This past Thursday, my dog wasn’t feeling well. She stopped eating and I wanted to get something to entice her to eat. I went to the store to get a rotisserie chicken for us and some coleslaw for me. I can’t use a shopping cart as a walker, so I usually shop at Walmart because they have their electric carts near the entrance. There was not one handicap parking spot available there, so I decided to try a local chain store on my way back home. I was sitting in the parking lot when a shopper stopped and asked if I needed a cart. I told her I needed an electric cart and she offered to go get one for me. A few minutes later a young lady who works there came out the door on a cart waving and shouting to me, “I’m on my way!” When she got there, I told her she was an angel of mercy. She said, “Almost. I died twice last year.” I said, “Wow! I’m glad you are still with us.” Then I told her, “I haven’t died once yet, but I have been born twice.” Her broad smile told me she knew exactly what I meant.
In the crowded store, people considerately made room for me to maneuver past them to get to the deli. There were a couple of people ahead of me and they were calling numbers but I couldn’t see a ticket dispenser so I asked a customer where she got her number and she said, “I’ll get you one.” The counter was too high to reach from the cart, so the woman waiting on me brought my food all the way around the counter and handed it to me with a smile. The man who was next in line said, “I tried save you a trip by offering to hand it to him.” She said, “I don’t mind. It’s part of my job.” On the way out of the store the same young woman who brought the cart to me followed me to my car to bring the cart back into the store. I inquired about her health problems and she told me she falls every other day. She said, “No, I literally fall every other day. I fell this morning so I’m good now until Saturday.” I wished her soft landings and improved health as I drove away.
Why am I sharing all of this with you? There is so much anger and hatred in our society today. It seems every news item is negative. Activists on all sides deliberately widen every gap or division that separates us. But when people encounter each other one on one, kindness and civility still exist. Don’t get me wrong. I know there are some uncaring, self-centered people in the world. Some of the folks who moved out of my way in the store might have done so in self-defense instead of kindness, but there is a lot more civility and kindness than we are led to believe. No one cared about my age, gender, race, political affiliation or what church, if any, I attend. They simply saw another human being in need and they wanted to help. It is at times like that when I realize my physical limitation might actually be an advantage, because it helps me bring out the best in people. For a few minutes their focus is on someone else’s needs instead of their own problems. I am blessed greatly by every kind act, no matter how large or small and I know it brightens their day when they are able to reach out and help another person. Kindness is love in action and God wants us – no, commands us – to love one another as He loves us.
My devotion this morning described C.S. Lewis’ conversion to Christianity. Lewis was an English professor and a devout atheist. He began to study the Bible in order to disprove it. He later wrote, “I became convinced it was true. I admitted that God was God and at that moment I was the most dejected and reluctant convert in all of England.” Then he found that “following Jesus was just the opposite of what I had expected. I was surprised by joy that I had never connected to faith in God.”
This morning before that devotion, I found a bank pouch with my check book in it for which I had been frantically searching for several days. Without going into detail, I found it in the most unexpected place; a place I would have never placed it. So I too was “surprised by joy”. As I read that devotion, I was reminded of the parables Jesus told of the lost lamb, the prodigal son and this parable of the lost coin (Luke 15:8-10). “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she will call in her friends and neighbors and say, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.” The only joy greater than finding something that was lost is the joy you feel when you are the one who is found.
I have discovered in my years as a Christian that God is full of surprises. Deep down I believe “with God all things are possible,” but for some reason I am surprised each time He proves it to me. One of my favorite gospel songs tells us, “Expect the unexpected when God’s about to move. He will meet our every need in ways we wouldn’t choose. Be still and know He’s in control; His power will come through. Expect the unexpected and watch what God will do.” Following Jesus presents us with a lot of experiences, but boredom is certainly not one of them.
Contentment is something every human heart longs for. Even as far back as the Christian Reformation, Martin Luther found that “Contentment is a rare bird, but it sings sweetly in the breast.” During the founding of our nation, Ben Franklin wrote, “Content makes poor men rich; discontent makes rich men poor.” What Ben didn’t say is what Christians throughout the ages have found to be true; the source of real contentment is found only in a personal relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ.
