“The Inward Struggle”

Have you ever heard of “the battle of the bulge”?  No, not the battle during World War II, but the continual struggle that many have fought on a daily basis, and still continually fight.  Of course, I am talking about a struggle with weight.  I am veteran of many conflicts, and have lost more than I have won; and I still struggle with the desire to eat things that I shouldn’t.  Those of you that have never engaged in this conflict, be very thankful!

In the mid-1980’s, when Malia and I were living in Winters, Texas, there was a period of time when I lost a lot of weight.  Doug Taylor and I (and later Donald McMillon) went to a weight-loss physician in Lubbock, and I was successful in his program — for a while.  I took the medication he said to take, ate the foods that he said to eat, and exercised.  Lanny Bahlman and I would meet three mornings a week (at 5 in the morning), and go play racquetball.  Many afternoons, Jerry Hood and I would go walk at the high school track.  But another child came along (in both the Bahlman and Hooten homes), and the early morning racquetball was out of the question.  The cold of winter set in, and the late afternoon walks were not very comfortable, and I soon abandoned them.  Food still looked and tasted good, and over a period of a couple of years (and a move back to Arkansas), I gained all the weight back — and then some!  Most everyone that struggles with a weight problem can identify, at one point or another in their life, with that story.  Sadly, it is all too familiar.

The radical decision that I made this year, to have gastric bypass surgery, was not made on the basis of losing weight.  It was made with the desire to be healthy, and to live longer.  A lifetime of eating anything I wanted, as much of it as I wanted, and as fast as I could; leaves me with cravings that still have an impact on me.  Even now after the surgery, after losing 90+ pounds, and no longer having Type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc; I still find myself wanting foods that I know that I should not eat.  The threat of another failure is real.  We all have seen people that have had the surgery, and then gain the weight back — and I don’t want to do that!

You see, food offers what tastes good at the moment, at the expense of what is good for me and my health.  The danger that I face is that I will begin to indulge in those foods (and amounts) that I shouldn’t, and nothing bad will happen.  Blood sugar won’t spike, blood pressure will stay the same, and the weight won’t change — so you begin to think that you can do that more often.  Then you will have those days, when you cheat on your food once; and think I have already blown it today, I might as well do it again (and I will do better tomorrow).  Before you know it, you have not only lost the battle — but are losing the war.  The only way to win, is to resist the urge and the temptation on a daily basis — no, on an hourly basis.  You have to be determined to be victorious over your desires, and win this battle, and every one that comes your way.  I’m not foolish enough to believe that I will, having already lost a couple, but I am determined to get back on the program (and that I have done) and not be caught in the same situation again!  With the encouragement of family and friends, I KNOW that I will lose this last 15-18 to make my goal weight, and I WILL keep it off!

Over the years I have recognized that my struggle to control my weight, is very similar to my struggle to live for Jesus.  Obviously, the big difference is that my victory in living for Jesus is not just dependent on me, and my strength, to resist the seduction of Satan and sin.  But Scripture still says for us to …lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us.  (Hebrews 12:1, HCSB).  The terminology is quite appropriate don’t you think?

This morning in my devotional reading, James says some things that made me think of all this.  Think about these two readings:

…Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy.  (James 4:4, HCSB)

Therefore, submit to God.  But resist the Devil, and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.  Cleanse your hands, sinners, and purify your hearts, double-minded people!  Be miserable and mourn and weep.  Your laughter must change to mourning and your joy to sorrow.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.  (Jame 4:7-10, HCSB)

I see within those words, the same struggle with sin that I have always had with my weight.  They are both very seductive, both can offer immediate gratification and pleasure, and both can be destructive.  For years, I have been using this definition of sin, doing what I want, instead of what God wants.   There is a reason that one of the most powerful statements that Jesus ever made was (and is) …If anyone wants to be My follower, HE MUST DENY HIMSELF, take up his cross, and follow Me.  (Mark 8:34, HCSB).

Obviously, I am not putting a struggle with weight on the same level as a struggle with sin.  BUT, there are similarities with the struggles.  Let’s recognize the danger, and be victorious in our struggle with sin.  Peace.


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“Seeking after God”

Reader’s Digest used to have a treasury of short stories about people in every issue, especially those people that make a serious impact on the lives of others.  Over the years there have been a lot of those “special” people in my life, more lives than I could ever list or name.  Two of my favorite people are Mahlon Graham and Harold Wilbanks.  They both attended the Cedar Grove church in Rogersville, AL, when I preached there.  Harold passed away a few years ago, and Mahlon still lives in that community.

