Tag Archives: Jesus

Lessons From a Trigger Finger

Last week I had minor hand surgery to repair a trigger finger. And, man, did I learn a lot! I certainly learned some things about trigger fingers, hands and tendons. But that was minor compared to the learnings God brought to my mind.

This spiritual learning started when the surgeon came and took my right hand. While holding it he verified who I was, which finger was the problem, and that he was going to help by doing the surgery. He then marked on my hand, with indelible ink, an arrow to the finger and placed his initials next to the arrow. It was his way of making sure everyone knew I was his patient and that he alone was responsible for the surgery. Then, when he was ready to begin he once again held my hand up and verified everything, for my sake and for the confidence of all the staff around us. Then he went to work on my hand, doing the surgery to release the finger. When the surgery was about done he again held up my hand and asked me to move the finger to assure us all that he had done what he had promised to do.

The most valuable learnings – perhaps more reminders than first-time learnings – had to do with how God, through Jesus, has His hands on us.

God, through Jesus, reminds us who we are – we are His!

  • But now, this is what the Lord says—he who created you, Jacob,
    he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.                (Isaiah 43:1-2)
  • “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him… he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ…” (Ephesians 1:3-5)

God, through Jesus, has taken responsibility for us.

  • “From eternity to eternity I am God. No one can snatch anyone out of my hand. No one can undo what I have done.”            (Isaiah 43:13 New Living Translation)
  • “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me,for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand.”                                                    (John 10:28-29 New Living Translation)

God, through Jesus, helps us.

  • “For I hold you by your right hand – I, the Lord your God. And I say to you, ‘Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you.”                (Isaiah 41:13 New Living Translation)
  • “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;and when you pass through the rivers,they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire,you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” (Isaiah 43:2-3)
  • “Jesus understands every weakness of ours, because he was tempted in every way that we are. But he did not sin! So whenever we are in need, we should come bravely before the throne of our merciful God. There we will be treated with undeserved kindness, and we will find help.”                    (Hebrews 4:15-16 Contemporary English Version)

God, through Jesus, does surgery on us.

  • “He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness…he has turned his hand against me…he has made my skin and my flesh grow old and broken my bones…he walled me in (and) weighed me down…he pierced my heart…I have hope because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is his faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:1-23)
  • Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against,so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35)

Wow! From a brief minor hand surgery came these powerful major lessons from God. I am the richer for it. I certainly have a new appreciation for the old saying, “There are no minor surgeries!”  So “Thank you trigger finger. Without you, I would be the poorer.”

 

 

Oh That Crazy Bird!

It was a fascinating yet frustrating experience. We had a beautiful but crazy red-winged blackbird (1) visiting us very regularly – multiple times a day, in fact. He watched us and even sang to us. But it wasn’t all that nice. Now before you start thinking I’m a bird-hater, I assure you I love watching birds – just not this one.

Here’s the scoop. For some reason, out of all the houses around, he decided to stop by our back porch for a rest. The problem is he spotted our patio door – and in the patio door he saw a reflection of himself. But he didn’t know it was just his reflection. He thought it was a rival male blackbird invading his new territory. So he sat on the railing, spreading his wings, and squawking in an effort to scare this ‘other bird’ away. (It appeared like he was watching our every move! Kind of creepy!) But when this ‘other bird’ didn’t fly away, he made a beeline for our patio door. Of course he crashed – but when he bounced off the door he went back to sitting on the railing, only to repeat the scenario over and over again. I played a blackbird squawk on my computer, hoping he’d be frightened by an invading sound. It didn’t work. We put chairs up against the window hoping to break the view. He began flying to the patio screen door and hanging on to the screen. So we hung paper bags on the outside of the patio doors to deter him. It didn’t work. “Get a life!” I screamed. It didn’t work. So we hung bigger bags on the inside to wipe out his image (and our view of the outdoors!). He finally stopped crashing and sitting on the railing. But I knew he was still hanging around – I kept hearing his familiar squawk. (2)

I wondered, “Why is he so persistent?” I concluded it was because he was selfish and wanted his own territory – he wanted what he wanted and no one else could have it. As I thought about that, I realized there are people just like this blackbird. They see someone they believe is a threat to them, or who opposes them, or who stands in the way of getting what they want and they become obsessed with them. They will try to attack and scare off the ‘enemy’ or opposition at every opportunity. And why? Because they’re selfish and want their own territory – they want what they want and no one else can have it. It’s their way or the highway. It doesn’t matter if they’re right or wrong or in the minority – just get out of their way; only then will they leave you alone. Does this describe anyone you know?

