Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Wasted Life?

In his book, The Ruler Who Serves, Ray Stedman tells the story of Julius Hickerson who was a brillant young doctor.  He was poised for a very successful career and a wealthly life as a physician here in the United States. But something unexpected happened. 

God called Julius to be a missionary to Colombia.  When he told his family and friends his plans to move and serve in Colombia they all thought he was crazy.  “Why are you leaving a very successful career and moving?  You are wasting your life.  Look at all the money you will lose.”

For a long time it looked as if his family and friends were right.  Dr. Hickerson worked long hours in remove villages helping and treating patients and sharing the gospel.  The people, however, were resistant to the Good News of salvation.  At the end of two years of serving and helping and sharing the gospel, not a single person accepted Christ.

One day Dr. Hickerson was on a small plane flying supplies to a remote village, but he never arrived. The plane crashed and the doctor was killed.  His friends were right, or so it seemed—a wasted life.  Dr. Hickerson had done some good, but ultimately died for nothing.

A couple of years had passed, and the missionary organization that had sent Dr. Hickerson to Colombia, the Southern Baptist, decided to send another missionary to Colombia. The plan was for this misssionary to resume the work that Dr. Hickerson had started. Once the missionary had arrived in the region where the doctor had died, he found out something amazing. All the tribesmen were Christians.

As the new missionary explored, the more Christians he found. Churches were built and the whole area had been Christianized. The missionary asked, “How did this happen?  Where did you learn about Jesus Christ?”  The villagers replied, “From this book.” 

After the plane crashed, the villagers found a Bible that had been translated into their language. They began to read the Bible and passed it around for everyone to read it.  As they read, one by one, they gave their life to Christ and then they began to build churches. After hearing this amazing story, the missionary opened the Bible and saw a name written on the inside:  Julius Hickerson.[1]


A wasted life? No life is ever wasted when that life is committed to following Jesus Christ. As you begin a new year submit your life to what God wants for you this year. Take to heart the words of our Lord, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Mark 10:29-31).

According to Jesus, there is a tradeoff we make for His sake. We gain by losing. By sacrificing what is temporary, we gain what is eternal. We refuse to place value on what will eventually pass away, for what will endure throughout the ages. We let go of that which fleeting, to take hold of that which is of infinite worth. This is why living for the Gospel is the smartest investment one can ever make. As missionary martyr Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” -DM





[1] Ray Stedman, The Ruler Who Serves (Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House, 2002). 

Monday, December 21, 2015

God's Christmas Gift of Love

Richard Armstrong in his book, Make Your Life Worthwhile, tells the story of a man in Wales who sought to win the affection of a certain lady for 42 years before she finally said “Yes.” The couple, both 74, eventually became “Mr. and Mrs.” But it wasn’t without significant patience and effort on the part of the gentleman suitor.  

For 42 years, the persistent, but rather shy man slipped a weekly love letter under his neighbor's door. But she continually refused to speak and mend the spat that had parted them many years before. After writing 2,184 love letters without ever getting a spoken or written answer, the single-hearted old man eventually summoned up enough courage to present himself in person. He knocked on the door of the reluctant lady's house and asked for her hand. To his delight and surprise, she accepted.[1]

One has to wonder at God's attitude toward Israel. Over the centuries, He pursued this obstinate group of people with very little encouragement. Certainly there were individuals like Abraham, Moses and David who walked with Him, but for the most part His efforts have been rebuffed. Hardly would one generation wake up to their need for the Lord before the next would thumb their noses at Him again.

Finally, when there was no other way, God wrapped up His message in human flesh and came in person. What a revelation of God’s love in the incarnation! This message of unrequited love delivered to the world’s doorstep is at the heart of the Christmas narrative.  

In the most beloved Bible verse of all-time, Jesus revealed the motivation for His advent, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). The greatest gift ever given was bestowed upon the least deserving. Why? Because it was inspired by agape love.

Think of the risk involved in such an endeavor. Every time you love someone a piece of your heart is offered. Your love could be rejected and spurned. Indeed that did happen in the case of the Christ child, “for He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11).

C.S. Lewis once remarked, “There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.”[2]

Another risk is that the beloved will not fully appreciate the value of the gift. This was also the case in the birth of Christ. Jesus was so highly undervalued that there was not a single open room in which the Messiah could be lodged (Luke 2:7). The religious leaders at the Temple had no idea that their long-awaited Messiah had been born in Bethlehem by the time that the magi arrived from their journey. And when Herod found out about the birth of the King, he tried to have him killed (Matt. 2:1-18).      

This well-known verse elevates Jesus to thin-air loftiness by crowning him with the most regal of all title, “His only Son.” In the Greek the word in focus here is monogenes, which literally means “one-of-a-kind.” This is a word that John would use multiple times in his writing to underscore the uniqueness of Christ (John 1:14, 1:18, 3:18; 1 John 4:9).

