Saturday, February 28, 2009
Today, R. and I attended the "Focus My Marriage" satellite simulcast today. It was marvelous!
We sat with a cross-section of married couples and a few singles from varying walks, diverse denominations and at different points in their spiritual journeys. It is estimated that the event was viewed by over 70,000 and what we got was life-changing stuff.
The last speaker was John Trent of Strong Families, he pointed out something that may be trite to some people, but I do not believe I have ever heard it. Using a steering wheel, he illustrated how "good driving" involves a series of "two degree turns", making slight adjustments to stay between the lines.
He amplified his illustration with a story about going to sleep at the wheel and waking up after crossing six lanes of traffic and leaving the road. Our first reaction in such cases is to way over - correct. This will usually result in a catastrophe.
When we wake up and find out our marriage is in trouble or a relationship has been damaged, we often choose a big solution to the big problem.
In most cases, John Trent contends, we are better off to apply small solutions to big problems.
One story he gave to bolster his point was from 2 Kings 5 - this is the story of Naaman ... a Sunday School favorite.
Naaman was a mighty warrior but he had a big problem - he was a leper.
Read the story and you will see that God provided small, seemingly insignificant solutions to this big problem.
In the story, you will see that Naaman's king sought big solutions - he sent a letter to the King of Israel, but he couldn't help.
When Naaman finally ended up at the right place, Elisha the prophet did not even see him, he just sent his servant to tell him to wash in the Jordan seven times.
Naaman - still looking for big solutions to his big problem, thought to reject the notion altogether. But his servant convinced him otherwise.
After a conference like the one we attended today, our minds can be astir with all kinds of ideas and big solutions.
I am hoping instead, to apply small adjustments - 2 degrees of change here and there. I'll let God handle the results.
I just thought this was sound advice.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
She didn't make it as far as she would have liked (she won this one last year), but she makes us proud!
She has another bee coming up next month and you can rest assured that she and her Mom will be preparing. I am so impressed by the diligence displayed- first by my wife, and now by my little girl.
Night after night, they have drilled for the spelling bee. It reminded me of Baron Von Steuben, he's the guy from Prussia-Germany that showed up about this time of year in 1778, to help General George Washington whip the troops into shape at Valley Forge.
Von Steuben brought what he had gleaned from a methodical German culture along with his own military training in Russia, and helped change the course of history. Valley Forge had nearly been the breaking point for Washington and his vagabond army: soldiers were wearing women's clothes - anything to try and keep out the cold; by some accounts they dined on horse-flesh; it has been said that one could follow another soldier simply by tracing his bloody footprints in the snow. Morale was terrible.
Von Steuben introduced discipline to military life, he helped design a manual for drilling, taught the men how to layout the camp, and introduced procedures to greatly increase the speed of firing their weapons. After that winter at Valley Forge, the troops emerged with a new confidence.
Now I look at my own "Von Steuben" ... my wife. She is - with a steady, but calm vigil - introducing discipline into our home. There is a strong sense of focus.
I admire that. And I believe that it is part of the blessing God provides in a marriage when He places people together that are different. They balance each other.
Now, she may have her hands full with child #2 though ... AA is more like his Dad: we feel that we are put here to ad levity.
In fact, now that I think of it, the girls never do seem to appreciate AA and my efforts to keep the atmosphere light during these nightly spelling maneuvers.
Like when we walk through and call out spelling words like: "deoxyribonucleic acid ", or "endoplasmic reticulum" (see, I knew 10th grade Cell Biology would come in handy some day!).
Or when we introduce eclectic ways of using a word in a sentence like:
cornea - "My jokes are cornea than yours!"
Upon closer examination, perhaps we are something of a distraction.
Just think, if Von Steuben had had to put up with the likes of AA and I - we might all be speaking English today!
Saturday, February 21, 2009
Sunday, February 15, 2009
As I noted in yesterday's post, one thing was obvious about ancient Egypt - their hunger for God.
Without a doubt, this was a very advanced society. Advanced in their wealth, advanced in science and technology (to this day, the secret of their embalming practices have not been unraveled), their written communications are astounding and their architectural designs are almost eternal in their duration.