I believe this is called selfishness. The Bible (3) has something to say about this. “An unfriendly man pursues selfish ends; he defies all sound judgment. A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions.” (Proverbs 18:1-2) Ever met anyone like that? In contrast, the Psalmist wrote, “Turn my heart towards your statues and not toward selfish gain.” (Ps. 119:36) And Jesus told us to lose our lives for His sake – to stop being selfish and self-centered and seek to live Christ’s way. That, He said, is how we truly find our lives. (Matthew 10:39)
Apparently there were those who caught the vision. The apostle Paul wrote, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:3-4)
Are you more like a blackbird or like Jesus?

(1) Photo by Syed Ali on Unsplash
(2) Photo by Adam Muise on Unsplash
(3)Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Cracking the Case

I needed more razor blades. Being on Sabbatical and not in our home town, we went to the nearest store. There I found the brand of blades I use. They were packaged differently, with the container of blades encased in a bigger, hard plastic case. But why should that matter? They were the right blades.

All was well…

Until I needed to use them. When it came time to open the bigger, hard plastic case, the trouble began. There was no way to open it. I’m not kidding! There was what appeared to be a little switch that could serve as a lock but it wouldn’t move. So I got out my trusty little knife and pried – and pried – and pried. Nothing changed. Being in a motel, I had few other resources so I banged the case on the counter-top by the sink. Nothing but a loud noise – not even a crack in the plastic. After a few more bangs – each harder and louder but with no results – I gave up. I was mystified. Access to guns and drugs appeared to be easier than access to these blades! The old blade currently in my razor would have to work another day or two until we arrived at my sister and brother-in-law’s home. There we’d find a way to ‘crack the case.’ Long story short – after chuckling with us about the crazy case, my brother-in-law took it out to his garage and cracked open the case with his hacksaw.

I’m still not sure why razor blades had to be placed in such a secure case. But I do know no one was going to get at them without tremendous effort. They were securely sealed – which brings to mind our security in Christ. We, too, are securely sealed. No switches, no knives, no banging; nothing can get to us. Suddenly I realize that being locked out had a message for me: “When the case can’t be cracked, give thanks for the seal.”

Paul preached it forcefully. “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” (2 Cor. 1:21-22) “You too heard the word of truth in Christ, which is the good news of your salvation. You were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit because you believed in Christ.” (Eph. 1:13 CEB) “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Eph. 4:30) We are sealed, held fast, protected. No one and nothing can get to us but through the hands of Jesus. We can’t be cracked – give thanks for the seal!

The Heidelberg Catechism confesses it beautifully:

What do you believe when you say “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth?” That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who out of nothing created heaven and earth with all that is in them, who also upholds and governs them by his eternal counsel and providence, is for the sake of Christ his Son my God and my Father. I trust in him so completely that I have no doubt that he will provide me with all things necessary for body and soul. Moreover, whatever adversity he sends upon me in this troubled life he will turn to my good, for he is able to do it, being almighty God, and is determined to do it, being a faithful Father.”            “What do you understand by the providence of God? The almighty and ever-present power of God whereby he still upholds, as it were by his own hand, heaven and earth together with all creatures, and rules in such a way that leaves and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and unfruitful years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, and everything else, come to us not by chance but by his fatherly hand.”

Give thanks for the seal. We can’t be cracked. No one, nothing can crack His case around us. Not knives, not counter-tops, not hacksaws. As Jesus said, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” (Jn. 10:27)

 

 

 

When the case can’t be c thanks for the seal.”