Let’s face it, when God gave us Christ He gave us something extremely rare and of immeasurable worth. There is only one Jesus and God the Father was generous enough to share Him, even though the Father knew we wouldn’t grasp the significance of His gift. In God’s Christmas gift we see someone of incredible value and incredible vulnerability.

I think Max Lucado spelled it out better than I ever could, “Our finest love is a preschool watercolor to God’s Rembrandt, a vacant-lot dandelion next to His garden rose. His love stands sequoia strong; our best attempts bend like weeping willows . . . Look at the round belly of the pregnant peasant girl in Bethlehem. God is in there; the same God who can balance the universe on the tip of His finger floats in Mary’s womb. Why? Love. Peek through the Nazareth woodshop window. See the lanky lad sweeping sawdust from the floor? He once blew stardust into the night sky. Why swap the heavens for a carpentry shop? One answer: love. Love explains why He came and why He endured.”[3]         

Take the manger of Christmas and combine it with the Messiah of the Cross and you have an unmistakable message written in red from God saying, “I love you.” -DM    





[1] Richard Armstrong, Make Your Life Worthwhile (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1970).
[2] C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves (New York: Harcourt Brace 1960), 121.
[3] Max Lucado, 3:16: The Numbers of Hope (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007), 38-39. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Shoebox and the Lamb

Every year Samaritan’s Purse distributes millions of shoeboxes across the globe through its Operation Christmas Child. This is an amazing ministry that puts a gift and the Gospel in the hands of needy children all over the world. Recently, SP shared one amazing story about a shoebox that was received in 1996 by a six-year-old boy, Luis from Panama.

Luis recalled the utter joy that exploded from his heart when he opened his shoebox and found a stuffed toy lamb that played the melody of “Jesus Loves Me.” He wrote, “The stuffed lamb in my shoebox was the first toy I ever received. I still have it. It was really a treasure. It played a little song and was so beautiful. It was so tender, so soft.
The little face of the lamb was something I loved. I used to pretend I was playing with a real lamb. After I finished playing with it, I always put it back inside my plastic shoebox. The lamb made me smile every time I saw it because I would remember the day people gave me the shoebox.”

Luis came from a family that had never been to church, much less heard the name of Jesus. Yet, his life changed when he read the letter inside the box which said, “Jesus loves you and I love you.” Luis said, “Because someone took a moment to write down “Jesus loves you and I do too,” it allowed me to see that even though I didn’t have a father and even though I don’t have a perfect life, He’s there for me. I lived in the ghetto. We didn’t have anything. I was hopeless. The shoebox allowed me to understand that God cared for me.”[1]

At age fourteen, the dots were all connected for Luis when he understood the Gospel message and the significance of the lamb in the shoebox. It’s a story that goes back long before the first Christmas to Exodus 12, the first Passover, which today still commemorates God delivering the Hebrew slaves from bondage. Every house that was covered with blood of the lamb escaped death. In the same way, Jesus became our Passover lamb (1 Cor. 5:7) when He perfectly fulfilled everything in the symbolism of the sacrificial lamb. Those who are covered by the blood of Christ have forgiveness of their sins (John 1:29) and escape God’s eternal wrath (John 11:25).       

That incredible story highlights the importance of this special season. In so many ways, Jesus’ birth was like that of a lamb. The birth of this Messiah-King was celebrated that night only by Mary, Joseph and a handful of shepherds. The shepherds had been in the fields around Bethlehem, guarding the lambs which would die at the next Passover.

When the angels appeared to them they told them about a special sign to look for when they went looking for the Christ-child. In Luke 2:11-12 we read, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” Have you ever wondered why this would be a sign?

We gloss over that verse and don’t catch the significance of what God was trying to communicate to the shepherds. But this sign was something they would understand because of their occupation. The shepherds knew what this sign was all about because they had done it.   

Sheep that were raised in the fields of Bethlehem and destined to for the Temple in Jerusalem had to be perfect specimens. They could have no spot, blemish or broken limbs. When the shepherds would birth new born lambs they would reach into the mother’s womb, pull the lamb out, then they would wrap the lambs in swaddling because if it harmed its limbs in any way it would be disqualified as a sacrifice. Once the lamb was wrapped, he was laid in a manger until it was calmed down and ready to return to its mother.[2] 

No wonder then that the shepherds recognized the significance of what they saw in the manger. The birth of Jesus was orchestrated in such a way that it would be a preview of his sacrificial death as the Lamb of God. The angels declared to men who were considered sinful and out of fellowship with God that the ultimate Passover Lamb had been born and His blood would cleanse sinners and bring even the outcasts into fellowship with God. Mary’s little lamb, was destined for the altar of Calvary.