But among all these tremendous advances, there was lack.
These people couldn't find God.
They were obviously hungry and earnest in their desire to fill the "God-void" that is present in all of us.
When searching for God, in-lieu of the recognizing the one true God, people will often substitute a multitude of gods. Or people will deny the existence of God altogether- at which point they will, again, trust in any number of other things in order to give their life meaning and to settle their thoughts about the "after-life".
The ancient Egyptians relied on a multitude of gods. Like the Greeks and the Romans, they developed legends or myths about the origins of their gods and their exploits. Their very Pharaohs were thought to be the earthly embodiment of these gods.
Conclusion: they were hungry for God; there was a need for God to be like them in some way.
But in their breathless pursuit of God - they invented gods for themselves - and these gods though possibly having some benevolent qualities in the beginning, ultimately evolved into terroristic tyrants.
The people were enslaved by their many gods, trying desperately to find some way to connect and appease these harsh taskmasters.
Having become slaves themselves - it was probably a very small step for them to possess slaves. Enter the Hebrews, who through the hand of the One True God eventually shook off the shackles of slavery under Ramses II - the Warrior Pharaoh.
In the not too distant past, it was not unusual to scoff at the idea of people worshipping the sun, moon or stars; or revering animals as if they were the embodiment of deity. It seemed to be universally accepted - at least in the Western societies - that this type of worldview was asinine.
Like ancient Egypt, we live in an advanced society. Our recent advances in science, technology, sanitation, communications, health care are all unrivaled by previous generations. We have even advanced dramatically in the social arena: I love old movies from the 1930's, 40's and early 50's, but I often see in these -harsh racial stereotypes that make me wince when I compare them to our present day attitudes toward tolerance.
Like ancient Egypt, we are a society that is hungry for God. It is evident in the vacant look that greys the countenance of many. It is evident in the volume of the rhetoric of those that speak out against Christianity. It is evident in the rush by our society to assign and to embrace a certain "messianic" quality said to be represented by our new President. It is evident by the gradual deification of many "political" issues: global warming, animal rights, and the like.
We remember ancient Egypt as the bad guys in the Moses story... Yul Brenner lashing out against Charlton Heston ... enslaving, punishing, hanging on to their evil practices despite an outpouring of judgement from God. Defiant to the end.
But I think God looked on them with some degree of pity. Oh -no doubt, He was the instigator of their punishment - yet I think there is always some reluctance in His judgment; its as if He keeps calling out to those that oppose Him - "turn... please turn ... will you turn now? ... turn".
I believe God views our society today in this fashion. I further believe that as Christians, we should join Him in His view. To take on the heart of God - a heart full of compassion for those that oppose themselves.
And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.
2 Timothy 2:24-26 KJV
My prayer is that God will change the way I view those that "oppose themselves" - even though they are the ones that most often antagonize me. Surely their offense toward me is nothing compared with their offense toward God - yet He sees them as needy... and He cares.
It is the same degree of care and compassion He showered on me - and still does.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
- Egyptians were very concerned about eternity.
- Egyptians were hungry for God.
The entire process of intricately detailed steps and rituals that surrounded the burial of one of their Pharaohs - was all about getting them into the "after-life". I suppose if you were a common Joe-Six-Pack in ancient Egypt, you just had to navigate the eternal realm on your own - perhaps they were not even granted eternal status. But numerous people and resources were employed just to see that these members of the Nobility were granted entrance into paradise and were allowed to exist properly throughout their stay there.
Some interesting points of their mythology included the feather-weight test which was a supposed "judgment" each ruler had to endure before Horus (the god of the underworld). In this test, the heart - which was the only internal organ that was not removed from the body at death - was weighed against a feather on a scale. If one had been righteous, their heart would be "light as a feather" and they would be allowed to enter eternity.
They were also buried with these small shabti, which are little images of mummy cases (imagine souvenir salt and pepper shakers), on these were written magic words which the deceased would utter at the gates of death. If spoken properly, they would be granted entrance and wouldn't have to work - apparently the shabti would do the work for them.
The ancient Egyptian culture longed for eternal life and they developed a very convoluted route to supposedly take them there.