When Self-Pity Sets In

It happened way back in the 9th grade but I still remember it vividly. (In that bygone era 9th grace was the end of Jr. High – Sr. High started with 10th grade. Some of you ‘young uns’ need that clarification.) The faculty asked for suggestions for a theme for the 9th grade graduation ceremonies. I dutifully submitted my entry – “The End of the Beginning.” It was from a wartime speech of Winston Churchill – “Now this is not the end; it is not even the beginning of the end; but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” I really liked it. Apparently someone else did as well – it was selected as the theme. I was elated!

Graduation night rolled around and there was a big banner in the gym with the theme in printed bold letters. There was a printed program bulletin with the theme on the cover. Now I was even more elated – until I realized that nowhere was credit given to me for coming up with the theme. “Well,” I consoled myself, “Someone’s probably going to say something during the ceremony.” Guess again – nothing, no how, nowhere. I was crushed. I was hurt. I was angry.

How unfair, how inconsiderate, how rude! Certainly I should have been credited or somehow duly noted. After all, if I hadn’t come through there would be no theme – or at least not one this good. I didn’t want attention – just credit (or so I told myself!) On and on it went in my mind. For some reason I didn’t really enjoy that might very much! The faculty spoiled it for me. At least that’s what I thought then.

As I look back from my wiser adult years I see and learn some things. I see, for example, a comrade in self-pity.

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ (Lk. 15:25-30). (1)

I realize now that on my graduation night the older brother and I were twins. And, if I’m honest, since that night there have been many other times I’ve ‘twinned up’ with him. The malady is called self-pity. If only the older brother had gone home and joined the party! He might just have had a good night! If only he had listened to his father. The lesson? “When you’re feeling sorry for yourself, go home.”

I now know that going home, joining the party, brings to mind some important truths.

  • First, self-pity simply means I have forgotten the blessings that surround and fill my life every day. The father told his older son, “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” When self-pity sets in I need to go back to the place of blessing, back to my Father. “When you’re feeling sorry for yourself, go home.”
  • Second, self-pity means I’ve forgotten that I already have the most important recognition and approval of all – that of my heavenly Father. In reality, His recognition is the only recognition that counts. “When you’re feeling sorry for yourself, go home.”
  • Third, self-pity means I’ve failed to remember that it’s not about me – it’s about God. Any honor in my life should always go to Him. I just need to get back home with my Father to remember this. “When you’re feeling sorry for yourself, go home.”

So from now on I try to see self-pity as a special delivery message from my Father, inviting me home. Hopefully I have enough wisdom to do so. “When you’re feeling sorry for yourself, go home.” (2)

 

 (1) For a lesson from the younger son in the parable see last week’s blog: When You’ve Had Enough

(2) For more on self-pity read chapter 6 of my book “When the Going Gets Tough”

 

 

When You’ve Had Enough

I knew our young son was upset. But I was surprised – and broken-hearted – when I walked past his bedroom and saw him packing his little bag. When I asked him what he was doing he replied that he was leaving home. When I asked where he was going he said he was headed to his best friend’s house. Tired of the regulations and rules he wanted out. He wanted freedom. He wanted to live life his way. To make a short story even shorter, we chatted and fortunately he remained home. All ended well.

The whole incident reminded me of another son and his father. We meet them in a story told by Jesus (Luke 15: 11-24) This young son (quite a bit older than mine) rebelled. He was bored with life; he’d had enough of the laws, the chores, the responsibility of doing for others. He was a “man” now, ready to do it his way. So he cashed out his inheritance; that meant he made a complete break from his family and his home; there was no longer any attachment or legal standing to his family; he had legally and literally severed the family tie.

