16 Jan 2018
“Pray that, above all things, the gates of light may be opened to you; for these things cannot be perceived or understood by all, but only by the man to whom God and His Christ have imparted wisdom.” –Justin Martyr
An oxymoron is a figure of speech in which two terms, which appear to be contradictory, are used in conjunction. Perhaps you’ve heard a few of these examples: resident alien; good grief; pretty ugly; working vacation; passive aggression; government intelligence.
A paradox is similar. A paradox is reasoning from two acceptable premises which seem to contradict, but when investigated proves to be true.
Pulitzer Prize winning poet Carl Sandburg turned the phrase: “There is an eagle in me that wants to soar, and there is a hippopotamus in me that wants to wallow in the mud.” That’s a paradox—and there are times we all feel that way.
There’s an old 16th Century Puritan Prayer called the Valley of Vision which recalls some of those paradoxical truths Jesus taught:
Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly, Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision, where I live in the depths but see Thee in the heights; hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold Thy glory. Let me learn by paradox that the way down is the way up, that to be low is to be high, that the broken heart is the healed heart, that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit, that the repenting soul is the victorious soul, that to have nothing is to possess all, that to bear the cross is to wear the crown, that to give is to receive, that the valley is the place of vision. Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells, and the deeper the wells the brighter Thy stars shine; let me find Thy light in my darkness, Thy life in my death, Thy joy in my sorrow, Thy grace in my sin, Thy riches in my poverty, Thy glory in my valley.
The Gospel is, itself, a paradox, for in dying, we have life! “Jesus answered them, saying, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal’” (John 12:23-25).
And concerning how we’re to live this life, we’re to be lost so we may be found: “He who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 10:38-39).
How do the paradoxes of God’s truth strike us? How do they inform the way we respond to God and live before others?
My prayer this week – Father, thank you for these powerful truths! Will you reveal yourself to me in these paradoxes this week as I meditate on the Puritan prayer and consider your wisdom and majesty?
09 Jan 2018
“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” –Abraham Lincoln
A man called at the church and asked if he could speak to the Head Hog at the Trough. The secretary asked, “Who?” The man repeated, “I want to speak to the Head Hog at the Trough!”
Certain she had heard correctly, the receptionist said, “Sir, if you mean our pastor, you will have to treat him with respect. Refer to him as ‘Reverend’ or ‘Pastor.’ Don’t refer to him as the Head Hog at the Trough!”
The man said, “I apologize. I have $10,000 dollars I was thinking of giving to the church.” The receptionist said, “Hold the line-I think the Big Pig just walked in the door.”
Obviously this is just a story. But it serves as thought-provocation: What invites respect? Is it a title? An office? Seminary degrees? Social status? Is it talent? Abilities? Intellect?
No. It’s none of these things. It’s character.
Respect is earned. And then it’s sustained by influence, not position. Sure, presidents, preachers, parents and practitioners are initially given respect for their position, but if they underperform or lack integrity, respect is quickly lost—and most difficult to recover.
Those who possess great skills are initially granted respect, but very soon it’s their character that will either sustain it or prove them unworthy—just ask the two teams drafting number 1 and 2 in the 1998 NFL Draft, choosing between Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf: Manning went on to become one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, and Leaf went to jail.
Look at what Paul says about the qualification of leaders—those worthy of respect: “Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money” (1 Timothy 3:2–3).
As I look at this list, I notice they’re all about character—not title or talent. Even “able to teach” in this context speaks of character—the ability to teach, here, is to have a “moral platform” from which to instill lessons in others.
Respectable leaders rise to the occasion and do the right things because it’s who they are. They embody the values espoused. They express their leadership in humility. People choose to follow them because they’re worthy of respect.
Respectability invites respect. We may think, “I’m not getting any respect.” If so, on what do we base our expectations?
“A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold” (Proverbs 22:1).
My prayer this week – Father, thank you for where you’ve placed me, and for the opportunities you give me to lead and influence others. Will you show me areas of my character that need growth and transformation so as to be worthy of others’ respect?
25 Dec 2017
A Healthy Ego
“Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.” –Thomas Merton
There’s a story in Greek mythology about a young man named Narcissus. He was a very handsome young man and he knew it. One day he saw his reflection in a stream, and he became enamored with the image of himself. He couldn’t pull himself away; he stared into the stream day and night. As the story goes, he became so trapped in his own ego he eventually turned into the Narcissus flower, rooted at the water’s edge.
As believers, we are God’s children. The world looks at us to see a reflection of God, and to see what God and his children are like. If we are caught up in ourselves—in narcissism—the watching world will see a marred image. It will see a body of Christ which is selfish, cares nothing for anyone else, and doesn’t believe its own teachings.
Ego is a fickle thing. Having a deficient ego can cause someone to wallow in self-doubt and lack confidence. On the other hand, someone with an inflated sense of self-worth can be seen as an egomaniac, self-aggrandizing and arrogant. It can be particularly challenging for Christians who have been successful to find balance.
The apostle Paul serves as an example. His ministry grew and spread rapidly, yet this was his perspective: “We do not want to boast about work already done in someone else’s territory. But, ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.’ For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends” (2 Corinthians 10:16-18).
A balanced ego won’t become overly inflated. This balance is rooted in seeing ourselves clothed in God’s grace, and practicing what pleases him. Here are some sound principles to consider:
- “The sacrifice you want is a broken spirit. A broken and repentant heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).
- “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2).
- “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12).
- “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4:10).
