Recycled Weakness

It had been about eight months that I had been preaching. Though I had been to Bible School, I had not really been trained as a preacher, and what training I’d had was many years before. So when my buddy Greg said somewhat tongue-in-cheek, “You should have it easy now, you’ve been preaching long enough that you can just recycle your sermons; none of us remember what you said back then anyway,” I seriously considered it.

On that note I have a confession to make. Some of the articles that I have submitted to Danny (the publisher of the Western Star, a local paper out here) for publication have been recycled from earlier post. I know, this must come as a terrible shock to some of you, and you’ll never be able to read one of these the same again. But there is a bright side.

From time to time someone will stop me in the store, or give me a phone call, or I’ll hear second hand from a friend how one of these articles met that particular person right where they were at and was something they needed to hear as though it were written just for them.

What’s amazing is that some of the most significant feedback has been from some of those recycled posts. I’ll come to Sunday afternoon when I normally write the column, and for whatever reason I’m just empty. Nothing is coming and I don’t even know where to start. So I ask God “is it ok if I re-use an old one?” If I receive his peace about it, I’ll go through the files and find one that resonates with where I’m at, maybe tweak it a little, and send it off. I can’t tell you how often it’s those articles that really connect with someone.

I’m telling you this because in those occasions especially the truth of God’s strength in my weakness becomes evident. Paul says to the Corinthian church “I will gladly boast about my weakness so that Christ’s power may rest upon me.” My goal is to always write from that dependence but in those it becomes particularly obvious that it’s not my great skill or wisdom or anything else from me that has met a need in someone else. It’s God.

The challenge to me and my challenge to you is to enter every situation from that position of weakness and dependence. Then I can genuinely “for Christ’s sake, delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Cor 12:10

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, no I didn’t follow Greg’s suggestion.


Don’t Act Generous – Be Generous

It has been said that there are no purely altruistic, or self-less acts of generosity; that the giver always has some self-serving motive.  Yet the Bible instructs us to be radically and altruistically generous.

A friend of mine, Elise, told me of being a little girl in Holland, and on the street she lived on there was a group of bullies.  They wouldn’t play with Elise and generally made life miserable for her.  So Elise came up with a plan.  She broke her piggybank and went and bought a big bag of candy from the candy store; quite a treat at that time.  And her plan worked.  They were nice to her and played with her . . . as long as the candy lasted.

It’s obvious in this innocent little tale, that Elise had ulterior motives, to protect herself from bullying and get some “affection.”  She made a generous act, but was not acting out of a generous heart. This is by no way a criticism; in fact Jesus told a similar parable calling the person shrewd.  But the Bible calls us to not just do generous things but to be generous in heart.

Here’s something Jesus said that’s going to ruffle some feathers: Luke 6:30 “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.”  And a little further down verse 35 “lend . . . without expecting to get anything back.”

“What!? That’s unrealistic! That’s won’t work in real life! That’s crazy!” Yes, but that’s God.  That is how God, particularly in Christ Jesus, has related to us.  And the parallel passage in Matthew 5 concludes with these words: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” That means don’t just do those kinds of generous acts, be that kind of generous person inside.

The only way we can be the kind of generous people who “joyfully accept the plundering of our property” as Hebrews 10:34 says, is if we trust that God is taking care of us.  If I take God at his word that he will supply all my needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus, then I can have the confidence to live from a radically generous heart.

Imagine a world in which everyone lived and related out of a radically generous heart.  That world literally is heaven.  But only those who have within them the radical nature of Jesus himself will be there.  That nature is available to you here and now.


Spending My Blessings

It’s time to get back in the field and I love cultivating. I like seeing the perfectly straight lines behind me. (Yes I cheat and use a GPS). I like watching the hawks circle and dive for the mice I scare up.  I like seeing the weeds taken down.  And I love the smell and look of a freshly turned field. But I especially like the solitude.

That may sound strange coming from a preacher but my personality type is one that gets rejuvenated from being alone.  A significant part of that rejuvenation is being able to commune with God.  Now I will admit that by the end of seeding I’m ready to get out of the tractor, but for a time it’s a wonderful blessing that I have the privilege doing a couple times a year.

