Monday, November 30, 2020

Is This a Cross You’re Willing to Bear?

 We see them everywhere: on rockers and rappers, pro athletes and politicians, store clerks and restaurant servers, movie stars and mail carriers, even relatives and friends. Maybe you have one or more of them yourself. What am I talking about? Ornamental crosses people wear around their necks. 

Some crosses come small, plain and simple, others large, ornate and ostentatious. Gold, silver, steel, gem-studded, even carved from wood. For many of the wearers, they’re little more than a piece of jewelry or accessory.

Whenever I see someone wearing one, I immediately wonder, “A follower of Christ?” Sometimes that’s the case. Other times, it’s not. For example, when we hear some cross-adorned celebrity lacing his or her acceptance speech at an awards show with a barrage of obscenities. Or a wide receiver preening in the end zone, pounding his chest rather than pointing upward.  If they’re a follower, it must be from a considerable distance.


People have a right to wear whatever they choose, of course, and many decorative crosses offer a lot of visual appeal. For thousands, the crosses they wear are more than jewelry. They’re genuine, outward symbols of the faith they embrace on the inside. 


However, the origin of the cross wasn’t some fashion designer’s brainstorm. It was an innovation of the Roman Empire, a tortuous form of execution said to be the most inhumane way to die. In those days, people weren’t wearing crosses around their necks. For them, the image of the cross represented a hideous end they hoped never to experience. Envision a necklace from which hangs a miniature gallows, or electric chair. 


Historians say the practice of wearing crosses originated early in the fourth century. While in Assisi, Italy a couple of years ago, I discovered a T-shaped Tau cross was favored by Saint Francis of Assisi. Liking its simplicity, I bought a small wooden replica. Through the years, artists have fashioned cross designs in many different ways, from bejeweled creations to ones inscribed with various messages.

In the Scriptures, references to the cross are definitive – the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, paying a debt He did not owe because we owed a debt we could not pay, as the old song goes. While nowhere in the Bible do we find a prohibition against wearing a cross or displaying it, it’s clear that for Jesus’ followers, the cross means willingness to die to self and follow Him, whatever the cost.


In Luke 9:23-24, the Lord says, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.” Jesus isn’t calling for death on a literal cross, but being willing to put to death desires and ambitions that conflict with His call on our lives. 


This is one reason the apostle Paul wrote, “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14). He also wrote about dying every day – to self and any purpose other than what God had for him: “I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31).


I doubt Paul would have considered wearing a necklace or any kind of jewelry adorned with a cross, because for him it represented sacrificial ministry, anchored in an unwavering trust in Christ. This is why he could say with confidence, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).


So, if you’ve got a favorite cross you like to wear, a symbol of your faith in the Lord, let it also serve as a reminder of how much it cost – the once-and-for-all death of Jesus Christ to atone for the sins of everyone who would receive His gracious gift of forgiveness and restoration. 

And when you see someone else wearing a cross, but don’t know what it represents for them, pray that God will open their eyes that they too will come to understand its true meaning.  

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Pursuing Lofty Visions of Greatness in a Very Ordinary Life

Do you desire to do something great, something that people in your community, even around the world, will remember long after you are gone? You know, leaving some grand, indelible mark that will ensure your legacy for many years to come.

I wonder if great inventors like Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, or the Wright brothers had thoughts like that. Waking up one morning and thinking, “I know – I’m going to invent a light bulb (or a telephone, or a way for people to fly).” I kind of doubt that. Greatness is something that arrives without fanfare while someone’s in the midst of doing very ordinary things.


What about the great agricultural scientist George Washington Carver, who rose above slavery to develop techniques to counter soil depletion, discover more than 140 uses for the peanut, and become a college professor? Do you think he went to bed at night dreaming about how to achieve greatness? I think not. I suspect he recognized his calling, cultivated his passions, honed his skills, and along the way, became one of the most renowned scientists of his time.


One of the stark realities of everyday life is that it’s so daily, marked mostly with the mundane and rarely with anything spectacular. The legendary Helen Keller, who achieved much as an author, political activist and lecturer, despite being both deaf and blind, acknowledged this. She said, "I long to accomplish some great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble." 


