn to be able to manifest the spirit of Jesus, as they interact with the people that are so important to Jesus.

But, secondly, in Luke 9:57-62, Jesus explains in pretty graphic terms what it means to follow Him.  Listen, as He explains to the disciples:

As they were walking along, someone said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

But Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nest, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.”

He said to another person, “Come, follow me.”

The man agreed, but he said, “Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.”

But Jesus told him, “Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead!  Your duty is to go and preach about the Kingdom of God.”

Another said, “Yes, Lord, I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my family.”

But Jesus told him, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then look back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”

I don’t know that these all happened in the same conversation on the walk to Jerusalem, but I am convinced that Luke grouped altogether for a reason.  I believe that Luke is wanting us to learn, that “following Jesus” is the most important thing that we can do with our life.  That when we follow Jesus, we will be given the opportunity to serve the Lord — perhaps, even doing something that we are not ready to do.  That in following Jesus, and serving in the opportunities we are given; we will make mistakes, and tackle things that we don’t understand — but that He will always be there for us.  To pick us up, reassure us, and put us back on the way.  We will not succeed in following, without His strength and encouragement along the way.  Peace.

 

“It Ain’t Over til It’s Over”

Probably, most baseball fans recognize the title of this post as a “yogi-ism.”  Yogi Berra was a catcher for the New York Yankees for 18 years; during that time he was on a World Champion team 10 times (more than any other player ever), an 18 time All-Star, and has been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Interestingly enough, many people that are not baseball fans, know his “yogi-ism”, better than they know Yogi.  What is a “yogi-ism”?  Well, Wikipedia gives this definition — “Berra was also well known for his impromptu pithy comments, malapropisms, and seemingly unintentional witticisms, known as “Yogi-isms”. His “Yogi-isms” very often took the form of either an apparent tautology or a paradoxical contradiction, but often with an underlying and powerful message that offered not just humor, but wisdom. Allen Barra has described them as “distilled bits of wisdom which, like good country songs and old John Wayne movies, get to the truth in a hurry.”  It is pretty obvious what the wisdom and truth is behind “it ain’t over til it’s over” is.  Don’t ever give up!

If you are an Arkansas Razorback football fan (as I am), there are some games that have been lost, that we thought we had won.  We may have even started celebrating too soon.  The pain is so indelible in our minds, that just a word or two brings back the memory, for example; “Street to Peschel”, or “Stoern-over”.  It is really not fair to remember losses for one play, because all during the game plays were made, or not made, that could have changed the outcome of the game.  But it is also true, that there are many games in Arkansas Razorback history that have been won, when everything looked lost.  We also remember those games with just a brief description, of just a word or two; and everyone knows exactly what we are talking about.  For example, if you have been a Razorback fan for very long, you will remember — “The Miracle on Markham”, or “The Henry Heave.”  If you are an LSU fan, or an Ole Miss fan, you probably remember those games with other descriptive phrases.

This morning, as I was reading in Luke 4, I was reminded of Yogi Berra’s famous saying — “It ain’t over till it’s over.”  Observe what the text says:

When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came.  (Luke 4:13, NLT)

There are times that I think, we only believe that Jesus was tempted those three times that Luke enumerates in the 4th chapter.  But, if you examine the text closely, you will see that is not true.

Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River.  He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil for forty days.  (Luke 4:1-2, NLT).

It appears to me from those verses, that the devil was constantly working on Jesus for 40 days, trying to get Him to disobey the will of God.  At the end of the forty days, which included the three temptations that Luke specified, he left Him.  But it was not over, whenever Satan got an opportunity, he attacked Jesus again.

The message for you and me in this story, is that when we defeat Satan — there is no time to relax and celebrate.  He will be back!  Just as strong and powerful as he ever has been, looking to defeat us!.  He knows our weaknesses, and if we become over-confident, he will attack, hoping to catch us off guard.  Don’t ever forget:

Stay alert!  Watch out for your  great enemy, the devil.  He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.  (I Peter 5:8, NLT).