Whether or not you’ve ever felt that way with your earthly father, have you ever felt like that with God? The reality is most of us have run from God – or wanted to. There have been moments when we wanted to throw off our religious upbringing, or rebel and run away from God to build our own lives, to get out from underneath the rules and regulations of what we perceived as a tyrannical, freedom limiting God. We want no strings attached to our lives. We want to do what we want, when we want, where we want, how we want. We don’t want anybody else calling the shots. We desire the power to make all our choices for ourselves.

Not convinced you match up to this young son? Think about it. Our inheritance is all the resources of life – our intellect, emotion, will, and the gifts and resources of the Spirit of God. They are all ours to use as we desire! God only asks that we remember the source. But what have we done with our gifts? Too often we have stuffed our lives full of what we can touch, taste, save, and sell. We, too, have taken the Father’s capital – our energy and ambition, our highly developed reason, our technological skills, our ability to be inspired by great things and ideas, our abundant giftedness from the Spirit – and have gone to the far country, without the Father; we have failed to take Him into account. So let’s admit it – we all have a little far country to which we’ve run. Whether we rejected our faith, broke or abused our relationships, blew our priorities, or messed up our involvements, anytime we placed our desires first we traveled to our far country.

But notice what happened. The family tie pulled at the young son’s heart. It pulled him towards home. He remembered the real source of his life, and who he really was. His life came from his father. He would always belong to his father. To think he could cut himself off from his father is like thinking we can hold our breath and be independent of oxygen. Sooner or later, we return to the source of life. As Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God.”

So the son headed for home. Remember that he no longer had any claim to the family – he had completely severed the tie. So he was ready to repent and ask to be the lowest of the slaves. Here’s the rest of the story.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.                                                              “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’            “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”

The father, of course, is a picture of our Heavenly Father. Jesus wants us to know that never once are we out of our Father’s mind and heart. Never once do we come home to an empty house or a cold heart. Not only is the welcome mat always out but our heavenly Father throws a party of celebration and reinstates us as His children.

How can we be sure? We see the Father in Jesus. “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” Jesus’ story illuminates the faithfulness of God’s love, a faithfulness and love seen in Jesus dying on a cross.  Because of Jesus we can be certain that we are always welcome at home. God loves us for who we are, not what we do or where we go. And being His children our Father is always ready to run and embrace us, to kiss us, to love us some more. It doesn’t get much better than that!

So the next time you think you’ve had enough, remember: “Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me…’ Come home, come home, ye who are weary, come home.”

 

 

 

Running Loose in Church

It was a long time ago. But it seems like only yesterday as the memory makes it fresh. It could only happen in the life of a preacher. It was Sunday evening and I was, as usual, leading worship from the pulpit. Sitting near the back of the sanctuary were my wife and our 3 darling young boys. All was going well. Until…

The congregation had just finished singing the hymn before the sermon. I said my typical, “You may be seated” and everyone sat down. Well almost everyone…

As everyone else sat down the youngest of those 3 darling young boys dashed away from his horrified mother and darted up the center aisle straight up the platform steps to his thoroughly surprised father. As my wife wanted to crawl under the pew and hide I had a quick decision to make: what to do? All eyes were on me, and all those eyes were from faces with huge smiles. Some were even chuckling. So I picked our son up, said “Hi” to him, told him to say “Hi” to the congregation, and then told him – politely of course – to go back to his seat in the pew. (Thank heavens we had a wonderful congregation who thought it was all so cute and wonderful!)

Following the service the obvious question for us was “Why?” What possessed our son to do that? While he denied it at the time, our other, older son – years later – admitted he had sent his little brother scampering up the aisle. So, in reality, it was really an act of obedience.