In a meditation in My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers wrote, “We have a tendency to look for wonder in our experience, and we mistake heroic actions for real heroes. It’s one thing to go through a crisis grandly, yet quite another to go through every day glorifying God when there is no witness, no limelight, and no one paying even the remotest attention to us.”


Have you ever felt this way? No tickertape parade in your honor, no commendations, just the distinction of doing non-extraordinary work for little or no recognition? And yet, this is what God calls us to as His children. As Chambers also observed, “To be utterly unnoticeable requires God’s Spirit in us making us absolutely humanly His. The true test of a saint’s life is not successfulness but faithfulness on the human level of life.”


In one of His parables, talking about the importance of being faithful in undertaking responsibilities entrusted to us, Jesus declared, Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much" (Luke 16:10). To me, the Lord is saying, “Do you long to be engaging in things great and important? First, prove yourself trustworthy in doing the small, ordinary things I’ve already given to you.”


Writing to believers in the ancient city of Colossae, the apostle Paul affirmed that workers or employees, whether doing small tasks or pursuing great projects, should always keep their ultimate “boss” in mind: “Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23-24).


It's not about doing great things for God; it’s about the joy and privilege of a great God doing His work through us for His glory. That way, even if we have the opportunity to do something great and noteworthy, we know where the credit should really go.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Will This Be a Thankfulness-Challenged Thanksgiving Day?

So, what are you most thankful for in 2020, this epic year of the novel coronavirus, aka COVID? Finding it difficult to think of something, perhaps?


Aren’t you thankful that for most of this year, whenever you have emerged from the relative security and safety of your home, you had to wear a facemask? Just think of the limitless opportunities for making a facial fashion statement for family, friends, and complete strangers!


Millions of parents discovered the delights of virtual learning as their children exchanged classrooms for the family computer. What about the daily challenges of having to juggle schedules and figuring out who would watch the kids when mom or dad had to leave the house? For those who always wondered what it would be like to work from home, now they know. That’s something to be thankful for, right?

Sports fans have had the opportunity to learn new worries, not only whether their teams would win the big game, but also the suspense of whether the big game would even be played at all – or if it would fall victim to COVID. Given thanks for that yet?


And what about not having to worry about having to get up Sunday mornings to go to church, because for much of the year that wasn’t a possibility? We found out that online services – even the most high-tech and sophisticated – are a poor substitute for in-person, side-by-side worship. So can we give thanks for that?


Okay. All sarcasm aside, it’s been one tough, disruptive year. Life we’d grown accustomed to turned upside-down. Even worse, we’re wondering if it will ever be turned right-side-up again. Many have suffered personal loss, whether it involved loved ones, jobs, financial hardships, or health setbacks. So, with those things in mind, how can we be properly thankful with Thanksgiving Day fast approaching?


The Bible gives us the answer. Thankfulness – and thanksgiving – aren’t to be dictated by feelings or our current mood. They’re determined commitments, conscious decisions possible only as we focus on the limitless love and goodness of God. 


Being thankful, believers are told, isn’t conditional; it’s not a choice. In 1 Thessalonians 5:18 we’re told, “give thanks in all circumstances [in everything give thanks] for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” It doesn’t say, “unless…” or, “except when….” All means ALL. Everything mean EVERYTHING.


Psalm 50:14 tells us both what we’re to do, and why we’re to do it: “Offer to God thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High. Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” Another translation says, “Sacrifice thank offerings to God…” with the same assurance, “I will deliver you, and you will honor me.” After a year as fraught will challenges and difficulties as this one, that’s one great promise.


It's at times like these that we need to cling to Romans 8:28, not as a handy cliché, but with total confidence: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” We may not know why things happen – or how the Lord will use them to accomplish His divine purposes – but that’s the assurance we have from His Word. 


Because of that, there’s another passage concerning thanksgiving that we can embrace without reservation: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). Then we’re told, if we do this, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).


There’s no denying that 2020 has been a year to forget in many respects. If for some reason living through a pandemic was on your bucket list, you can definitely check that one off. Nevertheless, we trust in a God who has taken us through tough times before and is more than capable of doing it again. 