In the words of Yogi, the battle against Satan for control of our lives “…ain’t over, til it’s over.”  Peace.

“They Didn’t Find Out”

A college professor once told a story about two teenage Christian boys that had an opportunity to make a lot of money, working in a logging camp for the summer.  As they were thinking what all they could do with the money they made, someone talked to them about how hard it would be to maintain their Christianity in that environment.  Suddenly, the excitement of the money had to share the stage with the question of, would it be worth it?  In the end, one boy went and worked in the camp, and the other boy stayed home and sacked groceries at the local supermarket.  At the end of the summer, when the boy came home from the logging camp, his friend asked him; how it went when the men found out that he was a Christian.  To which, the boy replied, “They didn’t find out.

Have you ever been in a situation, where you thought it would have been to your advantage if people did not know that you were a Christian?  How did you handle that?  I am ashamed to admit that there have been times in my life where I hid my Christianity, and what that really meant was that I was not Christian at all.  We live in a world where it has been, and is, a challenge to live for Jesus — and it is going to get more difficult.  But it has always been that way, that’s why Jesus said things like “deny yourself” and “take up your cross daily”.  Do you wear your Christianity proudly?  By that, I don’t mean do you wear a “Gospel Message” bracelet, or a cross on a necklace around your neck.  What I mean does your language adorn the message of Jesus, does your attitude reflect the spirit of Jesus, and do you treat people like you want Jesus to treat you?

This is always going to be a challenge for God’s people!  We are going to struggle with situations, circumstances, fear, and embarrassment; as we try to live for Jesus.  Whatever it might be, we are going to have to learn to let Jesus shine through all over our struggles and weaknesses.  This morning, I read two stories that identifies with these struggles that we have.  The first one involved Peter:

Peter swore, “A curse on me if I’m lying — I don’t know this man you’re talking about!”  And immediately the rooster crowed the second time.

Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind:  “Before the rooster crowed twice, you will deny three times that you even know me.”  And he broke down and wept.  (Mark 14:71-72, NLT).

I understand that Peter was scared.  I won’t lie, I would have been scared too.  Other than John, Peter was probably the only (male) disciple present.  Fear of what was going on, lack of understanding as to why it was happening, and afraid of what could happen to him — caused him to do the very thing that he said that he would never do!

The second story involves the Roman official, Pilate:

So to pacify the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them.  He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Romans soldiers to be crucified.  (Mark 15:15, NLT).

Pilate succumbed to political correctness.  He wanted to be merciful to Jesus, until it became risky for him politically.  Pilate, in my opinion, was not a merciful man — but, I think he was tired of the political games of the Jewish leaders; and saw through their accusations, to the real reason they wanted Jesus crucified.  But, the pressure they exerted was more than he wanted to deal with, and it was just easier to give in.

We are still faced with these same situations.  We still have to make decisions about whether we will stand up for Jesus.  Those decisions will always be difficult.  What we do, may not always be what we know to do or want to do.  The challenge is to follow Jesus, and stand up for Him in every situation.  The verse still says, If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.  (Mark 8:38, NLT).  Peace.

“Wake Up in a New World Every Morning”

Have you ever heard the expression, “You wake up in a new world every morning!”  I don’t know about you, but I have heard that expression — often.  Sometimes, as a child it would be used talking to me; and I have used it with my children, fellow employees, and those that worked for me.  It probably does very little good to say something like that, but we allow our frustrations to take over.  We know that patience is a virtue, but very few of us have the patience that we need (or want).

In my world, my oldest son is a whiz on computers, and he has been my “go-to” person for any, and all, problems that I have computer related.  I’m sure that there has been a few times that he has wanted to say, “Did you wake up in a new world today”?  I was a slow learner, and things that I did not do very often — I would forget how to do them.  The really sad part was that most of them were so simple, that you only ought to have been told once.  For example, a few years ago I was just starting to use Power Point in my Sunday morning sermon presentations.  One time a week, I would have to load the Power Point off of my PC on to the thumb drive.  There were several weeks that I have called him, saying that I had forgotten how to do it.  He was very patient, and would go through it with me — again.  Now, I find it to be so simple that I wonder why anyone can’t do it.

