What’s the Use?

In February 2005 a Colorado county court judge ordered two teenagers to pay $900 for the distress they caused a neighbor the previous summer.

What distressing thing did they do?

They baked some cookies and adorned them paper hearts.

The teenagers, Taylor and Lindsey, had stayed home this particular Saturday night — some friends were having a party but they chose not to go since there might be drinking. Instead, they made cookies for several of their rural neighbors, dropped off the batches on their porches, accompanied by red and pink hearts and a note that said “Have a great night.”

One neighbor, however, didn’t appreciate their kindness. She filed a lawsuit complaining that the unsolicited cookies triggered an anxiety attack that sent her to the hospital the next day. Judge Doug Walker ruled that 10:30 was a little late to be ringing someone’s door bell, and ordered the girls to pay the “victim’s” medical costs.

I’m afraid this might have caused Taylor and Lindsey to think twice before they decide again to do something kind. Certainly no one could blame them. But I hope it’s not the case.

Even though good deeds sometimes bring back more trouble than we deserve, we must never be discouraged from seeking out opportunities to display random acts of kindness.

One Sabbath day Jesus healed a man who later went out of his way to inform the enemies of Christ that it was Jesus who had done this miraculous work. (John 5:15) This began a chain of events that led to…

Therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God. (John 5:18 NASV)

Hardly worth the trouble to heal the man, wouldn’t you say? And yet, our all-knowing Lord healed him anyway.

Kent Keith said…

Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough; 
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.

These sheep that we’re called to take care of—sometimes we discover they have really sharp teeth. But don’t let a few bite marks prevent you from continuing to do good every chance you get.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21)

Roy Riegels running the wrong way.

Running the Wrong Way

The Day Roy Riegels Ran the Wrong Way bookOn New Years Day, 1929, Georgia Tech played California in the Rose Bowl.

Late in the second quarter, Roy Riegels recovered a fumble for California. In his excitement he became confused and began running in the wrong direction — for sixty-five yards.

He thought he was about to score. Instead, one of his teammates tackled him at their own 2 yard line.

This meant that his mistake put California 98 yards away from where they needed to be; 98 yards away from where they could have been had he had a better sense of direction.

The mistake was serious. A few plays later, Georgia Tech got the ball back and scored.

In the locker room at half time, Roy Riegels sat in the corner with his face buried in his hands, humiliated. The rest of the room remained silent. The coach didn’t make his usual half-time speech, but shortly before they were to take the field again, he said, “The starting team will begin the second half.”

The players all left the locker room, except for Riegels, alone on the bench, his head hung in shame. He said, “I can’t do it, Coach. I can’t play. I’ve ruined the team.”

The coach simply said, “Get up Riegels. The game is only half over. You belong on the field.”

He did the take the field that afternoon, playing what he later referred to as the best half of football in his college career. He said, “I gained true understanding of life from my Rose Bowl mistake. I learned you can bounce back…”

It’s a lesson we can all put into practice. Even if all your life has been spent running the wrong way, even if your missteps have you 98 yards away from where you need to be, you belong on the playing field. There’s still some game left to play.

This reminds of what the Apostle Paul said…

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)

This Is Not A Dress Rehearsal

This Is Not a Dress Rehearsal

My Fair Lady - dress rehearsalImagine that you’re involved in a play, in a community theater production of, say, My Fair Lady.

Maybe you’re ‘enry ‘iggins, or maybe you’re Liza Doolittle. Either way, you’ve spent weeks and months preparing your part. Opening night is right around the corner, and tonight is dress rehearsal.

You know what dress rehearsal is. It’s that low-risk run-through to an empty auditorium where the director gets a chance to make sure everyone knows what they’re doing.

But then, right before curtain, there’s a last-minute turn of events. The producer approaches you and says, “Tonight we have a special guest — a top talent agent has flown in from in New York to watch your performance. He’s considering you for this very role on Broadway.”

This changes the dynamic quite a bit, doesn’t it? No longer is it a mere dress-rehearsal. It is now the performance of your career — up to this point, anyway. How well you do tonight will determine your future on the stage.

Suddenly you’re profoundly aware of the significance of the next two hours. And, of course, you give it all you’ve got.