For that reason, we can approach this Thanksgiving Day with genuine thankfulness, knowing that one day and in some way, He will have worked through it all “to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Is Your ‘Check Engine’ Light On and You’re Ignoring It?

Several weeks ago, my car spoke to me. Not in an audible voice, but in that special language auto manufacturers have created to alert drivers when action is required. It said, in bright orange letters, “Maintenance required soon.” 


Fortunately, it wasn’t signaling an emergency. It was just time for an oil change. Those pesky warning lights can be annoying, but they can be very helpful reminders, especially for those not inclined to check under the hood very often. Every car, no matter how new – or expensive – needs periodic maintenance. As the guy in the old auto repair commercial used to say, “You can pay me now…or you can pay me later.”


Wouldn’t it be nice if humans had a “check engine” light to let us know a personal tune-up is in order? To date, no baby has been born with a built-in warning light. However, in a sense, we could say we do – at least physically speaking. A fever, ache or pain signals when something’s amiss in our bodies. It might just represent a minor strain or a seasonal illness. But other times it can mean something of greater concern. If symptoms persist, we’re told, it’s best to consult your doctor.


When it comes to the less tangible parts of our lives – our mental and emotional well-being, even our spiritual condition – it’s much harder to discern when problems are manifesting themselves. That’s when a personal “check engine” light would come in handy.


The realms of the mental and emotional can be very problematic. It’s often difficult to assess objectively when our thinking or behavior gets out of kilter. Even when we do recognize such problems, we can’t always identify the cause. That’s why trained practitioners in those areas can be so helpful.


But we don’t have to be wizened theologians or learned seminarians to address our own spiritual well-being. Because we have direct access to what Jesus in John 14:16 and 15:26 called a “Helper” or“Counselor” (the Holy Spirit) to provide necessary discernment. The Lord said in John 16:8, “When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.”


Not a visible “check engine” light, but a very real Guide for our everyday lives: Sometimes shouting to our conscience, and other times speaking to us in a still, small voice. In addition to the Holy Spirit, God has provided us with another kind of light to tell when we’re on track, and when we’re not: the Scriptures.


Psalm 119:105 declares, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” The entire psalm – the longest in the Bible – affirms the importance of the Scriptures not only for the sweet by and by, but also for the nasty now and now. In Psalm 119:9-11 we read, ”How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to Your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from Your commands. I have hidden Your word in my heart that I might not sin against You.”


Another passage explains how the Word of God helps to advance our spiritual growth: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Proverbs 6:23 offers a similar perspective: “For these commands are a lamp, this teaching is a light, and the corrections of discipline are the way to life.”


Although we don’t have a physical check-engine light to warn us if we’ve gotten off course spiritually, God’s Spirit living in us and the Bible can serve in that way. The question is, will we devote enough time with the Lord and in His Word so that when critical junctures in life arrive, we can recognize the warning signals before disaster strikes? 

Monday, November 16, 2020

The Great Unemployment Problem – in the Church

I’ve been doing a bit of time traveling. At least it’s seemed that way. I’ve been re-reading the first book I ever wrote, The Gospel and the Briefcase, which was published back in 1984. I served as ghostwriter for Ted DeMoss, then the president of CBMC, now known as Christian Business Men’s Connection. 


CBMC is planning to republish the book, hopefully by the end of this year. So I’ve been reviewing it to see what revisions are needed to update the content. Ted passed away in 1997, but his stories in The Gospel and the Briefcase don’t need to be changed at all. They’re timeless. He explains how he came to know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and how God later impressed on him the importance of sharing his faith with others. 


Many of the accounts of people Ted encountered over his decades of ministry in the marketplace are incredibly moving and inspiring. But it’s his passion and vision for reaching out to people with the life-changing good news of Jesus that come through most strongly.


Early in his business career, he was a rising executive with the Arrow Shirt Company in upstate New York. In his mid-20s, Ted had already been given responsibility for overseeing hundreds of factory workers. But one day he informed his boss that he was resigning – even though he had no idea what he would be doing next. “I just can’t give my life to making shirts,” he declared.


Eventually, Ted established a successful career in the insurance business, but that was never his main focus. It served as a platform for what he loved to do the most: tell others about Jesus. In his book, he stated, “As a Christian, a businessman should look upon his job as his avocation. I learned that my true vocation as a believer is to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others.”