I am reminded of a poem that I first heard Adrian Rogers recite:

Mary had a little Lamb. His fleece was white as snow.
Son of God from Heaven above, for sinners here below.
Mary's Son, Eternal God, He — the Great I Am,
With wool so white on Christmas night became a little Lamb.

Mary had a little Lamb. His fleece was white as snow.
That spotless Lamb was crucified to pay the debt I owe.
Oh, spotless Lamb, with wool so white, Thy crimson blood, I know,
Can take away my crimson sin, and wash me white as snow.[3]    -DM



[1] “Luis and a Lamb,” Samaritan’s Purse <http://www.samaritanspurse.org/operation-christmas-child/shoebox-stories-luis-and-a-lamb/>
[2] Michael Norten, Unlocking the Secrets of the Feasts (Nashville: Thomas Nelson/Westbow, 2012), 5-6.
[3] Adrian Rogers, “Mary’s Little Lamb,” Love Worth Finding <http://www.oneplace.com/ministries/love-worth-finding/read/articles/marys-little-lamb-9632.html> 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

One Small Step for God

On July 20, 1969, as astronaut Neil Armstrong took that historic first “step for mankind” onto the dusty, desolate surface of the moon, there was great excitement and joy back at Mission Control in Houston, Texas and all around the world as millions watched and listened to this amazing event. Almost 2,000 years ago there was an event even more amazing and more significant, when God visited the earth in the person of Jesus at the first Christmas. In reviewing these two events, we find some striking parallels.

For example both of these events were the result of years of planning and preparation.  The Apollo missions spanned a decade of careful research to develop the technology for space travel and a lunar landing. Likewise, God prepared mankind for His earth visit over many years of prophetic revelation starting with the first hint of His plan of redemption in Genesis 3:15. 

Both of these visits required great amounts of power to accomplish. With the moon almost one-quarter million miles away, it required the most powerful rocket (Saturn 5) ever built for astronauts to break free from Earth’s gravitational pull.  God demonstrated his infinite power by miraculously impregnating the Mary’s womb and calling a brilliant star to shine in the heavens to aid the Magi in their pilgrimage.

Moreover, both missions had to be timed precisely. Any deviation from the launch schedule and NASA would have lost its best window of time for reaching the moon.  Likewise, God in His wisdom worked out His plan of salvation for mankind on a precise schedule. As Paul wrote in Gal. 4:4, “when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son…” 

Both undertakings required the invention of special bodies. Space suits designed so the astronauts could survive in the harsh, airless environment of the moon.  When God visited our planet earth, He too chose to put on a “special body,” appropriate for His ultimate mission objective of death and resurrection (Phil. 2:5-8). 

Both of these missions involved an unspectacular landing spot. The astronauts left their home planet (a place filled with beauty and teeming with life), to visit a drab, lifeless place with no air, no oceans, no blue sky, no clouds, where the sky is always black, and the "terrain" strewn with dust, rocks, scars, and impact craters.

Likewise, Jesus left the unimaginable glories of His heavenly home to descend to a spiritually dark, sin-cursed planet filled with misery, sickness, oppression, and death. He did not land in any great city like Rome, Athens, Alexandria, not even in Jerusalem, the holy city, the "city of peace." Instead He chose to come to the humble little town of Bethlehem, ". . . little among the thousands of Judah . . ." (Micah 5:2). And thus He condescended to be born in a stable and sleep in a manger.

Finally, both missions entailed great cost. The Apollo program cost over $30 billion to accomplish its mission. God also paid a great price for His mission. It cost Him the shed blood and sacrificial death of His beloved, only-begotten Son (John 3:16).1  -DM  

1. Helmut E. Schrank, "Man's Visit to the Moon Compared to God's Visit to the Earth," Institute for Creation Research: Acts and Facts, 1994, vol. 23, p.12 <http://www.icr.org/article/mans-moon-compared-gods-visit-earth/>.  

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Messiah in the Manure

Geoffrey T. Bull (1921-1999) set out from London to be a missionary to China in February 1947. Little could he have imagined the drama and suffering he would endure in the ensuing years. He studied the Chinese and Tibetan languages, traveled thousands of miles preaching and teaching before entering Tibet in 1950.

Bull witnessed the last days of Tibetan independence from China and was eventually imprisoned by the Communists on the pretext of being a spy. At first, he was kept in solitary confinement. There he established a daily routine which included praying, memorizing the Bible, singing hymns, composing poems, and meditation. When he wouldn’t crack, his captors tried brain-washing, but he claimed that his “faith in Christ kept him from mental breakdown.”

In his incredible autobiography, When Iron Gates Yield, Bull recounted how the Communists seized him and drove him across frozen mountains until he nearly died of exposure. Late one afternoon, his captors staggered him into a small village where Bull was given a small upstairs room for the night.