The Apostle Paul found the secret of contentment and he shared it in his teaching and his letters. “Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little, for I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:11-13) His advice to Timothy also points out that contentment doesn’t come from material riches. “Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.” (1 Timothy 6:6-8)
Sometimes I think we confuse contentment with comfort. I can find physical comfort in my easy chair or my bed, but it is when I am actively sharing my testimony and serving others that I find my greatest contentment. When we search for comfort, we turn our focus on ourselves. Jesus pointed that out in the parable of the foolish rich man who decided to build bigger barns to store his bumper crop then take life easy, but he wound up dying and leaving his wealth for others to enjoy instead. Had he sought contentment instead of comfort, he would have turned his attention to God, praising Him for the blessings he received, and to those in need, sharing his good fortune with them. (See Luke 12:13-21) Whether that would have lengthened his life or not, he would have experienced true contentment and that is something we can take with us.
“And anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgement.” (John 3:36) This verse makes it perfectly clear that belief in Jesus Christ always involves obedience. One of my favorite hymns is Trust and Obey which describes how the two are inseparable. You can’t have one without the other. Jesus said, “If you love me, obey my commandments.” (John 14:15) So, when we believe in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins and love Him because He first loved us, obedience will be our natural response. Without obedience our faith and love for God are hollow and lack meaning.
Have you ever found yourself bartering with God? “Lord, hear and answer my prayer for resolution of this crisis in my life and I’ll study the Bible every day; do or say whatever you want me to do or say; I’ll even start tithing.” If you have found yourself doing that, as I have, then you know God’s reply, “You go first!” Obedience is required of us by our Heavenly Father. Obedience doesn’t require our understanding; we do it because He said so. All we need to know is that obeying God is always in our best interest, because He alone knows what we need and what is best for us.
Jesus demonstrated putting obedience before blessing when ten lepers came to him for healing (Luke 17:11-14) “As Jesus continued on toward Jerusalem, he reached the border between Galilee and Samaria. As he entered a village there, ten men with leprosy stood at a distance, crying out, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ He looked at them and said, ‘Go show yourselves to the priest.’ As they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy.” Instead of healing them immediately, He simply told them to go and show themselves to the priest and it was when they obeyed and were on their way to the priests that they were healed. Their faith was demonstrated in their act of obedience and they were greatly blessed as a result.
We can’t obey God if we aren’t paying attention to Him. We can receive His instructions through carefully and regularly reading His word; paying close attention to the prompting of the Holy Spirit within us; or even through the wise council of other Christians. However we receive His command, it is our duty as His children to obey.
Last weekend was a warm one in the Chicago area and on that Friday afternoon the fan on the high ceiling in my living room failed to work. I tried to turn it on several times Saturday to no avail. I replaced the 9 volt battery in the remote control and tried again several times on Sunday, but the fan would not budge. On Monday morning, I reached for the remote once again and these words came to my mind as if someone was whispering them in my ear, “You know that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results.” My response as I pushed the buttons on the remote control was, “And the definition of faith is continuing to act with expectation of great blessings from God.” The fan started right up as though there had never been a problem and has worked fine all of this week. I have no idea what the problem was or why it suddenly works again, but it just might be God’s way of teaching me to continue to expect small miracles and great things from Him.
There were times in my younger years when something like that would have caused me to become so frustrated that I would have given up long before Monday and probably hurled the remote across the room or into the trash can. I don’t think it is age that has mellowed me. I think I am finally beginning to understand what the Holy Spirit has been trying to teach me for decades. I wonder now how many times I have given up when one more try would have done the trick. I pray that you are a much faster learner than I have been, because the peace that comes with faith in Christ and positive expectations is breathtaking.
In this world where it seems most people have little or no expectations and as a result are seldom disappointed, our faith in Jesus Christ allows us to live with great expectations. That is just another way that we are in the world not of the world. Peter wrote, “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus from the dead. Now we live with great expectation.” (1 Pete 1:3)
We know that Satan is a liar and the “father of lies”, but he likes to mix in just a little bit of truth to make his lies seem reasonable. His favorite tactic is to offer Christians a short cut without following the path God has laid out for us one faithful, weary step at a time. He shows us a super highway that will speed our progress and avoid the hills and obstacles that lie ahead. How do I know it is his favorite tactic? We read in the Bible of him using it time after time, sometimes with great success. The lie is that it will take us to the same destination in which we are headed. Although it appears to be a wide and popular highway that runs parallel to our path, it slowly veers away from God and His plan for us and we would wind up in a very different place.