That perspective, shared literally thousands of times across the country and around the globe, stirred the hearts of countless followers of Jesus Christ. Seeing folks in the business and professional world as an “unreached people group,” Ted was constantly presenting evidence – from his own experience – that even in the marketplace, people are not gospel-hardened; they’re gospel-ignorant.


But aren’t evangelism and discipleship the job of the pastor, or the missionary? That, Ted explains, was his misconception as well. Then he discovered that many people would be most open to hearing about what the Bible says from someone like them, a peer. In his case, another business person. As it says in 1 Corinthians 3:9, “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.”


In addition to meeting personally with people desperately needing to hear about Jesus Christ and what He could do in their lives, Ted devoted his life to persuading others that, as he said, their “true vocation as a believer is to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others.” 


Sadly, there are too few people who share this passion. Too often, we’re like fans attending a football game – thousands of people desperately in need of exercise, watching 22 players desperately in need of rest.


The late Dr. Howard Hendricks, a beloved speaker, author, and professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, observed, “The greatest problem in the world today is the unemployment problem. Ninety-five percent of the men and women who are Christians today are unemployed – for Christ. They are active in their churches, but unemployed in sharing their faith. The end result is that nothing is happening.”


Many of us presume that if people want to encounter God, they will somehow stumble into a church. That’s rarely the case. And if they do, it’s because someone they know – someone they trust – has invited them. In these COVID days, even that’s more difficult than ever. 


Romans 10:14-15 explains the solution to this problem: “How, then, can they call on the one they have no believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’”


Before we conclude, “Aha! That’s the job for preachers only!” we need to understand the Scriptures are not talking about “men of the cloth,” people with formalized religious training. As the Good News Translation states it, And how can the message be proclaimed if the messengers are not sent out?”


Another passage, 2 Corinthians 5:20, affirms this: “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” If we’re willing, He wants to send each of us.


We don’t have to be a Billy Graham, Ted DeMoss, a best-selling Christian author, or the latest and greatest radio preacher to speak to others about Jesus. As Hendricks said, as followers of Jesus we have no excuse for being “unemployed for Christ.” When we walk out the front door of our home, step out of our office or cubicle, or even log onto a Zoom call, we’re entering the mission field.


As long as we’re being good news to the people we meet, we can trust God to give us opportunities to share the good news with them. We need to get out of the unemployment line! 

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Have an Awesome, Perfect, Couldn’t Be Better Day!

"Since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities...
have been clearly seen from what has been made" (Romans 1:20).

Recently, before my doctor came in for my annual wellness exam, the nurse asked what medications and supplements I take. When I finished listing them, she said, “Perfect!” That made me feel really good. Especially since, being a writer, I hold words in high regard. Based on what she said, I concluded I must be taking the right medications and vitamins perfectly, even in the proper dosages. Couldn’t be doing better. Who doesn’t want to be perfect?

Of course, I doubt that’s exactly what she meant. I didn’t ask for her definition of “perfect.” But since people seem to like using that word a lot I suppose it was, um, perfectly fine. But leaning toward being a verbal literalist, perfect is a term I rarely utilize. Because my understanding of the word means to be ideal, with no room for improvement. 


Just to be sure I wasn’t too much of a nitpicker, I researched definitions of perfect. They include, “having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be,” or “absolute; complete,” or “free from faults or defects, or as close to such a condition as possible.”


When the nurse responded with “perfect!” I doubt she meant any of those. “Okay,” or “good” might have been more accurate, but these days lots of things are perfect. Things like, “At the grocery store, I bought a loaf of bread.” “Perfect.” Or, “I will call you between 2 and 2:30.” “Perfect.” (Wouldn’t it be even more “perfect” to specify the exact minute you would be calling?)


If “perfect” isn’t your word of choice, however, there’s a great alternative: Awesome. For example, when I recited my lists of meds and vitamins, according to today’s word usage, the nurse legitimately could have replied, “Awesome!” It would have been good to know my use of vitamin C, fish oil and glucosamine is awesome, don’t you think?