This morning in my devotional reading, there is a passage that makes me wonder if Jesus ever felt that way about His disciples.  Listen to what the passage says:

During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said,  “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat.  If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.”

His disciples answered, “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?”   (Mark 8:1-4, NIV)

Are you kidding me!  In Mark’s account, it has not been to long since Jesus fed 5,000 men (not counting women and children), and they are wondering what He is going to do now!  Randy Harris in his series on John, Daring Faith, says that the disciples were always worrying about food, when their Master could make food.  Do you suppose that at this point, Jesus wanted to throw up His hands and say “Did you wake up in a new world today?”

A little later, in that same chapter of Mark, I believe the frustration of Jesus comes through.  He is talking to them about the yeast of the Pharisees, and they think he is upset because they haven’t brought any bread.  Listen to what He says to them:

Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened?  Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember?  When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”

“Twelve,” they replied.

“And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”

They answered, “Seven.”

He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”  (Mark 8:17-21, NIV)

Do you get the sense of frustration in what He says there?  The question for us this morning, is “Do we wake up in a new world every morning;”  as far as our walk with the Lord is concerned?  Do we remember the commands and promises of the Lord on a daily basis?  Do we remember His teaching about how to talk, walk, act, treat others?  Is there a consistency in our behavior, where people can see Jesus living in us every day?

…If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross DAILY and follow me.   (Luke 9:23, NIV)

Let’s get up every morning, thank the Lord for the day He has given us; and resolve to live that day for Him!  Peace.

 

(This post is from March 22 of this year.  I am using it this morning because my schedule is all out of whack for today and tomorrow.  We have painters coming to the house to paint two rooms, and a long hall.  So me, and the two dogs, have to be out of the house early this morning.  This particular post is one the least “viewed” posts I have done this year.  It was posted the week I got back from traveling for a week, and I had not posted at all.  I hope it gives you encouragement to start the week.  Bill).

“What REALLY Matters Most”

This past Friday, four people from the Prairie Grove church left the XNA airport headed for a short-term mission trip to Honduras.  They were with a group of people from other Northwest Arkansas churches, and were going to do a variety of “servant ministry” tasks while they were there.  I know that they were going to have medical clinics, teaching seminars, and (probably) some construction projects.  Two of the young ladies from the congregation, Ashley and Kiersten, were working with the children while parents and siblings, either went to the clinic or Bible studies.  The last couple of days Ashley has been putting up pictures of the children in the two villages of Cuyali and Oropoli.  If you ever want to be really appreciative of what you have, look at pictures like these; and you will be realize how blessed we are.

Oh, I know that we may not have everything that we want, or even everything that we think that we need.  I know that, and still struggle with it.  There have been times that my outgo for my wants and perceived needs exceeded my income, and that nearly caused a great downfall.  You know the kind of downfall — where you hate to go to the mail box, because the bills are stacking up; or, where you hate to hear the phone ring at night, because you know it is another bill collector wanting their money.  Financial struggles are a pretty common thing for many American people.  Like me, most of them are not caused by not having enough money, but they are caused by our desire to buy and have.

In my reading this morning, Jesus talks to a man, a law-abiding, good man; that really wants to inherit eternal life.  He keeps asking Jesus what he has to do, may be looking for that magic button that will insure him of what he wants.  Jesus, then, tells him that there is one thing that he has not done.  I’m sure that the man listened in anticipation, and then Jesus said:

… Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me.  (Mark 10:21, NLT)

I’m just as sure that at that, the man’s jaw dropped, and disappointment shown all over him as he realized that he could not (more than likely, would not) do that.  He had a lot of possessions, and he could not imagine life without them.  Jesus then explains to the disciples that it would be very difficult for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.  You remember, the illustration of it would be easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle, than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.  Scary, and difficult, words from Jesus.