The people that make up that church all deserve extra stars in their crown — for putting up with all the nonsense, mistakes, problems, and dumb actions of a young (single) preacher, that still had some growing up to do.  Probably as much as anybody else, Harold and Mahlon liked me; and understood some of the conflict that was going on in my life.  They would listen to me, encourage me, and chastise me when I needed it.

Mahlon had a service station on Highway 72, east of town, down by the river, down by the river.  Sometimes the three of us would be there, and almost without exception, the conversation would turn to football.  Harold was an Alabama fan, Mahlon is an Auburn fan — and they were both serious about their team.  On top of that, they were both loud; and could get louder if they thought the situation deserved it.  Sometimes, I am sure that you could hear these “discussions” a mile away.  In those discussions I generally favored Auburn, but being an Arkansas, I really didn’t care much for either team.  So, I delighted in getting the arguments started, and providing a spark to keep them going.

Mahlon and Harold both encouraged me in my preaching, and there were times that I really needed it.  It was strange to me, that both of these men liked what they called my “hard” sermons.  You may recall those kinds of sermons from the past, when the preacher romps, stomps, and yells about “sin”.  Most of the time it seemed as if the intent of the sermon was to get the people to feel as if they were not good enough, or doing enough, to say they were saved.  Mahlon told me once, that he figured if he could “hunker” down and take a sermon like that, he was probably going to be alright.

Well, maybe I have learned a little, and grown a lot since then — but my approach to challenging sin is a little different 40 years later.  I have come to the conclusion, that sin is a “heart” problem, and not an action problem.  The bad actions are the result of what is going on in the heart.

Listen to what the psalmist has to say:

In his pride the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God.  (Psalm 10:4, NIV)

That verse, as well as any, my definition of sin:  Sin is doing what I want, instead of what God wants.  In one of the most wicked periods in the history of the Israelite people, one of the thoughts that is constantly repeated is:

After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. …  (Judges 2:10-12, NIV)

The Israelites were sinners because they had a heart problem, that manifested itself as actions in their lives.

The actions of people are bad, because our actions are a manifestation of what is in our heart.  In one of his first recorded sermons, the apostle Paul made this statement about the Israelite King, David:  After removing Saul, he made David their king, God testified concerning Him: “I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do”.  (Acts 13:22, NIV).  David made some terrible mistakes, but he always stayed “after” the heart of God, and God loved that attribute in him.  When we keep “seeking” God, even if we make mistakes along the way; God, in His “steadfast love”, forgives us and stays out in front of us.  We have to continually search out heart, and see if we are “seeking” Him, or seeking after our own wants and pleasures. Those that are “seeking” have room in their heart for God.

Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.  (Psalm 9:10, NIV)

Peace.

(This was first posted on Facebook on May 27, 2016.  It has been revised and edited for use as one of our “Psalms for Saturday”.  It is my prayer that it will be a blessing for you today.  Bill)

 

“It’s Not My Fault”

Flip Wilson was a very popular comedian, and was one of the very first African-American entertainer to host his own weekly variety TV show.  Not only was he an outstanding stand-up comedian, but he also was very successful portraying comedic characters in his show.  Two of the most popular characters were Reverend Leroy (pastor of “The Church of What’s Happening Now”) and Geraldine Jones (his most popular character).  Geraldine was now for referring to her boyfriend, Killer, and two very popular sayings:  “What you see is what you get,” and “The Devil made me do it.”  They were so wildly popular, that they were adopted by many and became catch-phrases for many in the nation.

It has always been interesting to me, as to why certain things, particularly catch-phrases, become popular.  I can remember repeating the two Geraldine phrases, and think that I understand the most popular of the two — The Devil Made Me Do It. When we do something wrong, we would really like to have someone to blame it on, and the devil is a likely subject.  That is really nothing new, as it has been common since the days of Adam and Eve.  You remember, Adam blamed Eve (the woman that God gave him); and, Eve placed the responsibility on the serpent.  Admitting responsibility for the things that we do that are wrong, is very difficult for most people.  We are still blaming others, even God, for the things we do that are wrong.  In James 1, James talks about the “sin process”, and where sin comes from.  Read carefully what he says:

No one undergoing a trial should say, “I am being tempted by God.” For God is not tempted by evil, and He Himself doesn’t tempt anyone. But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desires. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death.
(James 1:13-15, HCSB)

Most of us, when we just give that a cursory reading, know that what it says is right.  We are tempted when we are enticed (seduced) by our own evil desires.  When we see something, and we don’t see it as the good thing that God has given us; but as an “object” that we can use to satisfy our own evil thoughts, wants, and desires.  We may even know that it is wrong, but are so consumed by what we want — that we don’t care.