Why make such a big deal over this? Well, it’s because words have an inherent grandeur, especially superlatives. And when I look for an example of perfection – something that’s truly perfect – I believe there’s just one option: God. Psalm 18:30-32 tells us, “As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the Lord is flawless. For who is God besides the Lord? And who is the Rock except our God? It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect.”


Jesus gave His followers a perplexing directive when, after teaching they were to love not only their neighbors, but also their enemies, He said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). That’s something worth serious pondering, especially when we know that, flawed individuals that we are, “Nobody’s perfect.”


Other translations of these and other passages use the word “complete” instead of “perfect.” Think of following a favorite recipe that you or someone you know has used for years. What happens if just one ingredient is omitted? It doesn’t taste nearly as good, because it’s not complete. 


This is why Colossians 1:28 declares that our mission in representing Jesus Christ is to “proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect [complete] in Christ.” Without the power of Jesus working in and through us, we’re incomplete.


As for those who prefer an “awesome” perspective on life, Deuteronomy 7:21 admonishes that when we encounter stiff opposition, “Do not be terrified by them, for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a great and awesome God.” A bit later, Deuteronomy 10:17 elaborates a bit: “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes.” 


Nehemiah, who was instrumental in the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the Israelites had been taken captive in Babylon, opened up his prayer for God’s gracious intervention with these words: “O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands” (Nehemiah 1:5). Speaking to God was no small matter. So in presenting his requests, Nehemiah – a humble cupbearer for king Artaxerxes – assumed an attitude of reverent awe.


In the Psalms we see the writers often acknowledging the awesomeness of God:

“You answer us with awesome deeds of righteousness, O God our Savior…who formed the mountains by your power…who stilled the roaring of the seas” (Psalm 65:5-7).

"Shout with joy to God, all the earth! Sing the glory of his name; make his praise glorious! Say to God, ‘How awesome area your deeds! So great is your power….' Come and see what God has done, how awesome his works in man’s behalf!” (Psalm 66:1-5).


There are many other passages we could cite. But it’s clear that when it comes to “perfect” or “awesome,” those words shouldn’t be tossed about indiscriminately. When we think about God – who He is and all He has done – there’s really no comparison. 

Then if we’re walking with the Lord, seeking to rest in His love and grace even during the most trying times, we’re justified in wanting to experience an awesome, perfect, couldn’t be any better day!

Monday, November 9, 2020

Are You Thankful for Your Scars?

There’s a universal reality about life: It scars us, no matter how careful we try to be. And the longer we live, the greater our scars, in number and sometimes in severity. 


Some of our scars are visible, such as ones I’ve collected on my hands over the years, as well as the “zipper” I received during my open-heart surgery nearly 14 years ago. But other scars aren’t as evident, especially ones of an emotional or psychological nature. Either way, they serve as reminders of painful moments and events in our past.

What brought this to mind was a song, “Scars,” that I heard the other day, sung by a group called I Am They. The lyrics declare, “I am thankful for the scars.” I wonder, as you consider the scars you’ve accumulated during your life, can you say you’re thankful for them?


You might be thinking, “Thankful? No way!” A failed marriage might come to mind, the unexpected passing of the loved one, a debilitating illness, the death of a long-cherished dream due to unavoidable circumstances. There are many other possibilities. Long after the original wounds were inflicted, scars remain as indelible “souvenirs.” How can we to be thankful about the hurt they represent?


And yet, some scars can serve a positive purpose. Just like memories of past failures, they can serve as reminders – even motivation – for avoiding similar mistakes in the future.


I have a good friend who fought as a Marine in Vietnam and suffered serious injuries. To this day he bears the scars from wounds he sustained. Today, he sees them as a vivid reminder of the person he was before coming to know Jesus Christ – and the changes the Lord has done in his life since then. The difference, he would tell you, is like comparing night and day.


The Scriptures have a lot to say about scars. For instance, it was scars that convinced Jesus’ followers of His resurrection. “Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and feet. It is I myself!... When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet” (Luke 24:36-40).


In another passage, we see the doubtful disciple, Thomas, who demanded proof of Jesus’ triumph over death. Eyewitness testimony offered by others wasn’t sufficient. So Jesus presented evidence – His scars. “Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe’” (John 20:27). Those visible scars dispelled all of Thomas’s uncertainty as he declared, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).


