Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Meekness Doesn't Equal Weakness

Pastor Bruce Wilkinson once told a story about a student at Taylor University, a Christian college in Indiana. Years ago, they were pleased to learn that an African student, Sam, was going to be enrolling in their school. This was before it was commonplace for international students to come to the U.S. to study. He was a bright young man with great promise, and the school felt honored to have him. When he arrived on campus, the president of the University took him on a tour, showing him all the dorms.

When the tour was over, the president asked Sam where he would like to live. The young man replied, “If there is a room that no one wants, give that room to me.” The president turned away in tears. Over the years he had welcomed thousands of Christian men and women to the campus, and none had ever made such a request.

“If there is a room that no one wants, give that room to me.” That's the kind of meekness Paul listed as evidence of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:23). Our Lord preached in the Sermon on the Mount, ““Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5). Peter, who didn’t learn meekness until after failure, wrote that person who is meek and quite in spirit “is precious in the sight of God” (1 Peter 3:4). James also added, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).  

Meekness says, “If there is a job that no one wants to do, I'll roll up my sleeves and get dirt under my fingernails. If there's a kid that no one wants to eat lunch with, I'll eat with that kid. If there's a piece of toast that's burnt, I'll eat that piece. If there's a parking space that's far away from the church, I'll gladly walk the extra distance. If there's a burden to bear, I'll shoulder the heavy load. If there's a sacrifice someone needs to make, I'll be the one to stand in the gap.”

Meekness is a spiritual attribute that seems very much lost in our aggressive, self-centered culture. Because people associate it with weakness, or being a push-over, most today do not admire others for being meek. A modern English dictionary or thesaurus makes it clear why meekness is associated with weakness. Notice its synonyms as listed in the Reader's Digest Oxford Complete Word Finder: tame, timid, mild, bland, unambitious, retiring, weak, docile, acquiescent, repressed, suppressed, spiritless, broken, and wimpish. Sounds like a description for a place-faced, effeminate altar boy with the fortitude of a wet noodle. In a world dominated by the strong—ruthless dictators, callous drug traffickers, powerful corporate leaders—no one wants to be the wimp everyone takes advantage of.

We are told that Jesus was gentle, lowly and meek (Matt. 11:29), but at the same time when we study His heroics in the Gospels we learn that He certainly not a limp dishrag either. Jesus was strong enough to drive the money changers and corrupt religious hucksters out the temple with a homemade bullwhip (John 2:13-17), yet tender enough to entertain small children (Mark 10:13-16). He was fearless enough to command the winds and waves to cease their howling, and turned the raging Sea of Galilee into a glassy pond (Mark 4:35-41), yet He was humble enough to stoop and wash the grimy feet of His disciples (John 13:1-11). Jesus often stood to-to-toe with the Pharisees and lashed them with scathing words of judgment and condemnation (Matt. 23:1-38), yet He stood at the grave of Lazarus and wept tears of sorrow (John 11:35). What a stunning contrast of toughness and tenderness.     

I think it’s safe to say that we have misunderstood the true meaning of meekness, especially in relationship to Jesus’ example. Perhaps, the best description we should adopt is “strength under control.” Picture a wild stallion that has been broken and is now tamed. That stallion still has as much power as when he was wild, but now that power is bottled up for the master's use. There is a wonderful cooperation between a powerful horse and its rider. An animal of tremendous size and strength, seven or eight times the weight of a man, submits itself to its master’s control. A horse may race, leap, turn, prance, or stand motionless at the rider’s slightest command. That’s strength under perfect control and that defines the Christian concept of meekness.

When we willingly place ourselves under the control of God, we are following the example of Jesus while He lived on this earth. He submitted His power to the Father’s will (John. 5:30; 6:38; Heb. 10:9). So there is actually great strength in meekness. It’s the power of God’s Spirit working through us when we yield to Him.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Blame Game

I once heard the story of a fellow had just been hired as the new CEO of a large corporation. The current CEO was stepping down and met with the new hire privately in his office, where he handed him three numbered envelopes. “Open these if you run up against a problem you don't think you can solve,” the retiring CEO said.

Things went along pretty smoothly for the first six month, but then sales took a downturn and the new CEO began catching a lot of heat. He went to his drawer and took out the first envelope. The message read, “Blame your predecessor.” The new CEO called a press conference and tactfully laid the blame at the feet of the previous CEO. Sales began to pick up and the problem was soon behind him.