That's not much different from what we do today. Ask one hundred people about eternity and you will probably get one hundred variations on how to get to the right place. Many will describe something about "being good" or trusting in the fact that -if there is a loving God - He wouldn't send them to eternal punishment. Some will tell you about a "Jesus +" route: "Jesus died for my sins and if I ..."
The fact is there were numerous details that went into the provision for our eternal life. But there are no "magic words" that we need to utter. And though our works will be judged as to what sort they are - when it comes to the "feather weight test", our loving God will weigh our hearts against His righteous standard - the standard of perfection. Those who are trusting Christ alone for salvation will have Christ's righteousness on their side of the scale.
God has handled all the details. We must simply trust Christ and His perfect sacrifice.
"In Christ alone..."
I will address my other observation about the ancient Egyptians - their hunger for God - in the next post.
Monday, February 9, 2009
It sounded like a commentator on the radio - well actually it was a commentator on the radio - but I think God just might have been telling me something through what he had to say.
The speaker was talking about how the Bible says we should "fret not" ... but yet it seems these days that Christians are doing some "fretting" .
He gave words to the very thoughts I had been having about my own mental state of late.
This may not bode well with many of my (four) readers, but I have been very concerned about the sharp turn our nation has taken - over the past month with the installation of a new president; but really over the past three or four years.
President Obama's swift moves away from our first principles has seemed - well - apocalyptic to me. This is compounded by the fact that it seems that everyone is just going along.
So I have been fretting.
I purposefully have avoided addressing these issues on this blog because I think maybe I went too far with my political discussions back in the Fall. There was some anger there and I don't really like me angry.
But the bottom line is that I have been fretting and that is contrary to God's Word.
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. . . Philippians 4:6a NLT
God's economy works whether our country's does or not. It works under the rule of a representative republic and under tyranny. It chugs along unaltered by the rise or fall of the stock market ... or gas prices ... or interest rates ... or political powers ...
I was thinking about this post and I kept thinking about Psalm 37 - that's one of my favorite Psalms - I knew it addressed the "fret" issue.
But as I went back to it, I realized it not only offered a "don't" but it also offered several "do's"!
I invite you to read it for yourself - I think it will encourage you; it has often encouraged me.
The first verse Psalm 37 says not to fret because of evil doers. That's the "don't" .
But if you scroll down the page, you will find a bunch of productive things you can do with all that time you are not fretting:
- Trust in the Lord
- Do good
- Delight yourself in the Lord
- Commit your way to the Lord
- Trust also in Him (I guess it bears repeating)
- Rest in the Lord
- Wait patiently for Him
- Cease from anger; forsake wrath
Almost every one of these "do's" is accompanied by some promise or hope ... "feed on His faithfulness", "He will give you the desires of your heart", "righteousness", "justice" and so it goes.
Wow! I am really impressed with that! I can focus on the problem, concentrate on it, simmer and sulk and I will get no where.
Or I can follow God's way - "fret not" - and I can focus instead on Him... trusting Him, committing my way to Him, resting in Him, waiting patiently for Him...
Well, I feel better. ... yeah I think that was God speaking.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
He was the mythological king that was endued with a gift such that anything he touched turned to gold - this also proved to be an excellent deterrent to his nose picking habit.
But alas - there was a problem: As I recall the story, his beautiful and tender daughter came to him with loving eyes and before he knew what he had done - Midas caressed the compelling lass and she turned into a 14 karat chunk of metal.
There is a story that reminds me of that tale and it's located in the book of Judges; that's in the Bible.
If you are just joining this blog, over the past month or so I have been on a slow walk through the book of Judges. It is proving to be a somewhat depressing book for me - despite more action than the latest "blockbuster" movie - because the book chronicles the downfall of a nation. And it looks too much like our current culture.
Anyway, the last post centered on the story of Abimelech. His story didn't end well and some time after that - contrary to a point I made in another recent post - the people of Israel repented.
That's right, the people of Israel came to terms with God - they said "we are in trouble and we have been bad and we know it too!".
And God basically replied, "Give that nation a Kewpie doll! They are so correct!" ... okay that line was thrown in for comedy relief. . . but God did reply something to that effect and His tone implied that He was not ready to just smooth things over this time.