The apostle Paul suffered much in serving Jesus Christ. He even had some kind of affliction, described as “a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me.” Did he like this “scar”? Definitely not. He wrote, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me” (2 Corinthians 12:7-8).


Scholars speculate what this “thorn” was. It could have been a variety of things, such as poor eyesight, a speech impediment, a physical disability, headaches, even bouts of depression. No one knows for certain. It’s clear, however, that God used it for a good purpose in Paul’s life.


Noting that despite his pleas, the Lord chose not to remove this “thorn,” Paul wrote, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).


Like Paul, we’ve all got scars – or thorns – in our lives we wish God would simply erase. But also like Paul, we can rejoice in them, recognizing that through our weaknesses, the Lord is able to manifest His strength and remind us of our utter dependence on Him.

But our scars can provide another benefit. Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest, writer and theologian, devoted many years to serving individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities at L’Arche Daybreak community in Ontario, Canada. During that time he gained a great appreciation for not allowing our scars to impede our progress through life.


He wrote, “The main question is not, how can we hide our wounds…but how can we put our woundedness in service to others.” 


The friend that I mentioned earlier, the Vietnam vet? Today he heads a non-profit organization devoted to helping and encouraging disabled military veterans, people with physical, psychological and spiritual wounds that have been unaddressed for too long. Ken's using his own scars to facilitate healing for others.

Whether discovering in deeper ways how we must rely on the Lord, or in leveraging our pain into means for ministering to others, we too can be thankful for the scars.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Discipline Seems to Be Getting a Bad Rap

When you hear the word “discipline,” what comes to mind? 


For people in education, the term might relate to foundational teaching disciplines like English, math and science, perhaps social studies. There are other subjects, of course, but good ole readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic remain the standards – the essential disciplines – for basic learning.


Then there’s the discipline required for high levels of achievement. Even people with great innate talent need great discipline to refine their crafts. I think of virtuoso pianists and violinists who devote countless hours to meticulously repeating the fundamental skills that enable them to perform flawlessly. 

I like what leadership consultant Tim Kight has observed: “It’s said that elite performers are gifted, but that can be misleading. The key factor in performance is the mindset and drive to do the work to build skill. Talent is a gift. Doing the work is a choice. Everyone can build next-level skill – if they are willing to do the work.” He’s talking about discipline.


Did you know Michael Jordan, one of the best if not the best basketball player of all time, was cut from his high school basketball team? It helped when he experienced a major growth spurt soon afterward, but it was discipline – spending thousands of hours on a basketball court shooting and dribbling – that propelled him to NBA greatness.


But there’s yet another expression of discipline we should consider, the most unpopular kind. It’s the discipline that seeks to discourage wrong behavior and encourage good behavior. The discipline that we sometimes consider synonymous with “don’t.” 


For instance, when people painfully admit their BMI (Body Mass Index) is higher than it should be, or their pants fit a bit tighter these days, we can blame it on the pandemic, right? But discipline is what helps them push away from the table, or avoid the chips aisle at the grocery store. Someone struggling with alcohol can turn to discipline for keeping them out of bars or liquor stores. 


Many people seem to find the idea of discipline distasteful for parenting. They equate it with “punishing,” even though the intent and results of discipline and punishment are usually very different. The goal of discipline is to correct or guide, helping someone to find and stay on the right path. Punishment works more along the lines of retribution or “pay back” – you did something bad, so now something bad will be done to you.


This confusion leads some to shun discipline altogether. A parent might reason, “I don’t discipline my child. I want him (or her) to be independent, a free thinker.” But discipline is what keeps that “free thinker” from running in front of a passing car, or setting the house on fire playing with matches.


Discipline is a recurring them in the Scriptures. A well-known verse states, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6). We could interpret this in terms of spiritual convictions, but more accurately it’s talking about discipline, teaching children to follow their natural bent and encouraging them in their unique personality, interests and proficiencies.