Next, imagine that it’s not just a local community theater production of My Fair Lady that we’re talking about. Imagine, instead, that it is your life we’re talking about, and where your “performance” today has the potential to take you.

This is, in fact, how it really works.

A lesson we learn throughout scripture is that this is not a mere dress rehearsal that we’re experiencing today. It’s not just a dry run. It’s the real thing. This day. Every day. Day after day.

We have a tendency to live, sometimes, as if today doesn’t really matter all that much. We live as if we’ll have another chance on another day to do things the way they ought to be done … so for now we can coast.

But the Bible teaches that today is the day. Today matters — and as long as it’s called today, it matters more than any other day in your life.

So what shall we do with today?

Let’s strive to follow the example of the Apostle Paul…

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)

A Life-Changing Invitation

One day while Jesus was passing through Jericho, a man named Zacchaeus came to see him.

If you grew up in Sunday School, you know that Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he. You may also know that he wasn’t a particularly good man; he was a tax-collector with a reputation for being dishonest.

Since he couldn’t see in the crowd, he climbed a sycamore tree to get a better view of Jesus. The Bible says…

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately, I must stay at your house today.” (Luke 19:5)

I love the urgency in Jesus’ words: “Come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”

Jesus was saying, “Zacchaeus, don’t wait. Don’t put this off. Something big is about to happen.”

How, then, did Zacchaeus respond?

So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. (Luke 19:6)

He made no excuses: “I’m not prepared. Can we do this later, after I’ve had time to get my life in order?” Instead, he seized the opportunity to have Jesus come to his home.

What happened next?

This spur-of-the-moment meeting led to a life-change for Zacchaeus. He said, in effect, “Jesus, I want to start doing things right. I’ll give half of my money to the poor, and I’ll pay four times the amount to anyone I’ve cheated.” And Jesus said…

“Today salvation has come to this house.” (Luke 19:9)

Salvation came today, because Zacchaeus responded to the invitation today. He might not have felt completely prepared to have the King of Kings enter his home, but he didn’t put it off. And his life changed as a result.

Every day brings a life-changing invitation that is our to accept or ignore. Something big is on the horizon. How you respond makes all the difference.

When the Angel Said ‘Fear Not…’

Last week I talked about the show-stealing scene in the Peanuts special A Charlie Brown Christmas, the one where Linus reads from the gospel of Luke.

Today I want to say a little bit more about it.

There’s a detail in this scene that I never noticed until a friend pointed it out last year. Since then I’ve seen it referenced by several others; it’s just too good to overlook.

As you remember, Linus is the one who always carries the blanket. It’s called a security blanket, but it doesn’t really symbolize security. It symbolizes insecurity — the fear of uncertainty, the fear of inadequacy.

In this scene, Linus takes the stage with his ever-present blanket and begins to recite the story…

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid…(Luke 2:9)

And then, when he gets to the part that says Fear not, he lets go of the blanket. That insignificant piece of cloth representing all of his insecurities suddenly becomes unnecessary in light of the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And so the blanket falls to the floor.

The blankets we carry aren’t nearly as conspicuous as his, but ours exist nonetheless:

The security blanket of needing more money.

Or needing a drink to make it through the day.

Or needing to build yourself up by putting others down.

Or needing to win at all costs.

We carry these blankets with us because we think they will shield us from fear. But they never can, and they never do.

There’s only one way to escape fear — and that is to drop the blanket, once and for all, and decide that you will dare to live this day in the power of Jesus Christ. He has promised to be with you always, and he has promised to see you through every uncertain moment. And his promise is worth the risk.

Linus shared with Charlie Brown the true meaning of Christmas: Because of this child born in Bethlehem — the one who came to bear our sorrows and take away our sins — you can drop the blanket and embrace God’s presence in your life.

I am hurt, but I am not slain...

Sir Barton’s Ode

I remember reading Sir Barton’s Ode in college. (To be accurate, I remember reading about Sir Barton’s Ode — thank you, Cliff Notes.)

Sir Andrew Barton was a 16th century High Admiral who sailed the seas on behalf of the Scottish Crown. He was considered a hero by some, a pirate by others. He was eventually captured and executed by British authorities.

The Old English ballad that describes his life contains this phrase, his account of one of his many battles.