After a meager supper, Bull was sent out to the stables to feed the horses and tend to the animals that his captors rode. As he clambered down into a stable from a rickety ladder the intrepid missionary found himself in total blackness. His boots squished in the manure, mud and straw on the floor. The fetid smell of the cattle, mules and horses was utterly nauseating. That’s when the Holy Spirit tapped Bull on the shoulder and reminded him of something important. Bull recorded in his memoir:

“Then as I continued to grope my way in the darkness it suddenly flashed in my mind. ‘What’s today?’ I thought for a moment. In traveling, the days had become a little muddled in my mind. Suddenly, it came to me. ‘It’s Christmas Eve.’ I stood suddenly still in that oriental manger. To think that my Savior was born in a place like this. To think that He came all the way down from heaven to some wretched Eastern stable, and what is more to think that He came for me. How men beautify the Cross and the crib, as if to hide the fact that at birth we resigned Him to the stench of beasts and at death exposed him to the shame of rogues. I returned to the warm, clean room which I enjoyed even as a prisoner, and bowed in thankfulness and worship.”[1]  

The great detriment of our Christmas imagery is that we try too hard to sanitize the birth of Christ. He did not come to be born behind safe castle walls, or to be laid in a soft, pillowed cradle. This was no clean hospital room with white sheets and lab coats. No, this was the Messiah amidst the manure; the Son of God just a few inches from the sawdust and straw of the mud floor. There were no nurses or doctors to check the baby’s vitals, just the bleating of sheep and the scratching of hoofs.

Christ was born this way to totally identify with the meek and impoverished. His birth was just a notch below third-world standards so that no one could claim that He was given some advantage they didn’t have. He was born this way because He was condescending to humanity’s need—a Savior who was not afraid of the dirt, the stench or the blood. As Paul said:

“Christ Jesus had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion” (Phil. 2:5-8, MSG). -DM



[1] Geoffrey T. Bull, When Iron Gates Yield (Chicago: Moody Press, 1970), 158-159. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Justice Called, Mercy Answered

It seems like the media has had it out for law enforcement officers this past year. We have heard the hyped-up accounts of police brutality—from the Michael Brown crisis in Ferguson, MO, to race riots in Baltimore, MD over the Freddie Gray incident, to the uproar caused by an SC resource officer who used force to deal with a belligerent student. We all know that our police officers face intense situations which most citizens don’t fully understand. Are there crooked cops? Yes, just like there are bad apples in every profession. But, why all the negative press for our public servants? When was the last time you heard the media present law enforcement in a positive light?

Not long ago, I was encouraged when I came across the story involving officer Justin Roby of London, KY. He was on-duty at a local Kroger grocery store when he caught a man shoplifting. However, he quickly discovered the alleged thief needed a helping hand, not handcuffs. The man was caught trying to take-off with a can of infant formula.

After some questioning, Roby discovered that the thief was going through financial hardship and was having difficulty providing for his infant son. This led both Roby and the store to decide not to press charges against the man.

“Me citing him for court wouldn’t have done any good for him,” Roby said. “He’s already short on money, can’t afford formula, so me making him appear in court, he’s still not going to have any food for that baby.” Rather than arrest the man, Roby decided to help him instead by buying the baby formula himself.

“You put yourself in the situations,” Roby said. “I think, ‘Well, what if that was me?” Officer Roby continued, “I think when some people look at us, they see just the uniform and the car, and the tools that we have on our belt. But, I’m a person out in this community just like any of them. I have a little boy. I’m a father just like that gentleman was. We’re not robots. There’s a human behind the badge.”[1]

What Roby did for that man is a clear illustration of the Gospel. Before Chris we were like that criminal without hope and help. We have broken God’s law. Standing before a perfect, holy Judge we have no case to argue. “Guilty, your Honor” is our only plea. However, in God’s courtroom we do not get the justice we deserve, instead we get the grace we don’t deserve and can’t earn. That’s because Jesus steps forward as our representative and pays the fine for us. With his own blood, Christ has settled our case. Justice called, but mercy answered.  

1 Peter 3:18 says it like this, “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God.” Paul added in Ephesians, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (2:4-5).

I am reminded of an old Gospel hymn, “When Justice Called, Mercy Answered.”