We have tried to rationalize, and work our way around the implications of this text — for as long as I have been listening to preachers and teachers, and trying to do it myself.  You know the kind of things that I am talking about.  Things like:

  1. Jesus would not have really allowed him to sell everything.  Jesus wanted to see if was willing to make that sacrifice, sort of like God told Abraham to go and sacrifice Isaac on the mountain (this one is the one that I often used).
  2. There was a gate in the wall of Jerusalem called the eye of a needle.  It was a shorter gate, and for a camel to get through it, the camel would have to get down on its “knees” and work its way through.  It was difficult, but not impossible.
  3. None of us are really rich anyway, so this applies to another group of people and not us (my favorite).

All those do is allow us to avoid making the really difficult application of what Jesus is saying.  How important are your possessions to you?  Are the things that you have and want more important than doing the things of Jesus?  What really is in control of your life?

I don’t like wrestling with questions like that!  Mainly, because I know that I struggle with the answers, and might not like the ones that I come up with.  Eugene Peterson, was once quoted on Twitter as saying:  American culture is probably the least Christian culture that we’ve ever had because it is so materialistic and it’s so full of lies.  That is why it is so difficult, everything around us screams — buy, have, buy, want, buy more!  The struggle for us, is to be sure that Jesus stays at the center of everything that we are and what we do.  That every decision we make, especially things that we want, is rooted in the prayer, “will this help me closer to the Lord.”

This devotional really hit home to me.  I hope that it was a blessing to you.  Peace.

“Speckled Axe Syndrome”

Have you ever committed yourself to do something, and then found out it was more difficult than you imagined.  There are a probably a lot of us that have found ourselves in that predicament.  The task could be anything from a new job, a physical exercise regimen, a diet to lose weight, or trying to break a bad habit.  I would imagine that most of us have had that experience at one time or another in our life.  It ought to be obvious by the way that I talk about the subject, that I have experience.  I’m real good at starting something, and if I don’t get the results that I want, as quickly as I want; I become discouraged, and give up.

Benjamin Franklin once wrote an article about his desire to live a morally perfect life, and in his autobiography described the results:  “This article, therefore cost me so much painful attention and my faults in it vexed me so such, and I made so little progress in amendment, and had such frequent relapses that I was almost ready to give up the attempt, and content myself with a faulty character in that respect, like the man who, in buying an ax from a smith, my neighbor, desired to have the whole of its surface as bright as the edge.  The smith consented to grind it bright for him if he would turn the wheel; he turned the wheel while the smith pressed the broad face of the ax hard and heavily on the stone, which made the turning of it very fatiguing.  The man came every now and then from the wheel to see how the work went on and at length would take his axe as it was, without further grinding.  No, said the smith, turn on, turn on; we shall have it bright by and by; as yet it is only speckled.  Yes, says the man, but I think I like a speckled ax best.  And I believe this may have been the case with many who, having, for want of some such means as I employed, found the difficulty of obtaining good and breaking bad habits in other points of vice and virtue, have given up the struggle, and concluded that a speckled ax was best…”  (p. 82, The Autobiography of Ben Franklin; Bantam Books, 1982).

You know, I think that a lot of us have encountered that particular “philosophy of life,” and maybe, not just encountered, but allowed to become a part of our lives.  How many times have begun a new year by resolving to lose weight, to quit some bad habit, to get up earlier in the morning, to read the Bible daily, to attend every Wednesday night service, or talk to somebody about Jesus on a regular basis.  Then as the routine of it is no longer exciting, but becomes more and more of a grind — we decide that maybe that wasn’t what was best after all.

Jesus did not want that for our lives.  He doesn’t want just a little, or what we can spare — He wants all of us.  Mark 8 was a part of my devotional reading this morning, and it is a pivotal turn in the direction of the book.  There are two key conversations that take part in the latter part of the chapter.