But that blessing isn’t just for me.  The blessings that God gives to me he does so with the intent that I turn and bless others.  So the energizing that I receive from my time of solitude God intends for me to spend for the well-being of others.  The joy I receive in communing with him I am to pass on and bring joy to people I encounter day to day.

Any gift or blessing that we receive from God is never intended to be held or hoarded for ourselves.  We receive in order to give. What God gifts to us we spend on others.

What have you been blessed with?  Has God given you a loving family?  Then love others, especially those who are unloved.  Has God enabled you to earn money? Share with those who are in need.  Are you blessed with good health?  Care for the ailing.  You get the idea.

But here’s one more you may not have thought of: Has God given you the gift of adversity?  Then support and care for others who are going through difficult times.

2 Corinthians 1:3-5 says “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,  who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.  For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.”

Maybe you’re not sure what blessings God has given you.  This much I know; they start and end with Jesus.  Go ask him.  When you discover them, go on a spending spree.


Better Than a Bucket-List

I got to swim with sharks!

We went to visit our son and daughter (in-law) who currently serve at a church in Hope Town, Bahamas. While Andrew and I were snorkelling we came across four black tip sharks, the biggest of which was about 5 feet long.  I suppose saying swim “with” isn’t exactly accurate.  They were swimming away from us and we were trying to keep up to them.  We did manage to follow them around for a couple of minutes but what a thrill.  If I believed in bucket lists this definitely would have been on it.

I can hear some of you say “what do you mean if you believed in bucket lists?  Isn’t a bucket list a positive thing?”  Having a bucket list isn’t wrong per se.  Actually there are many, many things that someday I would like to do.  However I don’t expect and neither is it important to me that I do all or even any of them before I “kick the bucket”.  (Hence the name “bucket list” for those who didn’t know.)

You see, I know that in heaven I’ll be able to actually swim with sharks and all those other things that would be on my list if I had one.  Many of us have bought into a flawed picture of heaven that has us playing harps and sitting in robes for all eternity.  But as much as the Garden of Eden was a place of activity and exploration, so too will the renewed Eden be.  So I’ll have more than all the time in the world to complete my list and even to keep coming up with new items.

But there’s another reason I don’t have a list that is even more important; my life isn’t my own to determine what I do with it.  I am a servant of Jesus Christ and as such my whole life is at his disposal.  Because he died for me and I, by faith have accepted his death in place of the one I deserved, he now lives his life through me.  This means he makes the list.

But in case you think this is a huge sacrifice, don’t worry, his list is far more exciting and fulfilling than anything I would come up with, and living out his list for me results in praise and glory to God.  That is the greatest thing I can do.

So go ahead and have a list, but if you let Jesus make it for you it won’t be over when you kick the bucket.

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Old What’s-His-Name

I’ve got a terrible memory.  A friend once said my memory is like a rabbit’s tail – short and fuzzy.  It’s especially poor when it comes to names.  I can be introduced to a person and forget his name by the end of the introduction.  I think part of my problem is I know my memory is bad and I get anxious about forgetting and freeze up.

The worst is when I go to introduce people to each other.  As soon as I see I’m going to have to make an introduction my stomach starts to go into knots and guaranteed I’ll completely lose one name or the other.  It’s so bad that as an older teen I was introducing my mother to a friend of mine who had come to church and I introduced her by her maiden name.  You should have seen the shocked look on her face.

I tell you this because in the middle of the account of Noah and the ark in Genesis 8:1 it says “Then God remembered Noah.”  This may sound strange for an omnipotent God but it isn’t suggesting that God got busy in some other corner of the universe and all of a sudden slaps his forehead and said “Oh my goodness I completely forgot what’s-his-name still stuck on that boat!” No, this is a Hebrew idiom indicating the initiation of a direct action of God in the life of an individual or group.  You can find it used a number of times through the Bible.

But this phrase also indicates that God does not forget his people.  Regardless of how dire the situation seems to be, no matter how alone you may feel, God has not forgotten you, and will take direct action in your life.