Once I was lost; down deep in sin
But Christ my Lord; then took me in
My soul was on destruction's road
Then Christ came in and took my load

For justice called and mercy answered
Jesus heard my feeble plea
Tho' I've been there ten thousand years
I will be there because of love
For justice called and mercy answered

Is this your song today? If so, then let’s give praise to God for that He laid our guilt, shame and judgment upon Christ, while offering us forgiveness, mercy and grace. Let’s not stop there though. Let’s extend mercy to those who have wronged us, in the same manner in which God has given mercy to us. As James said, “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (2:13). -DM





[1] Ben Marquis, “Officer Sees the 1 Item Man Is Trying to Shoplift, Decides Not to Arrest Him,” Conservative Tribune, 1 February 2015 <http://conservativetribune.com/officer-shoplift-no-arrest/>

The Attitude of Gratitude

Recently, I came across an interesting and hilarious article entitled, “Dog vs. Cat: War of the Dairies.” First, let’s take a peek at the dog’s diary. 8:00 am - Dog food! My favorite!
9:30 am - A car ride! My favorite! 9:40 am - A walk in the park! My favorite! 10:30 am - Got rubbed and petted! My favorite! 12:00 pm - Milk bones! My favorite!
1:00 pm - Played in the yard! My favorite! 5:00 pm - Dinner! My favorite!
7:00 pm - Got to play ball! My favorite! 8:00 pm - Wow! Watched TV with the people! My favorite! 10:00 pm – Sleeping at the foot of my master’s bed! My favorite!  

And now an excerpt from dairy of a cat: “Day 983 of my captivity. My captors continue to taunt me with bizarre little dangling objects. They dine lavishly on fresh meat, while the other inmates and I are fed hash or some sort of dry nuggets. The only thing that keeps me going is my dream of escape. In an attempt to disgust them, I once again vomit on the carpet. Today I decapitated a mouse and dropped its headless body at their feet. I had hoped this would strike fear into their hearts, since it clearly demonstrates my capabilities. Today I was almost successful in an attempt to assassinate one of my tormentors by weaving around his feet as he was walking. I must try this again tomorrow, but at the top of the stairs.”

Two totally different perspectives of living under the roof of the same master. One grateful, the other grumpy; one contented, the other conniving. Which attitude best describes your heart today? What was the main difference? I would submit to you that it was the elusive trait of thanksgiving. Yet, when we examine God’s family, we too can see the same dichotomy. Believers under the rule of the same benevolent Master, and some are thankful while others are perpetually negative.

Jesus witnessed the same thing one day on the road between Samaria and Galilee, when he was approached by ten lepers. Imagine this huddle of half-draped faces and broken bodies before Him. Their gruesome appearance and gnarled digitals repulsed everyone. Society quarantined them. Yet, Jesus had compassion on them. He spoke the word and healed all ten of them. Then Luke records what happened next:

“And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:14-18)

Don’t miss the headline of the story. Jesus notices and delights in a grateful heart. In fact, He was stunned by the ingratitude of the other nine. We also learn that thankfulness in a choice. It’s a decision that we make each day to either focus on what we don’t have or acknowledge that great blessings we have already been given.

As Max Lucado has written, “The grateful heart is like a magnet sweeping over the day, collecting reasons for gratitude. A zillion diamonds sparkle against the velvet of your sky every night. Thank you, God. A miracle of muscles enables your eyes to read these words and your brain to process them. Thank you, God. Your lungs inhale and exhale eleven thousand liters of air every day. Your heart will beat about three billion times in your lifetime. Your brain is a veritable electric generator of power. Thank you, God. For the jam on our toast and the milk on our cereal. For the blanket that calms us and the joke that delights us and the warm sun that reminds us of God’s love. For the thousands of planes that did not crash today. Thank you, God.”[1]    
       
To reflect on your blessings is to rehearse God’s accomplishments. To rehearse God’s accomplishments is to turn your gaze heaven-ward and off the trifles of this world. Gratitude is a choice.  A hard-fought, grace-infused, biblical lifestyle.  And though there’s a sense in which anyone can be thankful for God has extended His common grace to all, and his abundant sin-forgiving grace to His children. -DM  




[1] Max Lucado, “An Attitude of Gratitude,” 8 October 2013 <http://www.faithgateway.com/attitude-gratitude/#.VkIN5PmrSM8> 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Red Cup Rage

In case you've had your head in the sand the last few days, there has been a huge controversy brewing, and blowing up all over social media. It's all related to this year's Christmas cups at Starbucks. If you're not a Starbucks regular, let me explain: Every year during the holidays, Starbucks uses special cups, which have always been red and adorned with some type of theme, such as snowflakes, ornaments, or trees. This year, their cups are plain red without such ornamentation. Why is this causing such a stir?

Some Christians are claiming that the plain red cups are part of the “War on Christmas” and that Starbucks is denying Christ by not putting snowflakes on their cups. In fact, videos have been made by some outraged Christians demanding everything from boycotting Starbucks, to “pranking” them by telling them your name is “Merry Christmas” so when your order is ready they will be forced to say “Christmas.”

Ugh! When I first heard this story I had that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach again. Sometimes I am stunned by the pettiness and foolishness of those in the Body of Christ. As I shook my head in disbelief, here are few things that came through my mind.  