The whole experience, therefore, now points me to ponder my obedience level. How quickly do I obey God? How often do I jump at His commands and directions? Do I dash away from what I’m doing and dart down the road in obedience? Or do I delay, pausing to ponder the pros and cons, or perhaps to bargain with God? I shudder to think how often I’ve hit the pause button and delayed my obedience. True – delayed obedience is better than no obedience, but instant obedience is the best and most blessed. As Jesus said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and obey it…If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (Luke 11:28 & John 14:25)

How about you? Where has it been hard to obey? For what obedience are you currently hitting pause?  Realize I’m not thinking so much about God’s grand calls to serve as I am about simply obeying His lifestyle commands. For example:

  • Honor your father and your mother
  • Love your neighbor as yourself
  • Forgive as Christ has forgiven you
  • Get rid of selfishness, jealousy, anger
  • Show the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control
  • Get rid of anger
  • Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up
  • Be kind and compassionate
  • Look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others
  • Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything … present your requests to God

Certainly there’s much more, but these should be enough to assist in answering the questions: Where has it been hard to obey? For what obedience are you currently hitting pause?  Are you ready to dash away from your pause and dart down the road to obedience? Dashing and darting truly is the way to live. It is, after all, an act of love which reaps great reward.

Do you want Jesus to be at home in and with you? Dash to obedience, even if it means running loose in church.

 

 

 

Catching the Germs

Catching the Germs

Our grandkids were with us for a few days. We love it when they come! But this time two of them had coughs and runny noses. We found ourselves hugging them a little more carefully, snuggling a little less and basically trying to love them without getting too close. After all we didn’t want to catch their germs or contract their viruses. Then we’d be coughing and blowing our noses.

I take some comfort in the fact that I know we’re not alone in this defensive behavior. How often have you:

  • fist bumped rather than shaken hands because the other person had a cold?
  • silently thought, or perhaps quietly verbalized “I wish they’d cover their mouth when they cough?”
  • cringed on an airplane because the person across the aisle kept coughing or sniffling?
  • stayed away from visiting someone because they were ill?
  • wanted to wear a mask to keep from inhaling germs?

Let’s face it. We do our best to avoid catching the germs. But after the grandkids had left the Lord spoke to me. He said, “Think about Jesus.” I said, “Okay. I’m thinking. Now what?” He replied, “Aren’t you glad He didn’t avoid our germs?” Then it hit me. Jesus did everything He could to catch my germs and contract my virus. He did everything He could to make my sin His.

When God His Father asked Him to come down to earth He didn’t say’ “But Father, I might catch their sin germs. I might get dirty. Can’t I wait until they’re better?” Rather “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:15) He made His dwelling not near people or close to people but among them. He touched them. He hugged them. He hung out with them.

Why? Because He knew the only way to heal us was to die on a cross. So He needed – and wanted – to catch our sin so He could nail it to the cross. The apostle Paul put it this way:

He didn’t just carry our sins – He became our sin. He caught our germs, He contracted our disease, He was covered with our dirt.

Think about it. He took up all our sin – from the beginning of time until the end. He was covered with every sin that had been committed and every sin that would be committed. It means He carried our germs, our sins.

Tom Cruise starred in the movie called Minority Report. It was about an elite police task force that routinely arrests people who will commit crimes in the future – in other words, this force could see the future and they arrested people to prevent crime from happening.

It makes me wonder what God sees when He looks into my heart. What sins did He see in me as He hung on the cross dying for me? Knowing full well what was in my heart, knowing fully all the times I would come up short and miss the target, still He loved me and died for me.

And it’s true for you as well. Consider: what sins did He see in your heart?  Knowing full well what was in your heart, knowing fully all the times you would come up short and miss the target, still He loved you and died for you.

Words cannot really express the wonder and magnitude of what Jesus did for us. Perhaps our best response is to follow the admonition and encouragement of the author to the Hebrews:

 

It Doesn’t Matter

While in elementary school I was awarded a part in our class play. In fact, I got the part of the main character. Are you ready for this? The play was “The Ugly Duckling.” So – you guessed it – the main character, my part, was the ugly duckling!

It’s okay to laugh – it is rather funny! …

But now that the laughter has died down, here’s the kicker. At the point in the play where ugly duckling first appeared as the beautiful swan, someone else took over the part.

Now that’s even funnier! You can laugh again. I wasn’t permanently scarred and there was a good reason for it – everyone had to have a role to play so parts were doubled up. At least that’s what they told me!