When we give in to the own seductive power of our wants and desires, we sin!  I really like the way the HCSB read here — … it gives birth to sin, …  That may be one of the most appropriate descriptions of sin that I have ever read.  Sin is conceived and nurtured in our mind, and then delivered into the world by our own selfish desire.  The end result is death.  That death may be a reference to spiritual death, a separation from the love, grace, and presence of God; or it may be talking about physical death, as a result, or a consequence, of what we have done.

When we learn to think of sin in that way, what Jesus says in Matthew 16:24 becomes crystal clear.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. (Matthew 16:24, HCSB)

To be victorious in the struggle with sin, I have to learn to say NO to what I want.  I really believe that is the hardest thing that we will ever do.  But it is what we have to do!  Peace.

“What Do People See in Me”

When I first moved to Florence, Alabama to attend the International Bible College; for a short while I attended the Mars Hill church of Christ.  This church was just off the campus of Mars Hill Bible School (a K-12 Christian school).  On the grounds of the church, was the old Mars Hill church building, that was built in 1904.  The old building is still maintained, and used for weddings, funerals, etc.  But the history of the Mars Hill church dates all the way back to the 1860’s.  One of the great evangelists of fellowship was T. B. Larimore, and the Mars Hill church was his “home” church, and he had a gospel meeting at the church every August for 40 years.

The preacher at the church, when I attended was Kenneth Davis.  Kenneth was also an instructor at the Bible School, and an adjunct professor for the Bible College.  He was speaking in one of our chapel services, when he made a statement that I have never forgotten.  He said that most Christians had such long faces, that they look like they could eat oats out of the bottom of an old-fashioned buttermilk churn.  I referenced that statement in a sermon on Psalm 84 a couple of weeks ago, but my reading this morning reminded me of it again.

The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, “Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.”  (Psalm 2:2-3, NIV)

The context probably is expressing surprise that the nations would plot against Jehovah God, and the king of His people.  The “Chains and Shackles” would be the dominance of the nation of Israel in the land that God had given to them.

My question upon the reading of that text, is why so many people today consider the service of God as being in the bondage of chains and shackles.  If you have trouble believing that — talk to a few of them, or read some of the things that they write.  Could it be, that those of us who are in the service of the Messiah; appear to be miserable (have such long faces) in the daily practice of our Christianity.  That our Christianity is more a case of the “don’ts” than anything else.  That our service to God, is our payment on the “fire insurance” that we have taken out?  It might be, that we have just enough of God to make ourselves miserable!

Is it possible that we have not really grasped what belongs to us in Jesus.  He said, Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (John 8:32, NIV).  Freedom from what?  Freedom from guilt — freedom from sin — freedom from fear — freedom from death — and the list could go on and on!  Remember, Christian, that the people of the world READ us; and they will make judgments about the importance and value of serving Jesus — based upon what they see in our lives and attitudes.  What I have to ask myself, today is “What are they seeing in me”?  Peace.

(This was first posted on Facebook on May 26, 2016.  It is being reused here as one of our “Psalms for Saturday.”  It is our prayer that it will encourage and edify you in your walk with the Lord.  Bill)                                                                                                

“It’s a Lot of Work”

This past Sunday morning, in a sermon about Ruth (second in our series on “Heroines of God”), for a few moments I talked about the difficulty of life, hard times, and the American Dream.  I stated an opinion, that I did not believe that the American dream happened as often now, as it did in previous generations.  It was my speculation that there was two reasons for this: first, because of the vast amount of media that is available, our dreams are a lot bigger; and, secondly. the current generations will not work as hard to achieve those dreams, as the generations before.  Our culture is wrestling with a sense of entitlement now, that did not seem to be a part of our make-up before.

Let me see if I can offer an illustration.  If you have read this blog very often, you know that I had “gastric bypass” surgery about three months ago (in fact, you are probably tired of hearing about it).  As I have talked about it, the comment has been made that it is not a “magic bullet” — that just because you have had the surgery, the weight will not drop off, and stay off.  For the surgery to be successful, it takes work — a lot of work.  I have had to break habits, that I have had for years.  I have always eaten too much, too fast, and whatever I wanted.  Now, with the surgery there are some things that will deter you from doing that, but it still takes effort to make changes in that behavior.  If you had told me a year ago, that I would get up most every morning and walk 2 to 4 miles (and sometimes more) — I would have probably laughed at you.  For this surgery to be successful, and stay successful, for me; it is going to take a lot of work, for a long time.