How can we best acknowledge, celebrate, and take satisfaction in what God is doing in, around, and through us, in a way which honors God and reflects him to others?
My prayer this week – Lord God, I admit my struggles with pride and ego. I desire to give you the praise and glory for the good things you’ve placed in my life! Will you help me to recognize and confess pride as it occurs in my heart, to your glory, my growth, and others’ blessing?
18 Dec 2017
How Do You Express Anger?
“For every minute you are angry, you lose sixty seconds of happiness.” –Author Unknown
Thomas Henry Bolt was an American professional golfer known by the nicknames of “Thunder” and “Terrible Tommy” for his fiery disposition on the golf course. Bolt’s frequent fits of rage included shouting abusive language and throwing or even breaking his golf clubs. He was fined by tournaments so often for his behavior that he set up a special fund from his winnings just to pay them.
During his induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame, Terrible Tommy told the story of a particularly frustrating Pro-Am he played. On the final hole he was 135 yards from the green when he asked his caddy for a 7-iron. The caddy replied, “It’s got to be either a 3-iron or a 3-wood—those are the only two clubs you have left.”
There are many things—even people—in this life which can frustrate you. But whether or not you express anger, or better still, how you express anger when you’re frustrated is a choice. Nothing and no one makes you respond irrationally or inappropriately. Unfortunately, our responses can become easily habitual, or automatic, so as to define us.
What does the Bible say on the subject? A lot!
“A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly” (Proverbs 14:29).
“A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control” (Proverbs 29:11).
“Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:9).
Those verses (and many others like them) tell us giving irrational vent to anger is not a good thing.
“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (James 1:19-20).
This verse teaches that getting angry isn’t productive.
“In your anger do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26).
And this verse reminds us there is a difference between the experience of anger and the expression of it.
Anger is an inescapable fact of life. But we can make wiser choices, change or improve the way we respond to frustrating situations and circumstances, so as to reflect Christ.
How would my colleagues, friends and family say I handle my anger?
My prayer this week – You are the God of peace and wisdom! Will you give me a perspective which will help keep me from unrighteous and unbecoming expressions of anger? When I do get angry, will you give me the wisdom to recognize it and manage it in ways which will honor you and not hurt others?
12 Dec 2017
A Friend Of God
“The whole meaning of prayer is that we may know God.” –Oswald Chambers
The Bible directs us: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).
Our reason to rejoice is not just because our future salvation is sure, that we’ve been delivered from eternal punishment by the finished work of Jesus Christ—although that would certainly be enough!
But we also have cause to rejoice and to continue rejoicing in the present—where we are today—in a new and wonderful relationship with our God.
He’s called our Heavenly Father.
This is a term of endearment. It’s not some distant acquaintance but an intimate closeness which is in view.
Just as in assuring our future salvation, it’s the finished work of Christ which removed every barrier standing between us and our God.
He has reconciled us and restored our relationship so we can be close to God.
“For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:10-11).
God’s ultimate invitation to a friendship with him was in sending his Son to pay the price for our sin so we who believe could be called his children.
To seal his presence in us, he sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in us.
God continually invites us to respond to his love and desire for fellowship.
He longs to love us as only he can, and he wants us to know him in all of his fullness.
His commandment to us is “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5).
Relationships are a two-way street. Our Heavenly Father has removed all the barriers in Christ so we can be close.
He invites us to come close.
For our part…
- Are we investing in the relationship?
- Are we moving towards the Father?
- Are we getting to know him in prayer and by reading the Word?
- Are we rejoicing in our friendship with God?
My prayer this week – Father, I do rejoice in my restored relationship with you! I recognize it’s all because of what Jesus has done for me. Will you draw me closer to you? In our closeness, Father, will you reveal more of yourself to me? Will you fill me to overflowing with the joy that such friendship with you brings?
28 Nov 2017
How Firm A Foundation?
“How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!”
They call it the “leaning tower of Pisa” for good reason. The campanile—or freestanding bell-tower—of the cathedral in the Italian city of Pisa, leans noticeably to one side.
Prior to some restoration efforts in the early 2000s, the tower listed to an angle of 5.5 degrees. Today it leans at 3.9 degrees—meaning the top of the tower is displaced some 12 feet from where it would be if the structure were perfectly vertical.
There has been a great deal of controversy over the years concerning the identity of the architect. You have to wonder if the tower’s lean has anything to do with that. The tower’s tilt began during its construction, caused by an inadequate foundation, and ground too soft on one side to support the weight of the structure.
What architect would want his signature on that project?
The leaning tower testifies to the vital importance of a solid foundation for any construction endeavor.
The great old hymn How Firm A Foundation testifies that, in God’s Word, and more particularly in the faithfulness of its Author, believers have a firm foundation.
His promises to be our refuge, our supply and our deliverer—you can absolutely build your life upon them.
Through the prophet Isaiah, God spoke of the One who would be the cornerstone of this foundation: “So this is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who relies on it will never be stricken with panic’” (Isaiah 28:16).
Jesus is this cornerstone. He teaches: “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock” (Matthew 7:24-25).
He painted a contrasting picture, as well: “But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Matthew 7:26-27).
May we give thanks this week for the solid footing our God has given us in Jesus Christ. May we give thought to our part in the construction of his dwelling place—our lives.
How well are we hearing and putting into practice Christ’s words?
My prayer this week – Gracious Heavenly Father, I’m thankful you chose me before the creation of the world to be your child. I am thankful for the foundation of your Word in my life. Will you help me to be more firmly established upon it, hearing and practicing, that my life would stand straight—an example for others to see?