Satan and Jesus both knew that His destiny in leaving heaven was to eventually rule and judge the world. Satan offered him a shortcut to that reign that would avoid the pain and sacrifice of that path leading to Golgotha. Satan would grant immediate dominion over the entire world if Jesus would simply worship him. Jesus refused that false shortcut to that cheap imitation of the victorious reign lying ahead of Him by quoting and obeying God’s command to worship only Him.
There once was a male quartet that travelled the South singing gospel songs in churches and other gatherings and they blessed all who heard them. They had a unique sound and the enemy told them if they took his shortcut to fame and fortune, they would be able to attain their goal of reaching more people with the message of the gospel and get there quicker. They took that super highway shortcut to become nationally known. They always made sure to include one gospel song from their past at every live performance, but a line from one of their most popular songs signaled how far they had veered from their original calling; “Sometimes I wake in the arms of a lover and I don’t remember her name”. That is hardly an endorsement for sexual purity or marital fidelity and it certainly isn’t the gospel lyrics from the path on which they were traveling before they took the shortcut.
More than once Satan has tempted me to take his popular shortcut around the mountain or storm lying ahead of me. Once, I actually took the on ramp to that wide, smooth super highway before the Holy Spirit prompted me to hit the brakes and turn around. The only way to avoid falling for Satan’s favorite ploy is to follow Jesus’ example; know and obey God’s word and the prompting of His Holy Spirit from within us.
There was a sermon on the radio the other morning that touched my heart and stimulated my mind. I love it when that happens. We tend to think that sin is a result of temptations from the outside to which we respond by giving in or rejecting. But Alistair Begg explained to me that sin – every sin – is an “inside job”. It comes from a hereditary diseased sinful heart full of evil and idolatry . Some people think if they isolate themselves from sinful people and sinful things, they can avoid sin. It doesn’t work that way. Without Christ, you could seal yourself in a space capsule; be projected by a rocket into an orbit around the earth; shut off all communication with those still on earth and sin would be right there in that capsule with you because it is inside of you. With Christ you can pass through this sinful world without sinning.
Psychiatry is an interesting field where the deep dark well of the human psyche is explored. At the bottom of the well is a layer of muck that when stirred can cause a human to do unspeakably evil things. Psychiatry is not an exact science with undeniable laws like physics. It is somewhat dependent on the moral values of the culture in which the person and his or her analyst live. For example, when I was a young boy, homosexuality was classified as a mental illness. As our society began to accept it as normal behavior for some people, it is no longer considered an illness. On the other hand, as our society has become more hostile to Christianity, the concept of sin is now diagnosed by some in that field as a “Christian neurosis”.
There is only one Physician qualified to treat the human body, mind and spirit from the lethal disease of sin. That person is Jesus Christ. When a Pharisee (a group who pride themselves on separation from sinful people and things) named Nicodemus visited Jesus at night, he began with flattery, but Jesus cut right to the heart of the matter – Nicodemus’ heart. Jesus told him that to enter the kingdom of heaven he must be born again. Then Jesus explained to him that it is from within us that the disease of sin exists. We are all born of the flesh, but to enter the kingdom of heaven we must also be born of the spirit. Our sinful nature with a diseased heart produces evil and leads to death. When we believe in Jesus and obediently follow Him, we receive a heart transplant (spiritually speaking). That new heart will give us power over our sinful nature and produce the fruit of God’s spirit instead. That new Spirit within us is not just a new human heart; it is the Spirit of Jesus that raised Him from the dead. We are born twice so we will only have to die once. (See the third chapter of John)
A stranger staggers into town bruised and bleeding with clothes shredded. A local asks him what happened and he says, “I fell off the mountain road. That road is dangerous. They should put up a warning sign.” The local responds with a southern drawl, “They had a warning sign up for years, but nobody fell off so they took it down.” That is a very old joke from a comedy show on radio when I was a young boy, but you youngsters under 65 may not have heard it before. It illustrates the importance of warning signs and how often they are needed.
Sometimes the sign is still there, but it is confusing or we are just too busy or distracted to pay attention. There is another story that I read much more recently about two pastors from neighboring churches in Louisiana who were putting up a sign. The sign read, “Beware! The end of the road is near! Stop, repent and be saved!” A young man in a new sports car slowed down to read the sign and then yelled, “You old fools” and floored it. They heard the roar of his engine, squealing tires and a big splash. One pastor turned to the other and said, “Maybe the sign should just say, ‘Bridge out ahead!’”