About a year later, the company was again experiencing a slight dip in sales, combined with serious product malfunctions. Having learned from his previous experience, the CEO opened the second envelope. The message read, “Blame the board and fire a few people.” This he did, and the company quickly rebounded.

After several consecutive profitable quarters, the company once again fell on hard times. The CEO went to his office, closed the door and opened the third envelope. The message said, “Prepare three envelopes.”

We are notorious for playing the blame game, aren’t we? America has become the most litigious society in world history. A few years ago I read about a New York woman who unsuccessfully tried to sue the company that makes the “Clapper” device that turns on appliances in response to the sound of a hand clap. What was her grievance? She claimed her hands were injured from having to clap too hard.[1]  

Who could forget when President Clinton admitted on camera that as a college student he experimented with smoking marijuana, but to cover his behind he said, “I tried it, but didn’t like it. I didn’t inhale and I never tried it again.” Sure Bill . . . we believe you just because you’re the president.   

If you think that’s outlandish, just wait. A convicted bank robber on parole robbed a California Savings and Loan Branch. The bank robber placed the money roll containing the hidden security pack in his front pants pocket. The security pack released tear gas and red dye resulting in second and third degree burns requiring treatment at a hospital. The bank robber sued the bank, the Security Pac manufacturer, the city the police and the hospital.[2]

The Bible is the world’s most honest book. It doesn’t hesitate to expose the efforts of some otherwise good people to find a loophole by blaming others for their sin. The great blame game began immediately in the Garden of Eden after the first sin. Notice the words of Adam to God after He tracked down the hiding fruit-snatcher, “The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Gen. 3:12). If you read between the lines, notice how Adam actually turns the whole thing around and blames God for his sin.

It seems as if the Holy Spirit includes this detail early in the Bible to make a clear point: from the very beginning we see that the human tendency is to avoid responsibility, shift culpability and pass the buck for our bad choices and failures. The pattern of our first parents continued down through the ages.

Cain learned it well from his mother and father, because when God confronted him about spilling the blood of his brother, Abel, he lashed out at God (Gen. 4:13-14). According to Cain, the reason he would be cursed as a nomad was because of God’s harsh punishment. Things don’t get any better though.

Abraham lied about Sarah being his wife and blamed the Egyptians (Gen. 12:10-20). Moses murdered an Egyptian and fled to save himself (Ex. 2:11-15). King Saul blamed his soldiers for not carrying out God’s instructions which he, as king, was responsible to fulfill (1 Sam. 15:1-15). Later, Saul blamed all his problems on the promising young upstart, David (1 Sam. 18:8-9). Not long afterward, David, God’s warrior-poet, failed to admit responsibility for adultery and being an accomplice to murder until he was called to account by the prophet Nathan (2 Sam. 11-12:24).

We could go on and on citing blamers. But if we did, eventually, we would have to end our list with your name and mine. However, we can end the blame game with three simple words: “I have sinned.” Did you know that exact phrase occurs 19 times in the Bible? Fortunately, some of the people mentioned at first who avoided blame later embraced their actions by saying, “I have sinned.”

One of the best examples of the use of these words, and the mindset that motivates it, is the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). This young man who demanded his inheritance from his father, then squandered it in profligate living, eventually returned to his father in repentance and said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. . . ” (Luke 15:21).

Why did the prodigal suddenly become so responsible after acting so irresponsibly? Because, the Bible says, “he came to his senses,” (Luke 15:17). I don’t think this was a profoundly spiritual moment. Rather it seems to have been a mostly rational moment. He looked at the facts, his empty pockets, his mud-caked face and his growling stomach only to realize that it was his greed, his choices, his wild living that resulted in his ruin. There was no one else to blame but himself. The truth had been obvious to everyone except him.

The story is told of Frederic the Great, the king of Prussia. He was visiting a prison and talking with each of the inmates. As he spoke to them, there were endless tales of innocence, exploitation, and misunderstood motives. Of course, no one in this prison was guilty. They were all framed and innocent. Finally, the king stopped at the cell of a convict who remained silent. Frederic said, “Well, I suppose you are an innocent victim too.” “No sir," said the prisoner, “I'm not. I am guilty and I deserve my punishment.” Turning to the warden, Frederic said, “Quick, get this man out of here before he corrupts these other innocent people.” Frederic the Great couldn't believe he had found an honest man—someone who would own up to what he had done wrong.

