Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Son of Encouragement

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Dr. Larry Crab is an accomplished Christian author. He wrote a book entitled, The Key to Caring and in it he tells a story about a man that changed his life.

“It happened one Sunday in the church of my childhood. I was just a young man, and we were having communion that day. For some reason, I was called on to pray. I was overcome with anxiety, because I already struggled with a speech impediment. In a terribly confused prayer, I recalled “thanking the Father for hanging on the cross and praising Christ for triumphantly bringing the Spirit from the grave.”
            When I finished, I vowed he would never again speak or pray out loud in front of a group. At the end of the service, not wanting to meet any of the church elders, I made for the door. But before I could get out, an older man named Jim Dunbar caught me. I braced for a scathing correction of my bungled prayer and twisted theology. Instead Mr. Dunbar spoke the most shocking words of my life, “Larry, there's one thing I want you to know. Whatever you do for the Lord, I'm behind you one thousand percent.”
Crabb reflects, “Even as I write these words, my eyes fill with tears. I have yet to tell that story to an audience without at least mildly choking. Those words were life words. They had power. They reached deep into my soul and encouraged me to keep serving God.”[1]

In Acts we meet a character much like Mr. Dunbar—Barnabas whose name means, “the son of encouragement.” Every time we see Barnabas in Acts he is always building someone up. In Acts 9 we read that Barnabas was willing to be Paul’s advocate despite his checkered past.

26 And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. 28 So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. (Acts 9:26-28)

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If you think about it, Barnabas really put his neck on the chopping block for Paul and in effect he helped the Jerusalem church see that they wrong about Paul. Barnabas helped the church avoid a tragic mistake. Everyone needs a second chance and a Barnabas at some point to help open doors for them.

We may not be a Paul, but we can all be encouragers like Barnabas, who are God’s second-chance ambassadors. In the church, God has called us to raise up teachers, deacons, preachers, missionaries and servants. I don’t think Barnabas knew about the impact Paul would have on the church down through the ages. Likewise, when we invest and encourage others in the church there’s no telling how God may use us to raise up somebody else, who in turn is going to impact countless others. John Maxwell has said, “People go farther than they think they could, when someone else thinks they can.”[2] Encouragement costs us nothing, but it worth more than gold to someone whose down! -DM

[1] Larry Crabb, Encouragement: The Key to Caring (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), 81.
[2] John Maxwell, Encouragement Changes Everything (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2008), 13.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Stay Watchful

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The Roman City of Pompeii was destroyed in 79 AD when Mount Vesuvius suddenly and violently exploded. When archaeologists began unearthing the remains of this city they were amazed at what they found. The ancient residents of Pompeii were frozen in time: men and women were at the market, the rich in their luxurious baths, slaves at toil, sentries standing at their posts. The people of Pompeii were instantly cocooned and preserved by a deadly mixture of volcanic ash and superheated gasses that belched forth from the volcano.  

Interestingly, historians and geologists tell us that these people did not have to die. Experts confirm what ancient Roman writers recorded—weeks of rumblings and shakings preceded the actual eruption of Vesuvius. Even an ominous plume of smoke was clearly visible from the mountain days before she blew her top. If only the Pompeiians had been watchful and acted accordingly to the signs of the clear and present danger upon them.

As I leafed through the Bible the other day, I became aware of how much the Holy Spirit repeated the theme of watchfulness. The idea behind this command is stay alert, be observant of your surroundings, be looking for danger and ready to respond. Here are a few examples:

We are to be watchful in prayer: “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41).
We are to be watchful for the Enemy: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).  

We are to be watchful for false teachers: “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch… (Acts 20:29-31).

We are to be watchful over the health of the church: “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die” Jesus said to the church at Sardis (Rev. 3:3).

We are to be watchful for the return of Christ: “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming” (Matt. 24:42).

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Paul tells us that the three great enemies in the Christian life are the world, the flesh and the Devil (Eph. 2:2-3). Just so, each of these pose a different challenge to being watchful. First, there is the world which offers an endless array of distractions that would take our attention away from vigilance. I think of Lot, the nephew of Abraham, who was gradually pulled into the bells and whistles of life in the big city of Sodom (Gen. 13:10). Second, there is the flesh which is naturally given over to pride and complacency. I think of Peter who should have been praying with Jesus in Gethsemane but instead was snoring. His flesh got the best of him and Peter eventually denied Jesus (Matt. 26:40-41). Third, there is the Devil whose deceptions cause us to let our guard and fall into sin. I am reminded of Solomon who in a time of peace and prosperity went lax on his integrity and became sexually promiscuous. These many foreign wives and concubines turned Solomon’s heart away from God (1 Kings 11:3-4).      

So my friend, are you a slumbering saint or are you a watchman on the wall? I can tell you the discipline of staying watchful is a 24/7/365 job. Everyday we ought to report for “guard duty” in the Lord’s army. Our Adversary never takes a day off and neither can we, even if we’ve experienced a great victory. The old Scottish preacher Andrew Bonar said, “Let us be as watchful after the victory as before the battle.” -DM

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Decide to be a Dad

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In Psalm 128 we read about God’s plan for the man. The father described in this passage fears God and as a result he has the blessing of God on his life. One of the great blessings he enjoys is a family, “3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. 4 Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord.”