God is a good Father. He warns us whenever there is danger ahead or when we are about to get into trouble. It is up to us to pay attention to His warnings and obey Him. I have found that sometimes the warning comes as a tightening in my gut that signals something isn’t right about this situation. Other times, a verse of scripture comes to mind that shines a light on what is wrong. But most of the time it is the prompting of the Holy Spirit within me with that still small voice (more accurate than Siri) that keeps me on the road to my destination and out of the ditch. God loves us and even his warnings and rebukes are given to us in love.
The key to never missing a warning or instruction from God is to have a continuous and close relationship with Him. Daily prayer time with Him and studying His word are foundational, but the real key is to take Him with you wherever you go all day long and in every circumstance that you face. He will be there by your side to protect you and guide you safely through the many mine fields we confront in this life.
While sitting in my car listening to a Christian radio station the other day, I heard someone say, “God is looking for people who are FAT.” I thought to myself, “Here am I, Lord!” Then he explained that FAT stands for Faithful, Available and Teachable. God can use people like that in surprisingly miraculous ways. God isn’t looking for people with all kinds of experience, advanced degrees or specialized training and He certainly isn’t looking for someone who is perfect. When He finds someone who is faithful, available and teachable, He will place them where they need to be and teach them what they need to say or do. I pray that I qualify not only as fat, but as FAT as well.
“God said, ‘Let there be light and there was light.’” (Genesis 1:3) Jesus said, “But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:5) Not only that, He also said we are the light of the world too and we are strategically placed to make the best possible use of our light. Like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden or a lamp on a lamp stand to give light to everyone in the house. (Matthew 5:14-15)
I have written about this experience before, but it is a perfect example of being strategically placed by God. I was starting a new career as a pest control technician at the age of 40 and unsure how God could use me in that capacity. A call came in from an older lady with a pest problem and I was sent to help her. I inspected her home and sat with her at the kitchen table telling her what I planned to do to solve her problem. Then I told her I would need her help with one thing. In order to do a thorough treatment I would need to treat her closets and I needed her to remove the clothes. There was dead silence for what seemed like an eternity as she looked down at the table. When she finally looked up at me, she said, “You are a believer, aren’t you?” I was stunned. I felt kind of like a spy whose cover had just been blown. I responded, “Yes, I am. Why do you ask?” Then she said, “My husband died nearly a year ago and I haven’t been able to make myself take his clothes out of the closet and donate them. When you said that, it was as if God was speaking to me through you telling me that it is time.” I was thinking about treating procedure, but God used my words to give her the encouragement she needed. I will never forget that sweet lady or the lesson I learned about God strategically placing us for the benefit of others. Let us shine our light wherever God has placed us.
I’m writing this blog post on the 17th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack. An attack on the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and a fourth plane that was taken down by passengers before it could reach the White House. That terrorist attack took the lives of more than 3,000 people (over 400 of them were first responders). Vivid memories come back to me of that quiet Tuesday morning when so many lives were changed forever and our nation was shaken to its very core.
I was at a mall that morning training two new employees in pest control. When we entered a restaurant to provide service before they opened for business, we found all of the employees in front of the big screen TV in the bar. We watched with them as the second plane hit the other tower and the first tower began to collapse. Local news broke in saying the Sears Tower in Chicago was being evacuated and suddenly it all began to hit closer to home. We got back to my office in Chicago as quickly as possible and cut our training session short for the day. The shock and deep sadness I felt that day reminded me so much of when, as a 20 year old Air Force sergeant on leave to get married, I got word of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, my beloved Commander in Chief.
There are two things that stand out in my mind about that day in 2001 and the days that followed. The first is how we were drawn closer together as Americans. As I watched the news on TV with coworkers before we headed home to be with our families, a black friend who was service manager at that office said almost under his breath, “We are all in this together.” That summed up the way political, racial and ethnic divides seem to disappear at least for a while after that tragedy. The second thing that happened is that people began to turn to God for solace, assurance and protection. Churches began to fill again as people were reminded of how fragile life is and how much we need God in this life and in the next.
It is hard for me to imagine that there are teenagers who weren’t even born yet on September 11, 2001. It is even harder for me to grasp that anyone under 55 was not born when that sad news came from Dallas on November 22, 1963. Because so many of us have no memory or have forgotten those events, the things that separate us have widened once more and many people have drifted away from God again. Christians throughout our nation must pray earnestly that it doesn’t take an even greater tragedy to draw us closer to God and to each other once more.