Proverbs 13:18 states, “He who ignores discipline comes to poverty and shame, but whoever heeds correction is honored.” A verse earlier in the chapter adds to that: “A wise son heeds his father’s instruction, but a mocker does not listen to rebuke” (Proverbs 13:1). Growing into a responsible, mature adult who makes good decisions doesn’t happen by accident. It takes discipline – accepting it and then learning to utilize it.


A number of other Bible passages speak to the importance of discipline. Proverbs 13:24 warns, “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” This doesn’t mean beating a child, but using careful, loving correction to mold character and behavior.


Proverbs 3:11-12 tells us discipline is a vital part of spiritual growth, that God uses it for our good and out of His great love for us: “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.”


We find that message affirmed in Hebrews 12:5-6, which admonishes, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciples those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” To me, this means God isn’t like a kindly but passive grandfather who shakes his head at a grandchild’s wrongdoing and simply says, “Kids do the darnedest things.” The Lord loves us the way we are – but loves us too much to let us stay that way.


So the next time you find God disciplining you, don’t resist. Just pay attention and receive the lesson to be learned. As Jesus said, “I am the vine, and my father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (John 15:1-2).


If we could ask a rosebush or some other flowering plant how it felt being pruned, it might respond, “It hurt!” But next growing season, because of that “discipline,” the plant will flourish more than ever. That’s exactly what the Lord has in mind when He engages us to His sometimes difficult disciplinary process.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Definitely An Election Like None Other

Millions of us have already voted, whether early in person or by mail. So from our perspective, it’s all over except the shouting. And there’s bound to be lots of shouting, no matter what the final vote counts show. But for many other millions of American citizens, tomorrow is what it’s always been: Election Day, the first Tuesday of every November. Being a Presidential election, that makes it a bit more important.

With the unfortunate polarization of our nation, regardless of the outcome, the “losing” side is bound to begin collective gnashing of teeth, convinced the world as we have known it will never be the same. But take heart – there is good news. Very good news.


While the Bible does not speak about voting and political elections, it does offer wisdom and assurance concerning those selected to lead in government. For starters, Romans 13:1 instructs, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”


This is stating that regardless of the results, God is neither surprised nor caught off guard. All who serve do so in accord with God’s sovereign will, including evil leaders. Consider some of the those in the Bible, people like King Saul, Israel’s first king who came to an inglorious end; and pagan kings Artaxerxes, Cyrus, Nebuchadnezzar, Darius, Ahab and his despicable queen Jezebel, king Herod and Pontius Pilate. Even kings David and Solomon compiled very flawed resumes. 


Not one of these was a paragon of virtue in any sense of the word, but the Lord used them all to accomplish His divine purposes. 


The apostle Paul gave a similar admonition to Titus, one of his protégés: “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show humility toward all men” (Titus 3:1-2).


Paul was not alone in presenting such teaching. The apostle Peter also wrote, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men” (1 Peter 2:13-15).


This sounds difficult, and may not make sense in light of today’s contentious political climate. We can only confidently heed such instructions if we place our ultimate trust in God, believing He rules and overrules as He sees fit.


But there's another type of election we should also consider, one that does not involve a ballot box. It’s the election the Lord has ordained for those who join His eternal family. His is the only vote.


Opening his first letter in the New Testament, Peter addresses his audience: “To God’s elect, strangers in the world…who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit…” (1 Peter 1:1-2). Who are these “elect”? As the apostle explains, those who have been chosen by God.


Paul also understood this perspective, using the term a number of times. For instance, in 2 Timothy 2:10 “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10).


The apostle opens his letter to Titus by encapsulating his personal calling: “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness – a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time” (Titus 1:1-2).


It was not only the apostles who thought and spoke in terms of God’s “election.” Looking ahead to what the Bible calls “the end of days” and His second coming, Jesus Christ told His followers, “If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them…. At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens” (Mark 13:20-27).


Why mention this? Because we won’t know until tomorrow – or perhaps days or weeks after that, given the chaotic state of the current election process – who won and who lost. Meanwhile, based on promises of the Scriptures and Jesus Himself, we can have full assurance we are His “elect,” His chosen people, if we accept His free gift of salvation and deliverance from the guilt of sin.  

“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12-13).


This is one election result we don’t have to sweat out: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). Have you had your “election day” yet?