I, obviously, still love to tell the story. It’s a good ice breaker and can quickly lighten up a discussion. Yet what I remember equally well about the play, and the most important memory, is the song we sang at the end, which summarized the theme of our little play. I still remember the words and the tune. The words went like this:

“It doesn’t matter if you’re born in a pig pen, born in a pig pen, born in a pig pen.
It doesn’t matter if you’re born in a pig pen, if you’re really a swan.”  

What a lesson! Birthright doesn’t matter. Opinions of others don’t matter. What people choose to call me doesn’t matter. How I’m labeled doesn’t matter. As long as I know who and whose I am.
Perhaps that’s why I love the apostle Paul’s opening words to the Ephesian church.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ.4 Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.5 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. 6 So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. 7 He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.8 He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding. (Ephesians 1:3-8 New Living Translation)

Wow! It doesn’t matter if we’re born in a pig pen when we’re really the most beautiful swan of all – a child of God! Can we even grasp it? “He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms … He has showered his kindness upon us.” It’s all ours! As the apostle John put it, “From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.” (John 1:16) Jesus brings all of the faithfulness, kindness, and mercy of God into our lives. “From the fullness of His grace…” any and every grace He has is available for us. He will give us all the grace we need. Jesus brings grace upon grace, one blessing after another, repeated and endless favors. It is continuous, with no limit. Where one grace ends, another begins; when one blessing is no longer adequate, another begins. When one favor is no longer needed, another begins. When our needs and situations change so does the mercy of God; His mercies are new every morning. There is a blessing for old age and one for youth; there is favor for those in prosperity and for those in adversity; there is grace for success and grace for failure.

Why is God so good and gracious? Because even before the foundation of the world He took great pleasure in deciding and determining to love us. He even adopted us into His family. We are brothers and sisters of Jesus! No matter what anyone else says or thinks about us, no matter what someone else may do to us, it doesn’t matter. We are beautiful swans – because we come from good stock, the best stock of all.

There’s much more I could say (I can hear the shouts of ‘preach it brother!’). But let’s end it here. Or should I say begin here. This week read Ephesians 1:3-14 three times a day – morning, noon (mid-day) and before you go to bed. Think about it. Meditate on it. Digest it. And, along with that, remember the little chorus:

“It doesn’t matter if you’re born in a pig pen, born in a pig pen, born in a pig pen.
It doesn’t matter if you’re born in a pig pen, if you’re really a swan.”

Just see what a difference it makes.

It’s Not My Law

I’m sure you’re familiar with the scenes.

  • Someone smokes where it is forbidden
  • While driving there is always that driver that just has to speed past everyone else
  • The driver treats the stop sign as a yield sign
  • A person cuts a few corners on their taxes
  • A witness commits perjury
  • A group of friends set off fireworks after posted hours
  • Parents let their underage teen host a party where alcohol is consumed

This one may not be familiar but it fits. From the Detroit News: “Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said Tuesday she would not enforce a state abortion ban if federal protections are overturned…” (1)

While there are many more examples these, hopefully, raise the question of the day. Why do people feel it’s okay for them to break the law? Why do they feel they can say and act as if “It’s not my law?”

I believe the answer is quite simply “Pride.” To knowingly and willingly break the law is to say, in essence, “I’m special. This law doesn’t apply to me.” “I think it’s a stupid law – I know better so I can ignore it.” Pride puts us in a position of feeling superior, better than and different from others. Pride allows us to make laws and set boundaries as we see fit. After all, it’s not my law.

But make no mistake about it; we’ve all been similarly prideful and willingly broken laws at some point in time. And I believe it stems from our rebellious, sinful nature. We saw it with Adam and Eve when, because their pride placed them above God and rejected His law, they ate the forbidden fruit. The reality is every time we sin we are saying to God “It’s not my law.” The testimony of Scripture is clear.