1) Its frivolous drivel like this which makes Christians look so foolish. Freaking out about plain red cups does nothing to bring people to Jesus, instead it repels them. I wonder what our brothers and sisters in the Middle East who are being persecuted by ISIS think when they see that the church in America is all tore up about a red cup?  

2) To be honest with you, I’d be willing to wager a fruit cake that Starbucks doesn’t have any idea who the reason for the season is in the first place. Should we really expect a secular institution to embrace Christian truth? Why are we in the church stunned when unbelievers don’t think or act like we do? Moreover, they are a business not a religious organization. If you don’t like their core principles, just don’t buy their products.

3) We have way larger problems to worry about in the world: hunger, terrorism, human trafficking, abortion, and oh yeah, fulfilling the Great Commission. Let’s focus our time, energy, and anger on something that matters; not a cranberry-colored, environmentally-friendly paper cup.

This reminds me of a story that Pastor Ray Stedman told in one of his books. He knew of a church that got into an argument over whether they ought to have a Christmas tree at their Christmas programs. Some thought a tree was fine and they understood it in a Christian sense. Others thought no, Christmas trees are of pagan origin and you should not have any Christmas trees. And so when the time came for the party, one group brought in a Christmas tree. The other group dragged the tree out. The first group dragged it back in again. They got into a squabble and finally actually some fist fights broke out at the Christmas party over the Christmas tree. Eventually, the whole thing was in the newspapers because they ended up suing each other. Ray said, “What else could non-Christians conclude but that the gospel consists in whether you have a Christmas tree or not?”[1]

We in the church are just like the Pharisees in that we can forget to keep the main thing, the main thing and instead focus on secondary issues. Recall, Jesus scathing words to Pharisees in Matt. 23:23-24, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” The red cup rage of recent days definitely fits Jesus’ description of forgetting what really matters to God. Remember it’s our job to tell people about Christ, not a coffee company. -DM  





[1] Ray Stedman, “What Matters,” Authentic Christianity <http://www.raystedman.org/daily-devotions/romans-9to16/what-matters> 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Power of Influence

In 1949 Louis Zamperini was adrift and struggling with alcoholism and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder following savage abuse as a prisoner of war in Japan during WWII. Cynthia his wife was ready to saddle him with divorce papers. It was around this time that neighbors convinced the young woman to listen to the bold evangelist, a very young Billy Graham, preaching in a big tent outside downtown Los Angeles.

Cynthia accepted Christ first, and she told her husband that because of her conversion, she wouldn’t file for divorce. She asked Louis if he would accompany her to the crusade. After a week of arguing, she finally persuaded him to go. When Dr. Graham gave the invitation, Zamperini gave his life to Christ that night in 1949 and his life was radically changed.
           
Some years later, Zamperini’s testimony reached the ears of Billy Graham and Zamperni was invited to give his testimony at a San Francisco crusade in 1958. Eventually, Zamperini’s harrowing survival story and conversion to Christ was put into a book entitled Unbroken, which was turned into a major Hollywood film in 2014. Billy Graham read the book and before Zamperini went to be with the Lord in 2014 at the age of 96, he wrote him a letter which said:

“Dear Louis, My associate read me parts of the new book about you yesterday. What a life you have lived. What a description you have in the book of your conversion to Christ in 1949, and the great part that [your wife] Cynthia played in it, which I was aware of, but not in such detail. I had tears in my eyes and praise in my heart for what God has done through you.”[1]

As I read this story I thought of the power of influence. Billy Graham didn’t know who was sitting in that crowd the night Mr. Zamperini came to hear him preach. Billy was just being obedient to his calling and letting God do the rest. There is no way Billy could have envisioned what God had in store—that one day Mr. Zamperini would share the stage with Rev. Graham in fulfilling the Great Commission. Nor did Billy know that one day as a retired minister that Mr. Zamperini’s testimony would encourage him, even to the point of tears.  

Such is the power of influence. Like a pebble thrown into a glassy pond, so our lives ripple outward and touch others for good or ill. The truth is everyone has influence, no matter how big or small we perceive ourselves. We all influence someone and God expects us to be good stewards of that influence for His kingdom’s sake.

Christ called us to be influencers; in His Sermon on the Mount he made these analogies, “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matt. 5:13-14).  

Salt preserves, flavors and creates thirst. Light illuminates offering guidance and hope. God has given us incredible stewardship of our personal influence. J.R. Miller has said it well, “There have been meetings of only a moment which have left impressions for life, for eternity. No one can understand that mysterious thing called influence. Yet every one of us continually exerts influence, either to heal or hurt, to bless or curse, to build-up or to break-down.”[2]   



[1] Janet Chismar, “LOUIS ZAMPERINI REMAINS ‘UNBROKEN,’” The Billy Graham Library <http://www.billygrahamlibrary.org/pgview.aspx?pid=16&eid=35>
[2] J.R. Miller, The Building of Character (New Jersey: AMG Publishers, 1975). 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Learn to Discern

In his great book on preaching, Haddon Robinson tells the story of a Chinese boy who wanted to learn about jade went to study with a talented old teacher. This gentle man put a piece of the precious stone into his hand and told him to hold it tight. Then he began to talk of philosophy, men, women, the sun and almost everything under it. After an hour he took back the stone and sent the boy home.

