12 Sep 2017
What Part Do You Play?
“Individual commitment to a group effort—that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” –Vince Lombardi
Have you ever studied why geese fly as they do? It’s fascinating to read what has been discovered about their flight pattern and their in-flight habits.
Did you know those flying in front rotate their leadership? When the lead goose gets tired, it changes places with one in the wing of the formation, and another flies point.
Did you know by flying as they do, the members of the flock create an upward air current for one another? Each flap of the wings literally creates lift for the bird immediately following, affording the group a much greater flying range than if each goose flew on its own.
Did you know if one goose gets sick or wounded, two fall out of formation with it, follow it down to help and protect it? They stay with the struggling goose until it’s able to fly again.
Did you know the geese in the rear of the formation are the ones who do the honking? Scientists believe it’s their way of announcing they’re following, and that all is well, encouraging those ahead to press on.
Whether it’s rotating, flapping, helping, or honking, each plays a vital role. The flock is in it together.
The apostle Paul speaks of the body of Christ as being in it together: “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many” (1 Corinthians 12:12-14).
He then described the beauty of God’s creating diversity within this one body—a foot can’t say to the hand, “because I’m not a hand, I’m not needed.” The ear can’t say to the eye, “I don’t need you.”
But in fact, there’s interdependence among the many parts. They need one another. If there is a missing or non-functioning part, it’s a handicap.
Paul explains: “But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be” (1 Corinthians 12:18).
He’s orchestrated the body as he sees fit. Your role is as he desires.
Rotating, flapping, helping or honking, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27).
What parts do you and I play? How are we living up to our roles? The rest of the body depends on us.
My prayer this week – Heavenly Father, thank you for the reminder that you’ve placed me in the body of Christ. Will you help me to see my role more clearly, and to serve more faithfully as a vital part of the whole?
05 Sep 2017
Do You Know Him?
“Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your God, your functional savior.” –Martin Luther
In the 6th century BC, a plague afflicted the people of Athens. The elders of the city were at a loss for what to do. Certain they had offended a deity, they ordered sacrifices be made before each of the many altars of the Athenian gods. The plague worsened.
They sent to Crete for a seer named Epimenedes, said to be “in touch with the Gods.”
Epimenedes surveyed the scene and concluded they had, indeed, offended a god—the question was which one.
He proposed an experiment. They would release a flock of sheep on the side of a fertile hill. Those that did the natural thing—graze—they’d allow to eat. Any animals that did not graze, but rather lied down in the grass, those animals would be sacrificed, right where they lay, to the unknown, offended god.
On the day of the experiment, not one animal grazed. Every single animal lied down in the grass. The people sacrificed them. The hill ran red with blood—and the plague relented. An altar was erected to the unknown god.
Some 600 years later, the apostle Paul visited Athens: “While Paul was waiting in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16).
When Paul was given an opportunity to speak before the Areopagus—an assembly of the town’s elders and thinkers—he began: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you” (Acts 17:22-23).
The way the Athenian’s lived, they made regular rounds to the altars of many gods—leaving gifts, hoping to keep them all appeased.
The god of the harvest, the god of the hunt, the goddess of grain, the goddess of wine—dozens more—all got attention from the people hoping for favor.
It’s easy to get caught in such a race—running, altar to altar, to appease lesser deities.
The god of career advancement, the god of accumulating wealth, the god of recreation, the god of envy, the god of jealousy—insert your gods here—Monday through Saturday, rushing to bow to them all.
Then, to drop in on Sunday morning, worship Almighty God as if he’s an unknown.
Paul said, “This god you worship as if he’s unknown—let me introduce him to you.”
“From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’” (Acts 17:26-28). That last sentence … is a quote from Epimenedes.
My prayer this week – Almighty God, you are not a god with a small ‘g’ or an idol fashioned by the hands of men. Forgive me for those times when I’ve treated you as though you were. Refresh my faith and my routine—that you’d be glorified!
29 Aug 2017
What’s On The Calendar Today?
“Try to give your agenda to God. Keep saying, ‘Your will be done, not mine.’” –Henri Nouwen
A publication called Bits & Pieces published a list of the “Coronary and Ulcer Club Rules” in 1993. The list read:
- Your job comes first. Forget everything else.
- Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays are fine times to be working at the office. There will be nobody else there to bother you.
- Always have your briefcase with you when not at your desk. This provides an opportunity to review completely all the troubles and worries of the day.
- Never say “no” to a request. Always say “yes.”
- Accept all invitations to meetings, banquets, committees, etc.
- All forms of recreation are a waste of time.
- Never delegate responsibility to others; carry the entire load yourself.
- If your work calls for traveling, work all day and travel at night to keep that appointment you made for eight the next morning.
- No matter how many jobs you already are doing, remember you always can take on more.
The list was created tongue-in-cheek. The sad reality is, for many, the shoe fits.
There is a story in the Bible of a man named Jethro who recognized the toll his son-in-law’s workload would exact if he kept up the frenzied pace:
“When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?”
Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions” (Exodus 18:14,-15).
How many of the Coronary and Ulcer rules can be applied?
Jethro offered: “Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave. But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you” (Exodus 18:19-22).
Jethro’s advice could be summed up: work smarter, not harder. He directed Moses to concentrate on the tasks which were within his particular area of strength and to let others handle the rest.
I want to take a look in the mirror—and at my weekly calendar and itinerary. Where have the Coronary and Ulcer rules snuck into my life? What am I holding onto that I should delegate? What’s most important?
My prayer this week – Father, will you help me to be aware of the things which subtly sneak into my schedule, threaten my well-being and keep me from things much more important? May I work smarter, not harder!