I am hurt but I am not slain 
I’ll lay me down and bleed awhile 
Then I’ll rise to fight again.

His words remind us of the words of St. Paul, who said…

We often suffer, but we are never crushed. Even when we don’t know what to do, we never give up. In times of trouble, God is with us, and when we are knocked down, we get up again.. (2 Corinthians 4:8-9 CEV)

Paul is saying, “We may be hurt, but we are not slain…we can get up and try again.” There are more than a few times when life will knock you down. At that point, we have the choice to stay down … or merely to lay down, for a while, to “bleed awhile,” and then rise to try again.

There’s power in the second try, and even greater power in the third, fourth, and fifth try. You may feel like you’re getting weaker every time you fail, but the fact is that every time you get back on your feet, you build a little more muscle, a little more momentum, and you tap in to the power of perseverance.

And you don’t have to do it on your own.

The real power comes from God and not from us. (2 Corinthians 4:7)

Maybe you’ve been knocked down a time or two. Knocked down doesn’t equal knocked out. Through the power of Christ in you, you can rise to try again.

Misconceptions about God's mercy

Staring Down Misconceptions

There are numerous misconceptions floating around, frequently quoted as authoritative. So many that Wikipedia has a page devoted to them.

A few examples.

Abner Doubleday did not invent baseball. Neither did it originate in Cooperstown, New York. It is believed to have evolved from other bat-and-ball-based-games such as cricket and rounders. It first took its modern form in New York City.

The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 was not caused by Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicking over a lantern. A newspaper reporter invented the story to make colorful copy. (Imagine that.)

Houseflies have an average lifespan of 20 to 30 days, not 24 hours.

Eating less than an hour before swimming does not increase the risk of experiencing muscle cramps.

People do not use only ten percent of their brains. This misconception dates back to the early 20th century. It has been attributed to psychologist William James, who used the expression metaphorically.

Another common misconception is that the Bible says “God helps those who help themselves.” Many will say it’s their favorite verse, thought they’re hard pressed to tell you exactly where it can be found.

The list of misconceptions goes on and on, underlying a simple reality:

Just because you’ve heard something all your life doesn’t make it true.

OTHER ALL-TOO COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS.

What are some other misrepresentations we’re prone to believe? Maybe the list would include:

• God has forgotten me, and now he is finished with me.

• My life will always be what it is today.

• I don’t have the strength to change, or the strength to face what I must face.

• I am alone.

• I have good reason to worry. I have good reason to fear. I have good reason to give up.

These misconceptions will never be true, no matter how many times you’ve heard them, no matter how many times you’ve repeated them.

Solomon once said, somewhat sternly…

The simple believe anything, but the prudent give thought to their steps. (Proverbs 14:15)

Today our challenge is to confront every belief that seeks to limit the possibility of God doing something great in our lives. Give thought to each one: Stare it down, tear it apart, see if it has any basis at all in the truth of God’s Word.

The world will say it what it can to keep you down, merely for the sake of colorful copy. Don’t give these misconceptions the final word.

Trust, instead, in what God says about you, about today, about your future, and about his plans for you.

Ephesians 3:19

Keeping the Vessel Full

The early 20th century tent-revivalist Billy Sunday once said:

“The only way to keep a broken vessel full is to keep it always under the tap.”

The truth is that we’re all broken. Or, at the very least, chipped and cracked. In order for our lives to remain full of what matters most, we need to stand in the stream as often as possible, for as long as possible, allowing the fountain of God’s presence to fill us to overflowing.

This applies to your devotional life, to be sure. It applies to countless others areas as well.

Consider some of the ways we keep our vessel full each day:

• Seeking the company of those who build you up, rather than those who tear you down.

• Listening to uplifting music — or a sermon — rather than an angry online rant.

• Spending time in the Word before turning to your newsfeed.

• Speaking to others in a way that edifies, rather than seeking to criticize.

• Watching films and videos that offer a message of hope, rather than despair.

Our many chips and cracks ensure that we need to be filled again and again, throughout the day, day-after-day-after- day. It won’t happen by accident. To be filled, we need to take the intentional step to position ourselves beneath the tap in every way we can.

In his prayer for the church in Ephesus, he asked that they would “be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:19)

Today we can say this prayer for ourselves. And we can strive to answer it for others.