He really did tell them to go back to those idols they kept worshipping and let them deliver them.
When God is talking to someone other than me and He says stuff like that - I have to admit that something deep down inside me says: "YES!!" ... it is a different story when God says stuff like that to me.
God did deliver them, and He raised up a warrior by the name of Jephtha to lead this deliverance.
Jephtha tried diplomacy to some degree: the Ammonites were the bad guys in this story and the king of the Ammonites sent a message to Jephtha to explain why they were giving the Israelites such a hard time. The King of the Ammonites' message sounds very much like the rhetoric we hear from the enemies of modern day Israel.
"When Israel came up out of Egypt, they took away my land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, all the way to the Jordan. Now give it back peaceably."
Jephtha proceeded to explain - quite eloquently - Israel's history and how that the nation had requested peaceful passage through their land and the former king, Sihon decided war would be his response. Further, since God had given the victory and the land to Israel, he thought they should just keep it.
As they were proceeding into the inevitable battle, Jephtha vowed a vow to offer as a burnt sacrifice to Jehovah, the first creature that came to greet him. If, that is, God would bring him home victorious.
Now I think that most scholars say that Jephtha's vow should be translated to mean that he would offer it as a burnt sacrifice if it was suitable, otherwise he would offer whatever came to greet him in some other way that God approved. I am inclined to agree since we know that God would not stand for human sacrifices.
Sure enough, as Jephtha returned home victoriously, it was his daughter - his only child - that ran to meet him.
It seems that the proper fulfillment of his vow was that he would not allow her to be married and thus she would have no children and he would have no heir.
It was a somewhat sad day for Jephtha.
Do you have those periods in which it seems that God's victories seem to come as a mixed bag?
I do sometimes. Usually it is because I have meddled with the process - tried to wrestle the situation back out of God's hands and run the show for awhile. I believe God... yet I think He needs my help.
Are we tacking things on to our faith - things like Jephtha's vow - to try and better ensure God's response to our situation?
Maybe God only wants us to believe. Just trust Jesus + nothing else.
There is an old song that I will leave with you...
All things are possible
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
The "NIV" and "New International Version" trademarks are registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by International Bible Society. Use of either trademark requires the permission of International Bible Society.
This story can be found in Judges 11
Thursday, February 5, 2009
Yesterday I was bemoaning the fact that during the period of time in which judges ruled Israel, the nation seemed to have no clear moral leadership - no characters with true character seemed to be on the scene.
Because of that, even though Israel had periods in which they paused their sinning, they never fully stopped. We don't see the people weeping when the Lord speaks to them, like they did in the days of Moses and Joshua - and like they would do centuries later, when they would return to the Promised Land from captivity.
The pattern goes like this, God moves on a leader who takes charge for a time and performs heroic exploits. Then when the warrior dies, the people stop serving God.
The last leader or judge we discussed in this blog was Gideon.
You remember his story, God used him and a little army of 300 to route a huge army. In fact, we find him at the end of the story chasing the stragglers that were left...about 15,000 soldiers.
Gideon apparently still had all 300 of his men ... now they were tired from fighting since the night before and they were hungry but they were chasing this army that outnumbered them 50 to 1.
I guess those odds aren't so bad when you consider that they had just defeated 120,000. That's 400 to 1.
So Gideon ruled the land until his death and apparently he was quite the lady's man because he had seventy sons - that's even more that most NBA stars.
After his death, Abimelech - one of said sons - took it into his head to be a king. So he went to the local folks and offered his services. Well, I should say that first he eliminated all the competition by killing all of his brothers save one.
The people of that region made him their king and they paid him tribute with which he bought himself some friends to hang out with him.
In the meantime, Jotham - the one that got away - returned. I like Jotham because he was the baby of the family. Jotham stood on Mount Gerizim - the mountain Moses had designated as the mount of Blessings (Deuteronomy 27), and pronounced a curse using a metaphor about the bramble bush ruling over the trees.
Jotham scampered back into hiding and three years later trouble arose between Abimelech and the people who had made him a king.