I heard one summary of blame put this way: “Blame never affirms; it always assaults. Blame never solves; it always complicates. Blame never unites; it always separates. Blame never smiles; it always frowns. Blame never forgives; it always rejects. Blame never forgets; it always remembers. Blame never builds; it always destroys.”[3]

Owning our sin not only shows that were humble, but its humbling in the process. Someone once said, “God will not cover, what we are unwilling to uncover.” Until we stop pointing fingers and take responsibility for our thoughts, words and deeds, there can be no forgiveness or healing. The day you confess your sins and turn to God will be the day God will change your life. By God’s grace, let’s stop blaming and start confessing. -DM

[1] David Jeremiah, “The Blame Game: Others Are Responsible,” Turning Points, May 2012, p.14.
[2]  ATRA: Candelario v. City of Oakland, No. 628960-3 Cal. App. Dep't Super. Ct. 1987.
[3] Greg Laurie, “The Blame Game,” Greg Laurie Daily Devotionals, 5 October 2004,

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Why Materialism Is Just Plain Stupid

Jesus warned against piling up money on earth because money comes and goes. “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal” (Matt. 6:19). Moreover, the book of Proverbs warns about the unstable nature of wealth, “Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist. When your eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven” (23:4-5). In other words, if your money could talk it would say, “Goodbye.”

A sad reminder of the vulnerability of money came with the recent news story of an elderly woman in Israel who had hidden her life savings of one million dollars in her bed mattress. Every night she slept on one million in American dollars and Israeli shekels. She must have felt very secure with her fortune literally inches away, holding her up each night—especially since 2008 and 2009 had been disastrous years for banks and financial institutions as the world economy suffered its worst recession in decades. What's more, she had had a bad experience with a bank and had lost trust in them. Whom could she trust? No one! In fact, she did not tell even her own daughter where all that fortune was hidden.

And that was the wealthy woman's big mistake. One day her daughter decided that the mother needed a new mattress. Who knows, maybe she sat on the bed, and it felt a bit lumpy—one of those ten thousand dollar lumps perhaps—and she thought,” What a cheap bed this is!” So the well-meaning daughter decided to replace the mattress. She wanted to present the new mattress as a surprise gift, so it was delivered without her mother's knowledge, and the old, lumpy mattress went into the garbage.

How pleased the daughter must have felt as she watched the delivery men put the new mattress in place and haul the old mattress out to the truck. Imagine the smile on her face when she brought her mother into the bedroom and presented her surprise gift. Somehow her elderly mother did not put two and two together right away. After a night of sleep on her new mattress, however, she woke up and suddenly realized what had happened to her life savings. She literally screamed.

The news report ended with the daughter walking through a garbage dump hunting for the lost mattress and workers combing through the trash as bulldozers moved piles of garbage attempting to uncover the lost treasure.[1]

Truly there is no sure way to safeguard our worldly treasures. So why then do we spend so much time and energy trying to accumulate things that will not last? I think one of the reasons is because many Christians have come to believe the lie that this world is really their home. Even though the Bible tells us repeatedly that nothing gold can stay (1 John 2:17, 2 Peter 3:10) we still max out credit cards, go into debt for things we don’t need, and try to keep up with the Joneses. No one buys a leather couch and hangs priceless paintings on the walls of their hotel room down at the Holiday Inn. Why? Because it’s just a temporary place to lay their head. This world is no more permanent, so to invest in this market is like purchasing a first class ticket for the Titanic. So materialism isn't just sinful, its plain stupid.    

Another reason is that we are truly blind to our own idolatry. In Jesus’ parable of the sower He warned about the seed that fell among the thorns and was eventually stifled out, “but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful” (Mark 4:19). Notice the term used by Jesus to diagnose the disease of affluenza, “the deceitfulness of riches.” In other words, Jesus maintained that one of the most noxious weeds that stunts our spiritual growth is materialism.