The procedure was repeated for several weeks. The boy became frustrated. When would he be told about the jade? He was too polite, however, to question the wisdom of his venerable teacher. Then one day, when the old man put a stone into his hands, the boy cried out instinctively, 'That's not jade!'"[1]

What the boy learned from the wise man was the critical skill of discernment. His method was tried and true—expose the student to the real article so that he would become so familiar with it that it would be easy to quickly spot a fake.

In the same way, if we become intimately familiar with the Scriptures then we can develop the spiritual skill of discernment. The New Testament writers admonished us to learn to discern truth from error.

In 1 John 4:1 we are told, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” Paul echoes this same command in 1 Thess. 5:20-21, “Do not despise prophecies, but test everything and hold fast to what is good.” Notice that in both these passages we are told to “test” the teachings of pastors and authors, because not all that glitters is gold.   

In short, discernment is the intuitive ability to read between-the-lines and perceive beyond what is being said. Discernment involves an insight that goes beyond the obvious. Joe Stowell writes:

“Discernment in Scripture is the skill that enables us to differentiate. It is the ability to see issues clearly. We desperately need to cultivate this spiritual skill that will enable us to know right from wrong. We must be prepared to distinguish light from darkness, truth from error, best from better, righteousness from unrighteousness, purity from defilement, and principles from pragmatics.”[2]  
 
Like one of my seminary professors said, “Christians don’t get brownie points for being stupid!”  Evaluate what is being taught by comparing it to the Scriptures.  Don’t be a gullible Christian that takes in everything just because it has a Jesus-sticker slapped on it or because it’s on the Christian TV station or because you got it out of the Christian bookstore.

Instead imitate the believers at the church of Berea. Observe what Luke says about their pattern of investigation when Paul and Silas rolled into their town and started teaching, “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11).  In other words, they just didn’t take Paul and Silas at their word, but they did their own investigation and went back into the Old Testament to confirm their doctrine.

In the marketplace of spirituality there are numerous fakes, knockoffs and counterfeits.  It has been said that Satan is not a creator, but a great imitator. For every one of God’s truths, Satan has concocted ten counterfeits that look right, sound right and feel right.

This is why knowing true Biblical doctrine is so important. Many believers have left the study of doctrine for the stuffy seminary professors in tweed jackets. However, knowing the truth and becoming conversant in right doctrine is essential for staying wise to the wiles of the Devil. As C.S. Lewis said, “God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than of any other slackers.  If you are thinking of becoming a Christian, I warn you—you are embarking on something which is going to take the whole of you, brains and all.”[3]





[1] Haddon Robinson, Biblical Preaching, Third Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014), 242.
[2] Joe Stowell, Fan The Flame (Chicago, IL: Moody Press , 1986), 44. 
[3] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: Harper One, 1952), 78. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Choosing God When It Hurts

Christian author Ellen Vaughn has a chapter in one of her books entitled, “Grieving But Still Giving Thanks.”  In it she tells the heart-wrenching story of one suffering saint, Bob Meyers, and how he learned to trust God in the midst of pain.

Bob and his wife Judy had been married almost twenty-seven years and raised three kids. They were still very much in love and on the morning of September 26, 2000 everything in their lives was perfect. The two kissed goodbye as Bob went to work and Judy drove to the store to do some shopping.

Sitting at a busy four-way intersection, Judy got a green light so she let off her brake and started accelerating. However, as she crossed the intersection, a 73,000 pound, tri-axel, fully loaded dump truck smashed into Judy’s minivan. The driver of the dump truck wasn’t paying attention and the force of the impact threw Judy’s van seventy-five feet down the road, where it was hit again by heavy-duty pickup truck. Judy died instantly.

At Judy’s funeral a few days later Bob said to a packed audience, “God is trustworthy. I don’t know what He’s doing or why. But I know He knows. I am leaning on Him to get me through.”
           
Two years later, on October 2, 2002 Bob was watching the eleven o’clock news. The reports that evening were about the infamous Beltway Sniper who was terrorizing the people of Washington DC.  The sniper had stuck again, this time killing a man who stopped at a Northern Virginia Sunoco gas station to fill up. As the man pumped his gas a single round from a .223 rifle tore through his skull shattering it into fourteen pieces. At the time, authorities weren’t releasing any information about the victim.  