First, there is law. God has firmly established His law within the world He created and “The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed in majesty and armed with strength; indeed, the world is established, firm and secure… Your statutes, Lord, stand firm…”  (Psalm 93:1&5) “The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved…” (Psalm 96:10) “The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy. They are established for ever and ever, enacted in faithfulness and uprightness.” (Psalm 111:7-8) The truth is it’s not now and never is ‘my law.’ It’s God’s law.

Second, we all break God’s laws. (2) “What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:9-12 & 23)

Third, there are consequences for breaking the law. “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” (Proverbs 14:12) A basic theme of the book of Judges is that when everyone does what is right in their own eyes, there is chaos in the land.

Fourth, the power to obey comes from loving Jesus. He proclaimed, “If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth.” (John 14:15-17)

Fifth, there is great reward in loving Jesus. Jesus said “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. (John 15:10-11)

Why this brief overview and summary of Scripture? Because the bottom line is that obeying God’s laws compels and enables us to better obey human laws and to live with joy. The better we understand it the better off we and our world will be; because, after all, “The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved…”

————–

No Smoking Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash

(1)https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/michigan/2019/04/16/nessel-id-never-enforce-michigan-abortion-ban/3487903002/

Gavel – Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash

 

Letters of Recommendation

There I was in my first year in my first pastorate, in the beautiful but small town of Sioux Center, Iowa. As the Associate Pastor of Youth & Education I was responsible for ministry to 150 9th – 12th graders. The Youth Leaders and I wanted to do something special for the youth and decided on a formal banquet to honor them. One advantage of a farming community is that good food is abundant – like roast pig. (1)

 

 

So the menu was not an issue. Adult volunteers were not an issue. Entertainment and some type of encouraging message – that was an issue. I had no files, no contacts, and no backlog of resources to draw from. And how could I even begin to think about pulling in some big name person or group without it being a huge cost? After all, there is no easy way to get to Sioux Center (halfway between Sioux City, Iowa and Sioux Falls, South Dakota). Then I remembered – one of the youth had given me a business card of some singers she had heard at a conference shortly before this – she said they were really good. With nothing to lose I called Steve & Maria Gardner – and they came!

Wow! What a night. They were the perfect fit with wonderful, youth-appealing music and an inspiring, challenging message for the youth. And they radiated Jesus – boy did they radiate Him. My wife and I hosted them – and their infant daughter – and fell in love with them and were deeply blessed by them. Jesus was just so evident in their lives! We had a retired pastor who was at the banquet and afterward he told me, “You know, when they started to sing I wasn’t too sure about them and their music. But once that young man started to speak and I felt the Spirit and saw the attention of the youth, I knew they were right and that Jesus would be honored!” They radiated Jesus. (2)

As I think about that great time my mind goes to the Apostle Paul who, in 2 Corinthians 3:1-3 (The Message), wrote “Are we beginning to praise ourselves again? Are we like others, who need to bring you letters of recommendation, or who ask you to write such letters on their behalf? Surely not! The only letter of recommendation we need is you yourselves. Your lives are a letter written in our hearts; everyone can read it and recognize our good work among you. Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This “letter” is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts.” Steve & Maria were Jesus’ letters of recommendation. I learned that when we are recommending Jesus, we need to write a good letter. When I ask for a letter of recommendation I expect the person to write a good reference letter, to present me well. So it is with Jesus – He relies on us to write Him good letters of recommendation. (3)

The reality is that because we  are Christians we represent Jesus everywhere we are, in everything we say, and in everything we do – and even in what we do not say and do not do. At all times and in all places, we represent Jesus. So we need to be sure we are writing a good letter. I think of all the times I’ve let my guard down, or let my temper flare up, or let the devil get hold of my tongue or mind and therefore wrote a poor letter for Jesus. “Lord, forgive me – and give me grace and strength to be that vibrant, Spirit-filled living letter of recommendation for You.

You are always representing Jesus – you are always a letter pointing to Him.  What kind of letter will you be today – and tomorrow – and every day? I pray you will write a good letter.

(1) Image from pixabay.com

(2) Photo from Curry & Barb Pikkaart

(3) Image from StoryBlocks