I don’t remember who was the first one that I heard say this, but this saying is very true:  The only place that success comes before work, is in the dictionary.  It really doesn’t matter what area of life that you are talking about, that statement is true.  If you want to be good at something, and someone that is considered successful in a chosen area; you are going to have to work at it.  I was reminded of that this morning in my reading from Galatians.  Look at what Paul has to say:

Oh, my dear children!  I feel as if I’m going to through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives. (Galatians 4:19, NLT)

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that following Jesus is easy!  There is a lot of work in allowing Christ to develop in you fully!  There are too many people that view baptism as a paid in full “fire insurance” policy, and never make the effort to develop and grow to the point that Christ is developed in their lives.  As we learn to live out the repentance that we expressed, from serving ourselves to following Jesus — there are habits that we are going to have to break — habits that we have practiced all of our lives.  As we attempt to practice the confession of living for Jesus the son of God, there are new habits and practices that we are going to have to develop.  These new habits will take a commitment to do it, and time to make it happen.  On top of all that, we have an enemy that will be working against us in everything that we do.  This enemy is as powerful as a roaring lion, and his minions are not flesh-and-blood enemies, but evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, mighty powers in this dark world, and evil spirits in the heavenly places.
Does winning a war with an enemy like that, sound easy to you?

Once you have got into Jesus, don’t think that it is all over.  You need to continue to work, to get Christ fully developed in your life!  It’s a lot of work to do that!  Peace.

“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.)

 

“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.

 

“What are You Chasing”

There was a customer that I had for many years, who once told me “that he did not build houses, he built landmarks”.  I want you to know, that he was telling the truth.  He built some of the most magnificent, large houses that I have ever seen.  Malia and I always made it a point during the “Northwest Arkansas Parade of Homes,” to go through his entry for that year; and she always says “he never disappoints.”  The Parade was about 5-6 weeks ago, and I believe that his entry this year, was the best that I have ever seen.  Truly, a magnificent structure!

It was, and still is, a breath-taking pleasure to go through those homes — that are so beautiful, that are decorated exquisitely, and with fantastic curb appeal.  Some of them are so large, that they have a master bath larger than our master bedroom.  As we have toured these homes, we have often wondered where these people worked; and what exactly did they do.

Don’t misunderstand what I am saying, I am glad that people have the jobs that they have, are able to build the homes that they want, and to live the lifestyle that they have chosen — that is one of the advantages of living where and when we do.  People building, and buying houses, is how I made a living for 12 years.  We just need to recognize that money, fancy cars, luxury items, and big houses are not the ultimate test of success.

When I read this passage, there were a couple of thoughts that stuck out in my mind about life, success, riches, and big houses:

Do not be overawed when a man grows rich, when the splendor of his house increases.  (Psalm 49:16, NIV)

First, is the use of the word “overawed”.  Most of the other translations, use the concept of don’t be “afraid” of someone’s wealth.  Afraid may be a more correct translation, but I like what the word “overawed” says to me.  There are things that we see that are purchased with the wealth of this world, that really will take your breath away.  But don’t let the “things” of this world consume you.  So many people are consumed by the “desire” and the “chase” to be wealthy, that they hardly think of anything else.  God doesn’t want his people to be that way!  It’s not wrong to be wealthy, but it is wrong to put it above “seeking God”.

Secondly, the rest of the chapter is fascinating, because it  very bluntly teaches — you can’t take it with you!  About a year ago, there was a picture on Facebook of a hearse pulling a U-Haul trailer, with the caption saying “I was wrong, you can take it with you.”  As funny as that is, you really can’t take it with you!  A life chasing riches, without seeking God. may make for a luxurious life now — but that is all it will be.

A man who has riches WITHOUT understanding is like the beasts that perish.”  (Psalm 49:20, NIV).

Never leave God out of your plans, your wealthy, or your future.  Peace.

 

(This is a revised and updated version of a post that first appeared on Facebook on May 4, 2016.  It is being used as one of our “Psalms for Saturday,” and I hope that it is a blessing to you.  Thanks for reading, Bill.)

“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)