Insurrection and rebellion arose and Abimelech put them down - wiping out entire cities as he did.
In one of the final towns that resisted his reign, the people all took shelter in a single stronghold. Abimelech led his men to cut down limbs of trees which they laid at the base of the building where the people were hiding. Then they set the wood on fire and burned them all up.
In the next town, the people acted in a similar fashion only they fled to a tower. As Abimelech was dragging a bough to the base of the tower, an old woman dropped a grinding stone on his head; he ended up commanding his armorbearer to take his life so it wouldn't be said that a woman had killed him. That sort of talk can destroy a legacy, you know.
Then everybody just went home.
There you have it. No winners, only losers . . . No redemption.
I love stories of redemption. That's what you find in a great many of the classics; redemption is also something you find very little of in the stories we read or see portrayed on screens and stages today.
It occurred to me today as I read that story again that it is that lack of redemption that I don't like about those times. I have read the story of Abimelech in the past and I didn't know which side to root for. I didn't care much for Abimelech; but I really didn't like the people in those towns that let him rule over them either. In fact they were both in the wrong and God brought judgement on both.
I think the old toothless widow woman in the top of that tower was the one bright spot. Imagine you are leaving your home and all your belongings for what could be the last time. What one or two valuable things would you carry with you? That baby picture of your old dear departed husband? The TV remote? That bowling trophy from the Saturday morning bowling league? What is the one thing you just couldn't bear to leave behind? For this woman - it was her grinding stone. She had to live a life of desperation.
But I digress.
The point is, when people lose their way and no standard-bearers arise to point out the need for repentance, it is the saddest of times.
This may be crass and ugly, but a comparison comes to mind that some will find trite.
In 2001 our nation had an opportunity to turn - and for a time I think we did.
We had genuine care and concern for one another; we showed up to help when there was a need; we overlooked our differences to see down to the fact that deep down we were more alike than we were different; and for a very brief time "church and state division" issues didn't seem to matter. Franklin Graham explained the gospel of Jesus Christ in the hearing of millions during a memorial service, even congress-people (of all stripes) were singing together on the capitol steps - "God Bless America" - no less!
All over America, we paused.
But - except for maybe in a few pockets here and there - there wasn't genuine repentance.
We missed that opportunity for redemption.
That's why I am afraid we look far too much like Israel in the days of the judges.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
As I have trudged through this book, I am beginning to see why the book causes such angst in me. I think that the thing I do not like about Israel during the days of the judges, is that there are no icons of truth.
No clarion heralds of righteousness.
There are no people of pristine character - they all seem to be flawed and tainted.
But wait a minute - isn't that one of the beauties of God's Book? His story includes the good and the bad about most everyone: We get to watch Abraham struggle with fear and unbelief and then watch him resort to deception; we read about Moses giving and giving and giving and then he loses out on his life dream when he loses his temper; Naomi stands by her man - follows him into a foolish venture and returns home years later - empty, bitter.
God is so faithful. He told us all those stories - the whole story and more. Do you remember Jesus talking about some of the neat things awaiting His followers when they got to heaven? Then He added this disclaimer: "If it were not so, I would have told you."
Isn't that neat? We can just join those listening to Him that day as they nod their heads in agreement ... "that's right, He never tried to hide the truth from us..."
So if the Bible is full of stories about flawed people, why would I get upset when I read a book about a flawed nation? The answer is, that there is just something that is un-redeeming about the stories in the book of Judges.
This really pounded my thoughts when I began to think about David. He was a man of passion, yet we see that passion work both for him and against him. Passion drove him to dance before the Lord with all his might - worshipping with abandon; it also drove him into an improper relationship with another man's wife - and that led to intrigue and murder.
But the thing that sets David apart from the nation of Israel during the period of the judges was repentance.
David kept coming to grips with his utter, wretched sinfulness and repenting.
Israel, it seems, never dealt with their sin; they merely paused from sinning from time to time.
And when the excitement died down, they returned to their sinning.
The story of Abimelech in Judges 9 illustrates the state of things during those days and some similarities with things that are happening today. Befoe King Solomon or King David - even before King Saul... there was King Abimelech.
Tomorrow I will share it with you.