The symbolic comparison of the kids to an olive shoot is fitting. In Israel there are olive trees everywhere. The shoots of new growth grow out of the base of the olive tree, just as a father’s feet are crowded with children walking beside him. Though the olive tree may not bear after it has been planted for forty years, it is a symbol of longevity and productivity. Likewise with children raised in the household of faith. They are not like grass, which is here today but is gone tomorrow. Rather, they are like olive shoots that in due time bear their fruit for many years.

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Olive shoots

Just as a farmer must lovingly nurture and cultivate an olive tree, so too a father must spend time instructing his children and being involved in their daily life. The decision to be a father is not just a delivery room decision. It is a daily decision. A century ago, dads were on-site parents, working the farm or running the family store. Children spent a great deal of their time alongside their parents, working together. But in our modern culture, employment distances most dads from their kids. Some dads leave home before the children are awake. Others arrive home long after the kids are home from school. Consequently, it is possible, even common, for a father to forget about fathering—to emotionally disconnect himself from his children. Throughout the day, every day, dads need to renew their “dad” decision. “Will I attend this convention?” “Is this meeting essential?” “Can I rearrange these appointments to get home earlier?” On the way home from work, dads have to decide to take off the work hat and put on the “dad” hat. It’s a decision to manage his time, carefully reconciling work with the priority of family.

In his book, Achieving Success Without Failing Your Family, Paul Faulkner describes the decisions of an insurance executive. Speaking at a businessmen’s convention, the man stressed the importance of being a father first. The man’s daughter was in the audience. In the middle of his talk he had turned to her and asked, “Sweetheart, do you remember the time I won the million-dollar salesman three years in a row?” And she said, “No, Dad, I don’t guess I do.” And then he asked, “Well, do you remember when we used to have those Dairy Queen dates?” And she said, “Oh, yes!” The speaker turned to the audience to make the point that daughters don‘t remember when you sell a million dollars worth of insurance, but they do remember time spent with them.[1] In other words dad, “love” is not spelled L-O-V-E but T-I-M-E. -DM

[1] Paul Faulkner, Achieving Success Without Failing Your Family, (West Monroe, LA, Howard Publishing, 1994), 143-144.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

And Justice for All...

I recently read a story in a British newspaper about a string of burglaries that were happening across the city of Birmingham. In each break-in, the thief was stealing electronics, televisions, computers, sound systems, etc. The police suspected the same thief was behind the crimes, but they had no leads.

Until one day, some new evidence came to light. One of the stolen laptops was equipped with special tracking technology, like what many iPhones and iPads have. The police were able to track the stolen laptop by its unique digital signature, as it was logged into the open wi-fi network at a coffee shop.

But, there was a second piece of evidence too. In the last burglary, the thief did something very foolish and cavalier. Before making off with thousands of dollars in electronics he helped himself to the fridge, opened a water bottle and wet his whistle before his stealing spree. The thief unknowingly left a thumbprint on the bottle. The police were able to positively identify the criminal by tracking him to the coffee shop and then matching his fingerprint with the one left at the crime scene.[1]

Sometimes, justice is served swiftly and poetically. God has built into the fabric of this universe the law of sowing and reaping (Gal. 6:7-8). Sooner or later the wicked will run out of places to hide. The grapes of wrath will come harvest. Justice delayed is not justice denied. The Lord has all the incriminating evidence on hand and the omniscience to render a verdict that is fitting. And as Pro. 21:15 promises, “When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.”            

God is allowing all the debts of injustice to stack up and one day it will all come due at the return of Christ (John 5:22; 1 Tim. 4:1). All those who rejected Christ, will have to stand before him at the Great White Throne Judgement (Rev. 20:1-10). There will be no appeals in that courtroom! Don’t measure God’s justice by the present, but take a long-term view—there will be a payday someday. The great consolation is that justice will roll down from the throne of Christ like a waterfall. Until then, we ought to be glad that mercy and grace is still available for all who will repent.

I leave you with the words of Billy Graham, “A number of years ago I was stopped for driving too fast in a speed zone, and in the courtroom I pleaded guilty. The judge was not only friendly but embarrassed for me to be in his court. The fine was ten dollars. If he had let me go free, it would have been inconsistent with justice. The penalty had to be paid either by me or someone else! Judgment is consistent with love. A God of love must be a God of justice. It is because God loves that He is just. His justice balances His love and makes His acts of both love and justice meaningful. God could not consistently love men, if He did not provide for the judgment of evil-doers. We must always look at the cross on the dark background of judgment. It was because God’s love for man was so intense that He gave His Son, so that man would not have to face judgment.”[2]

[1] <http://www.dailypost.co.uk/news/local-news/thirsty-burglar-caught-after-left-4316275>
[2] Billy Graham, “A God of Justice,” <https://billygraham.org/devotion/a-god-of-justice/>