The next day, Bob’s doorbell rang and in front of him stood family and friends who were crying. “Bob, we have something to tell you,” his nephew said. “The DC sniper got Dean. He’s dead.” Dean was Bob’s oldest son and the subject of the previous night’s news reports. The weight of the situation caused Bob to crumple in a pile at his front door. It was all too much to bear. In just two years he’d lost his wife and son in tragic and unexpected circumstances.”     

A few weeks after the death of this son, Bob’s story was picked up the news media and he appeared on Larry King’s cable television show. Bob was asked by Mr. King how he found the strength to move on. Here is what Bob Meyers said to millions of people, “God could have changed things for both Judy and Dean, but He didn’t. Instead of trying to figure it all out, even though it doesn’t make a lick of sense to me, I have to rest in the fact that God knows what He’s doing. There is no way I could reconcile Judy and Dean’s deaths into a human reference. Trusting God springs from believing Bible truth, which makes clear that God is God and I am nothing. The comparison between God ways and mine, of His thoughts and mine, is the difference between heaven and earth. I either believe that God is good and is in control, or I don’t.”[1]      

If there is one lesson that we learn from Bob Meyers its this: every time we suffer we are presented with a choice—bless God or curse God. In fact, this was exactly the same choice that Job was faced with when Mrs. Job saw her husband sitting on the ash heap, covered from head to toe in painful sores, having just buried ten children.

“Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (Job 2:9-10).

Job’s perspective was based on his theology—he was looking vertically. His wife’s perspective was based on her trials—she was looking only horizontally.  Job realized that for most of his life he had been the recipient of many underserved blessing and therefore had no room to rail against God. Job knew that God owed him nothing, yet He had been given so much.

Before we curse God for evil, we must think back to all the times He was silently blessing us, and we never acknowledged His good gifts. In the end, Job chose God simply for God’s sake irrespective of all the comforts, blessings and material things the Lord had lavished upon Him. Do we value God the same way? Suffering will always reveal what we truly believe about God.   

Maybe the great scandal of the universe is not “Why do bad things happen to good people?” but “Why does God do so many good things for people who never recognize His existence?”





[1] Ellen Vaughn, Radical Gratitude (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 156-157.  

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Small Stuff

There is an ancient Indian legend of a king who loved chess. He challenged visitors to a game, and was usually victorious. One day a traveling sage visited the kingdom and was challenged to a game by the king. To entice him to play, the king offered to give the sage whatever reward he asked if he won. When the sage explained that his prize would involve rice, the king thought nothing of such a small reward.

To the king’s amazement he was swiftly defeated in just a matter of a few moves! To honor his word, the king ordered his servants to go to the granary and locate the rice. But the sage, had something more in mind. He asked for one grain of rice to be placed on the first square of the chessboard, and then that it would be doubled on each following square until all 64 squares were filled.

The request seemed modest, and the king ordered a bag of rice to be brought. One grain was placed on the first square, two on the second, four on the third, eight on the fourth and so on. But it quickly became apparent that the terms of the request were impossible to meet. By the twenty-first square more than one million grains of rice would be required. By the thirty-first square the total would go over one billion—with more than half of the chessboard still left to go. By the end, the wise man had a lifetime supply of food at his disposal because he understood the power of exponential growth.  

Small things have a big impact when they are added together. The Scriptures have a lot to say about the value of small things. Zechariah encouraged us not to “despise the day of small things” (4:10). Solomon warned us to be on the lookout for the “little foxes” which can rob us when we aren’t looking (Song 2:15). Proverbs 13:11 tells us that wealth which endures is gathered “little by little” over a lifetime. Jesus taught that as stewards of His kingdom resources we ought to be faithful in the “small things” (Luke 16:10). Christ even compared His ministry to a tiny mustard seed that grew into a towering tree (Mark 4:30-32). Remember one of Jesus’ most fantastic miracles began with just a little boy’s sack lunch of sardines and bread (John 6:9).    

When you think you don’t have much to offer, remember God has a special way of using routine faithfulness in the “small things” to accomplish great things! Too many of us get caught up in future, grandiose thinking.  “The Lord is going to give me a great ministry down the road.  Then I will matter to Him and to others.” The danger in being caught up in “someday I will do a great thing for God” is that we may miss the frequent and daily opportunities to serve Him which, by the way, may make an extraordinary impact for the Kingdom.

Great opportunities often disguise themselves in small tasks. The little things in life determine the big things. There will always be more people willing to do “great” things for God than there are people willing to do the little things. The race to be a leader is crowded, but the field is wide open for those willing to be servants.


So where do we begin? Moses had a staff. David had a sling. Samson had a jawbone. Rahab had a string. Mary had some ointment. The widow had two mites. Paul had a pen. What do you have? Start small and give it to God. -DM