So how do we combat the subtle temptations that come with riches? The first is to be honest with God about your spending habits. If you have made an idol out of MasterCard and the Benjamins, then it’s time to repent and ask for forgiveness. Second, realize that your money isn’t really yours. That’s right, the money we have is given by God for us to steward on His behalf. The truth is one day we will all give an account for how we managed God’s money (Matt. 25:23). When this sinks in it will change your spending habits because money is ultimately tied to our spiritual lives. Finally, we should all be giving to our local church and the poor (Pro. 3:9-10; Mark 12:41-44). Giving has a way of rooting out the tough old miser within us. The very act of letting go of money, or some other treasure, destroys the sin of greed.    

[1] IAN DEITCH, “Israeli Woman Mistakenly Junks $1 Million Mattress,” Associated Press, 10 June 2009 <http://newsok.com/israeli-woman-mistakenly-junks-1-million-mattress/article/3376561> 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Standing Tall

In the United States, mountain lions are regarded as the number one human predator. Author and naturalist Craig Childs was on foot doing research on the lions in Arizona's Blue Range Wilderness. As he approached a water hole from downwind, he spotted a mountain lion drinking. The lion did not notice his presence. When it finished drinking, it walked slowly away into a cluster of junipers.

After a few minutes, Childs walked to the water hole to identify tracks in the mud and record notes. But just before he bent down to look closer, he scanned the perimeter, and there among the shadows of the junipers, 30 feet away, he saw a pair of eyes. He expected the lion to run away, but it walked into the sunlight toward him. Childs pulled his knife and stared into the eyes of the lion. He knew what he must do. More importantly, he knew what he must not do. He wrote:

“Mountain lions are known to take down animals six, seven, and eight times their size. Their method: attack from behind, clamp onto the spine at the base of the prey's skull, snap the spine. The top few vertebrae are the target, housing respiratory and motor skills that cease instantly when the cord is cut . . . Mountain lions have stalked people for miles. One woman survived an attack and escaped by foot on a road. The lion shortcut the road several miles farther and killed her from behind . . . I hold firm to my ground and do not even intimate that I will back off. If I run, it is certain. I will have a mountain lion all over me. If I give it my back, I will only briefly feel its weight on me against the ground. The canine teeth will open my vertebrae without breaking a single bone . . .The mountain lion begins to move to my left, and I turn, keeping my face on it, my knife at my right side. It paces to my right, trying to get around on my other side, to get behind me. I turn right, staring at it . . . My stare is about the only defense I have.”

Childs maintained that defense as the mountain lion continued to try to provoke him to run, turning left, then right, back and forth again and again, now just ten feet away. Finally, the standoff ended. The lion turned and walked away—defeated by a man who knew what never to do in its presence.[1]

In the “go-to” chapter in the New Testament about how to engage in spiritual warfare we are told a number of times to “stand” against our Enemy. “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil . . . Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Eph. 6:11, 13-14).  

That simple command “stand” speaks volumes. It’s the least any soldier or enlisted man can do. Notice that it doesn’t say, “advance,” “conquer” or even “march,” we are simply told to hold the position and not retreat. As with the mountain lion, we are called to be watchful and be ready and to stand firm, facing forward. I don't know about you, but, sadly, my tendency is to run away when the fires of trials and temptation start to burn in my life. But if we don't stand our ground, we are giving that territory to the Enemy.

Every time we compromise our spiritual standards or fail to walk in righteousness, we are giving the Enemy a beachhead in our lives. We are allowing him to have a bit more influence in our life than before. Our task is not to defeat him--Christ already defeated him at the empty tomb. Our task is to stand firm against his attempts to destroy our credibility or God's credibility in our sight. Anything he can do to weaken or destroy our influence for Christ, he will do. But our perseverance--if we are standing firm in the armor of God--is guaranteed.

Satan is a roaring lion—he is that stalking, vicious mountain lion--who seeks to destroy and devour a believer’s, faith and testimony (1 Peter 5:8). But when we refuse to give in to fear, temptation, popular opinion or fluctuating emotions we can fulfill the words of James 4:7, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”  

Think of all the faithful Christians who changed history just because they decided to stand. The three Hebrews in Babylonian captivity stood while everyone else bowed to the image of Nebuchadnezzar, and God preserved them through the fire (Dan. 3). David stood up against Goliath and God guided his stone to the bullseye (1 Sam. 17). Paul stood up in the midst of the Athenian philosophers on Mars Hill and proclaimed the resurrection of Christ, and some believed (Acts 17). Martin Luther stood before the diet of Worms, which accused him of heresy, but he said, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. Here I stand I can do no other.” Then there was our Lord who stood before Pilate and his killers and gave the “good confession” (1 Tim. 6:17).