Now please don’t understand me to say that if you pray “poof” everything is fixed.  Noah still spent months on the ark after this.  And even then he had other problems and sin that needed to be dealt with through the rest of his life.  But God didn’t forget or abandon him – ever.

There’s another occasion where God’s remembrance is demonstrated.  The violent criminal who was crucified alongside Jesus, when he realized that Jesus was truly the Son of God, said “Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom.”  And Jesus replied “This day you will be with me in paradise.”  I will remember you.

The ultimate expression of God remembering you was when Jesus died for you.

Today God has remembered you.  Will you remember him?


The Fallacy Of Independance

Many of you likely know the story of the prodigal son.  Some of you may even know it’s from the Bible.  It’s the story of a wealthy man who had two sons. The younger son got bored of life under his father’s roof and demanded that he be given his inheritance.

 The son goes off and proceeds to waste all his money on, as the old King James puts it, “riotous living.”  When he had nothing left and had been reduced to eating pig slop he determined to return home and beg his father’s forgiveness hoping that he may be received back as one of the servants.  Of course when he returns the father is overjoyed and will hear none of the son’s talk of becoming a servant.  Instead the Father throws a huge party to celebrate the return of his son.

In telling this story Jesus illustrates a number of things not the least of which is the grace of God.  (There’s a surprising lesson about the older son but that’s for another day.) One of the illustrations is about the nature of rebellion against God.

In my childhood I had always understood the younger son’s sin was in the wild partying.  But the true nature of his rebellion was in saying to his Father, I don’t need you.  I can be my own authority.

A very wise man (my Dad) has pointed out that all rebellion against God starts not with what we do but in the attitude that I can be my own god.  I don’t need to listen to God; I will set my own course and make my own way, and I will be my own highest authority.

When Adam and Eve ate the fruit the temptation wasn’t “eat this and you will be greater than God,” it was “this will give you wisdom and you won’t need God.”

So you see a person can be very moral and upstanding, living an exemplary life even doing much good, but foundationally is still a sinner.  Jesus, by contrast, lived his life in absolute submission to the authority of his Father God.  “I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me…I always do what pleases him.”

Right now in many of you reading this there is a resistance rising up against that thought, “I do nothing on my own.”  That’s the sin nature that we all are born with, and that’s what Jesus died to replace for us.  There can be no friendship with God until you give up control.


God’s Purpose in Gender Roles

You would think that after twenty-six and a half years of marriage I would have gotten this relationship thing down pat and I’d know exactly what to do at exactly the right time and Wendy would respond in exactly the way I expect. The problem with that theory is that we are both growing and changing.  So the adventure continues.

We are, however, getting better and better at working through the changes.  That’s happening, in part, because as I look deeper into scripture I’m coming to a better understanding of the roles God created male and female for. (I think Wendy has always innately had a better grasp of that.)  I see two foundational roles in God’s design and I’ve put these roles in the form of questions.

Before I list those, let me say that the ways in which these roles are expressed are innumerable and will differ from person to person.  These roles do not pigeon hole a man or a woman to say you have to be this or you can’t be that.  By foundational I mean the prime purpose of human beings, relating to God and relating to each other as male and female.  This purpose is true in all of relating, but it’s most clearly expressed in the husband wife relationship.

When our boys tell us about a girl they’ve begun to develop an interest in the question I’ve come to ask is “Does she inspire you to follow and love Jesus more or does she distract you from him?”  In other words does her lifestyle, her conversation, the way in which she expresses interest in you inspire in you a greater passion for Jesus?

If we’d had girls I would ask them this: “Does the way this guy treats you heighten your awareness of how much God loves you, or does it mostly focus on the guy?”  In other words does he draw your attention to God in what he says, his integrity, in how he puts your best interests ahead of his own?

God’s beautiful design is that as each relationship is deepened, male to God and male to female and female to God and female to male, it deepens and strengthens the other.  The better my relationship with God the better I’ll relate to my wife, and the better my relationship with my wife the better I’ll know God.

I would not be the man I am without Wendy daily inspiring me to pursue God more passionately.  Thank you my dear, let the adventure continue…


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