Tides of Life

The Tides of Life

Norman Vincent Peale used to tell the story of a struggling businessman who reached a turning point in life after seeing a picture of a boat stuck in the sand. The caption said:

The Tide Always Comes Back.

We often make two common mistakes:

• When things are good, we think everything will always be good.

• When things are bad, we think everything will always be bad.

Both are wrong.

Life, and all it entails — your marriage and your ministry, your relationships and health and finances, your approval rating among those you serve and the success of each new endeavor — tends to cycle from peak to valley. As the old hymn says, there is an ebb and flow to life.

You can count one constant in all of this: God’s faithfulness. Your ability to survive the ebb comes down to your willingness to trust in his goodness, even when all you see is sand.

Today, whether your tide is in or out, lean on the faithfulness of God. Focus on his presence, and remember his promise. It will keep you singing as you go.

Be thankful for his goodness; be thankful for his mercy. For your unfailing love is as high as the heavens Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds. (Psalm 57:10)

All You Need is Jesus

All You Need

Rita SpringerIn a worship conference several years back I heard Rita Springer say…

“You’ll never know that God is all you need until you reach a point where God is all you have.”

Actually, you don’t have to lose everything to learn this. It just takes one sudden storm.

You can have lots of friends or lots of money or lots of success, and one crisis is able to bring you face-to-face with the realization that none of it matters.

In these times you learn that, no matter how much stuff is in your life, God really is all you have.

The good news is, though, that God really is all you need.

He comes to you in your weakest moments. He comforts you and reminds you of his never-ending love. Where you have failed him, he is quick to forgive.

And he remains near to you through it all.

This is why the psalmist could say,

I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed. (Psalm 57:1)

As your week begins, keep in mind that all you truly need, you already have.

Luck Has Nothing To Do With It

The Luck Factor | Richard WisemanA while back I read about a research project investigating the phenomenon of luck.

It goes without saying that I don’t believe in luck. Neither, apparently, does Richard Wiseman, the psychologist that directed the study. (His book based on the study is called The Luck Factor: The Scientific Study of the Mind.)

After examining traits, beliefs and habits of people that could be characterized as either lucky or unlucky, Dr. Wiseman determined that “lucky” people tend to create their good fortune via four basic principles.

1. They know how to create and recognize good opportunities for themselves.

2. They make good intuitive decisions.

3. They have positive expectations.

4. Through resilience, they turn bad situations into good ones.

His conclusion is the same that most of us would come to: There’s no such thing as random good fortune or random misfortune. We create these things with our attitudes, our actions, and our expectations.

For this reason, there should be no such thing as an “unlucky” Christian.

What some call luck — positive experiences that work in your favor — is part of our inheritance.

We don’t call it luck, though. We call it being blessed.

It’s not the result of random fortune. It’s the result of living by faith and walking in obedience. As King David said: “Real help comes from God. Your blessing clothes your people!” (Psalm 3:8 The Message)

I encourage you, then, you to practice living faithfully with a sense of expectation. There’s nothing presumptuous about it. In fact, we’re called to do it.

We can live in joyful expectation of the goodness of God. And we can remember the words of Jesus:

“According to your faith will it be done to you.” (Matthew 9:29)

Finding Rest

American author Iving Kristol said…

“Being frustrated is disagreeable, but the real disasters of life begin when you get what you want.”

This is because what we want — or what we think we want — is often not what we really need in order to live a fulfilled, meaningful life.

There comes a time when we realize that the trinket we worked so hard to acquire, or even the goal we sacrificed so much to achieve, doesn’t bring the satisfaction we expected it would. We then find ourselves asking, as so many have, “Is that all there is? Is this as good as it gets?”

Goals will always have a place in our lives, and accumulating possessions will always be part of the human endeavor, but we serve ourselves best the sooner we understand that these things will never be enough.

We serve ourselves best when we learn to say, as Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless, until they rest in thee.”

Where are you seeking your rest today? In a paycheck? In a relationship? In a status symbol? In a measure of success? These things may not be the enemy — they’re not bad in and of themselves — but it’s important that we understand that they’re not the finish line, either.

If your heart is restless today, take a moment to re-evaluate what you really want. Strive to say, as David said…

My soul finds rest in God alone. (Psalm 62:1)