Just think, the people who made the greatest impact in the world for the Kingdom of God, simply held their ground. We probably wouldn’t remember them had they tucked tail and ran. So stand tall. Dig in your heels. Occupy till our Commander and Chief returns.     

[1] Craig Childs, The Animal Dialogues (New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2007), 40-41. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Sounding the Alarm

Image result for paul revere statue

Thanks to the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, everyone has heard of the “midnight ride of Paul Revere.” But few have heard of Israel Bissel, a humble post rider on the Boston-New York route. After the Battle of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, Bissel was ordered to raise the alarm in New Haven, Connecticut. Bissell began his journey in Watertown, Massachusetts, just to the west of Boston. He reached Worchester, Massachusetts, normally a day's ride, in two hours. There, according to tradition, his horse promptly dropped dead.

Pausing only to get another mount, Bissel pressed on and by April 22 he was in New Haven—but he didn't stop there! He rode on to New York, arriving April 24, and then stayed in the saddle until he reached Philadelphia the next day. Bissel's 126 hour, 345 mile ride signaled American militia units throughout the Northeast to mobilize for war.

“To arms to arms, the war has begun” he cried as he entered each hamlet, village and town. Sleeping little, eating sparingly, changing horses frequently, he persevered and sounded the alarm. The exhausted and disheveled Bissell delivered the message which was to change the course of this country. After his journey, Bissell enlisted in the Connecticut regiment and would eventually become a sergeant under Colonel Erastus Wolcott, signer of the Declaration of Independence.[1]

Image result for israel bissell

Israel Bissell

I think Israel Bissel’s example offers a challenge to Christians today. America is in a fight for her life against so many things—a culture that disregards the Word of God, the disintegration of the family, the destruction of unborn life and a mounting economic debt. According to a recent Reuters Poll, 73 % of Americans feel that our country is headed in the wrong direction.[2] However, many followers of Christ in this country aren’t sure how to stem the tide.  

What our country needs today more than ever are a few faithful men and women who will pray for the nation and continually “sound the alarm” that if our nation doesn’t repent then we will self-destruct. If we don’t make it known to our country that, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Pro. 14:34) then who will? We cannot expect another elected official to bring “hope and change” to our nation. We need Christians who aren’t afraid to be politically incorrect and lovingly tell others that the Gospel is our only recourse.

Essentially, this was Jonah’s job. You’ll remember that at first Jonah was reluctant to go to the wicked people of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. However, after being persuaded by a giant fish, Jonah cleaned the seaweed off his back and proceeded to preach God’s impending judgment to the Ninevites. The result was the greatest revival in Old Testament history.

The Bible reports, “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it” (Jonah 3:10). Amazingly, God postponed the destruction of this sin city. Now truthfully all Jonah did was buy these people some time to repent, because God eventually allowed this city to crumble in 612 BC. But the catalyst for this national revival and the salvation of a few was the actions of one prodigal prophet.  

God is a God of wrath, but also of mercy. The Lord’s desire is not to nuke as many people as possible but see as many as possible repent and accept the cross of Christ. “'As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live” (Ezekiel 33:11).   

Although we cannot stop the decay of our nation we can be salt and light and, like Jonah, delay that destruction. We can’t save America, but we can save Americans by living out the Gospel. By acting as a preservative in a decaying culture we may be able to buy some more time for those who still have not repented of their sins and accepted Jesus as Savior.

There is a tidal wave of evil that this threatening to overwhelm our country. If we sit on the sidelines, we not only ensure the destruction of our nation, but consign countless souls to an eternity of separation from God. It is time for the Church to stand up for righteousness and shine brightly with the Gospel message.[3] Perhaps we should amend Bissel’s words from “To arms, to arms, the war has begun,” to this clarion call, “Repent, repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!” (Mark 1:15). Will you join me?       

[1] “Voices of the Revolution: The Five Riders” <http://www.constitutionfacts.com/us-declaration-of-independence/the-five-riders/>
[2] Steve Holland, “Most Americans say U.S. on Wrong Track,” Reuters, 10 August 2011 <http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/08/11/us-usa-poll-idUSTRE7794EX20110811>
[3] Robert Jeffress, Twilight’s Last Gleaming (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing, 2011), 33.