22 Aug 2017
Quit or Press On?
“Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.” –Newt Gingrich
In May 1788, William Wilberforce, a Member of Parliament, introduced a twelve-point motion indicting the slave trade. The motion was soundly defeated, but Wilberforce was not.
His campaign only intensified. So did the opposition.
A coalition from all walks of life formed—political, business and social—as “the trade” was so intertwined in the financial interests of the people. Even the Crown stood against him.
Wilberforce was viewed as a dangerous radical, threatening to undermine the economies of much of Europe. In battle after battle he was defeated.
No one could deny his perseverance. One observer wrote: “Wilberforce is blessed with a very sufficient quantity of that enthusiastic spirit, which is so far from yielding that it grows more vigorous from blows.”
An astute observation: Wilberforce was defeated again in 1791, 1792, 1793, 1797, 1798, 1799, 1804, and 1805.The perseverance of the abolitionists eventually turned the tide of public opinion.
In 1806, Parliament finally abolished the slave trade throughout the British Empire. Wilberforce wept with joy.
When going through a storm of opposition or adversity, it’s easy to want to quit. There is no reason to keep going when we face obstacles at every turn. Or is there?
Some people stop at the first signs of adversity because they don’t think they have what it takes to survive the storm.
In reality, God can provide every bit of strength we need.
The apostle Paul faced a menacing obstacle as he ministered—so personal a burden he called it “a thorn in my flesh.” As he prayed, God promised his grace would be sufficient for Paul.
Paul then concludes: “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9, 10).
Psalm 130 begins, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.”
The Psalmist went to the Lord in distress, and there discovered the strength to conclude: “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. O Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption” (Psalm 130:5-7).
In what battles, right now, am I tempted to give up? Is there room in my weakness, in insults, distresses and sufferings for God to show up strong?
My prayer this week – Lord, will you help me to evaluate the obstacles before me—to discern when to quit and when you’re calling me to exercise more faith and perseverance? May the power of Christ dwell in me and may He be strong in my weakness!
15 Aug 2017
Are You Thirsty?
“Our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.” –St. Augustine
Perhaps you remember when Jill encountered Aslan in C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia (The Silver Chair):
“Are you not thirsty?” said the lion.
“I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill.
“Then drink,” said the lion.
“May I- could I- would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.
The lion answered this only by a look and very low growl.
As Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience. The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
“Will you promise not to do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.
“I make no such promise,” said the lion.
Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer the lion.
“Do you eat girls?” she said.
“I have swallowed up, consumed girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the lion.
It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.
“I dare not come and drink,” said Jill. “Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion. “Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”
The lion said, “There is no other stream.”
Jill desperately wanted a sip of water, but she wanted to enjoy it away from Aslan. Lewis mirrored the heart of humanity in this scene—we want our souls satisfied, but we’re prone to want it on our terms, before finally recognizing it doesn’t work.
The Psalmist spoke of his longing for God, so intense, he likened it to an animal panting for a drink: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God” (Psalm 42:1). God is to the soul what water is to the body.
Consider God’s invitation: “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost” (Isaiah 55:1).
And Jesus’ promise: “Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).
We were made to be satisfied with the Living Water. Nothing else will do.
Are we thirsty? What makes us aware of our thirst for God today? Are we ready for relief?
My prayer this week – Heavenly Father, I confess I’ve tried to satisfy my soul’s thirst amiss. I’ve panted after other, lesser affections. I realize my soul longs for you. Thank you for your invitation: that I may come to your fountain. Thank you for your promise: that you satisfy.
08 Aug 2017
Where Do I Find Courage?
“Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever.”
–Martin Luther, A Mighty Fortress
In the early 1500s, an Augustinian friar and theology professor came to reject several teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.
Chief among his convictions, he believed people are saved by faith, not human effort, and that Scripture, not the Church, defines truth.
Pope Leo X had the man, Martin Luther, excommunicated. Emperor Charles V tried him as an outlaw.
The “heretic” was ordered to appear at Worms, Germany in 1521. There, an assortment of powerful bishops and political representatives gathered to witness the proceedings.
In the midst of it all stood a table, covered with books and papers Martin Luther had written.
When Luther appeared, an official asked, “Did you write these books, and if so, which of them will you now recant?”
Luther answered, “The books are mine, and I have written even more.” As to what he would recant, Luther asked for time to consider an answer. He was granted 24 hours.
The next evening the place was even more crowded. Asked the same question, Luther rose to speak. Just as he started to speak, he was interrupted: “You must give a simple, clear and proper answer! Will you recant or not?”
Knowing his life was on the line—he could be arrested and executed for his answer—Luther replied, “Unless I can be instructed with evidence from the Holy Scriptures I cannot and will not recant. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”
Luther was condemned. He was branded a heretic.
An order was issued for his arrest, making it criminal for anyone in Germany to provide him with food or shelter, and allowing anyone to kill him without legal consequence.
Martin Luther is known as the father of the Protestant Reformation. There was theological conviction behind Luther’s answer, but don’t miss the reality: standing strong in that moment took a great deal of courage!
When a young man named Joshua learned he would succeed Moses in leading the Israelites—a daunting task—he was encouraged by God: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).
In Psalm 91, the Psalmist found courage in trusting God despite severe adversity: “If you say, ‘The Lord is my refuge,’ and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways” (Psalm 91:9-11).
Where in my life—at work, at home, in my community—am I being called upon to act or speak out courageously? Can I take courage knowing God is with me and the Lord is my refuge?
My prayer this week – Lord, help me to know when I should stand up for you, as well as how to do it. Will you remind me of your presence, of your strength and of your sovereignty over all? May I find courage in you!