First, He asks them who the people were saying that He was.  They told Him, that people thought he was either John the Baptist, or Elijah, or one of the prophets.  He then asked them, who they thought He was; to which Peter replied, … You are the Messiah.  (Mark 8:29, NLT).  It seems obvious to me, that Peter (and the others) did not understand what being the Messiah meant, because Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about Him.

Then, in my opinion, Jesus begins to tell them what it means for Him to be the Messiah:  Then Jesus began to tell them that the Son of Man must suffer many terrible things and be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of the religious law.  He would be killed, but three days later he would rise from the dead.  (Mark 8:31, NLT).  Well, that wasn’t what they wanted to hear, so Peter took him aside and began to reprimand Him for saying such things.  Jesus told Peter, and I think, all of the rest, that …You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.  (Mark 8:33, NLT).

After explaining what Him being the Messiah meant, and that you could not longer look from just a human point of view; He very vividly portrayed what it meant to follow Him.

Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
(Mark 8:34-38, NLT)

You see it is no longer about what I want.  It is not longer about what makes me happy.  It is no longer about compromising about what I believe, in order to feel comfortable with world.  IT IS ABOUT loving God, following Jesus, living in the joy of the Holy Spirit, loving your neighbor, and dying to self.  Is there any doubt about that, based upon what Mark 8:34-38 says?

So the question that I have to ask myself this morning is, Have I settled for a speckled ax?  Peace.

“I Feel Old”

This morning I want you to know that I feel old!  I know that doesn’t surprise some of you, and I know that a few are thinking “What did you do — look in the mirror?”  That’s not exactly what I am talking about, because I have realized that I am that kind of old for a while now.  Let me see if I can explain what I mean.

Do you know what the slippery slope argument is?  It is the argument that when someone proposes an action, they are told that they should not do that “because of where it might lead.”  I always despised that argument when I was younger.  What it told me was that there was nothing wrong with what I wanted to do, but it could lead to something wrong.  Generally, I took it as permission to do what I wanted; because I was strong enough, in my opinion, to avoid it leading any further.

Have you seen the commercials on television recently, where the husband is becoming his mother in his words, thoughts, and action; or the woman is becoming her father, in her words, thoughts, or actions.  Well, I feel old this morning, because as I look at the condition of our country — I realize that we got here because of the slippery slope.  From the first time we laughed at Billy Crystal on “Soap”, we have moved toward a public acceptance of alternate lifestyles.  That is just one easy example, of all the changes that have taken place.  There is no other way to explain how we got where we are in 2016, compared to where we were in 1960.  I feel old because I see the truth in those arguments that I used to reject.

I’m still not sure that we ought to argue about the “rightness” or “wrongness” of every question.  I’m still not convinced that the young people of today will accept the slippery slope argument, any more quickly than I did.  I’m convinced that we have to teach people to seek the Lord in all that they do.  To be perfectly honest, they may have tried that when I was young, and I refused to listen.  But I believe we must teach, that my decisions about what is right or wrong, may not be as important as deciding if my actions will get me closer to God.  In my reading from the Psalms this morning, there were some passages that jumped out at me.

Psalm 9:10 (ESV), And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.

Psalm 14:2 (ESV), The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.

Psalm  16:8 (ESV), I HAVE SET THE LORD BEFORE ME; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

If the direction of our life is decided based on individual decisions about individual actions, there may not be a direction or a purpose for our life.  Until I put the Lord out in front of my life, not what I want or feel; until I realize that He is looking for those that seek Him, and are not living for themselves; and until I know that I can trust Him in the decisions I make, regardless of how unpopular (or politically incorrect) they are — my life will not go in the right direction.

I might have laughed at something like this when I was 20, but I do believe that wisdom comes with maturity and age.  Let’s make seeking God the center of our decisions, and not necessarily the “rightness” or “wrongness” of each individual action.  Peace.

 

(This was first posted on Facebook, April 26, 2016.  It has been revised and updated, and posted here as part of our “Psalms on Saturday.”  I hope that it is a blessing to you.  Bill)