Sucker or Cynic?

“Be as shrewd as snakes, but as innocent as doves.” Matthew 10:16

You may be familiar with the Winston Churchill quote, “If you are not a liberal at 20, you have no heart. If you are not a conservative by 40, you have no brain.”

I don’t know if that quote pertains to my understanding of “liberal” and “conservative,” but as a  Christ follower, I don’t want to have a heart with no brain, and I certainly don’t want a brain with no heart! Jesus’ admonition to “be as shrewd as snakes, but as innocent as doves” sounds great, but how do we achieve that divine balance in a world with both the genuinely needy and the con artists?

Suppose a man is standing by the side of the road with a sign asking for money for food. The stereotypical “liberal” might think, Aw, poor guy! I’ll give him my cash. The stereotypical “conservative” might think, I’m not giving him money. He’d just spend it on drugs or alcohol.

What would you do?

Scripture has much to say about being kind to strangers, and that in doing so we might even be entertaining angels! (Hebrew 13:2) But in the story of the prodigal son, who had made some very poor choices, it wasn’t until he was totally destitute and “no one gave him anything” (Luke 15:16) that he finally “came to his senses.” (verse 17)

We know that someone who keeps helping another person continue to make bad choices is an “enabler,” and when God is delivering someone a wake-up call, we certainly don’t want to be that person who keeps helping him hit the snooze button.

On the other hand, there’s the chilling prediction that at the Judgment Jesus will tell some of us, “Depart from Me! I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat. If you didn’t do it for the least of these, you didn’t do it for Me.” (Matthew 25:41-42, 45 -paraphrase)

When Jesus walked this earth, He was the picture of compassion, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, even preaching that we should love our enemies. At the same time, on at least one occasion He bluntly told the crowds, “You are not looking for Me because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.” (John 6:26) He rebuked hypocrites and chastised those with ulterior motives.

Jesus had an advantage – He knew people’s hearts. Usually, we don’t, and when we think we do, that’s when we get into trouble.  So, how do we get “the mind of Christ,” when our minds are finite, and the issues are so murky?

Ask Him.

Prayer is always a good idea. Talk to God, and don’t forget to listen for His voice. If we don’t hear an audible voice, He could be speaking to us through Scripture. The book of Proverbs is chock full of wisdom. So are a great many other passages, but be sure to read them in context. We need to study all of God’s Word, or we will be more confused than ever. That’s why some people speak of “contradictions” in the Bible or quote only certain Scriptures to support their side of an issue; they’re reading only part of it and missing God’s perfect balance.

One of my favorite promises is found in James 1:5, which tell us that if we ask God for wisdom, He’ll give it to us. I’ve seen that promise fulfilled when an idea seems to get dropped into my mind. Sometimes the idea is relatively simple, such as giving a generous donation to, or volunteering with a reputable ministry that helps the needy with food, shelter, and employment.

As for the person on the street with the sign, I usually stop and give him/her a gift card for a fast food place. (I always try to carry a few in my purse.)  Usually the person is appreciative. If I don’t have a card and the person is asking for money for food, I try to find a way to provide some food. Sometimes the experience gets interesting…

One day when I was visiting my daughter at college, we encountered what appeared to be a homeless man on the street. He asked us for some money so he could “buy a sandwich at the McDonald’s over there.”

My generous-but-smart daughter said sweetly, “I’d be happy to buy you a sandwich. What kind would you like?” The man didn’t want us to bother and said we could just give him the cash, but Kelly insisted on buying it for him. Finally, he said he’d like a fish sandwich, and we headed over to get in line.

After quite a wait, we got back to the spot only to find that the man had left, but another man was sitting on the curb, his head bowed and his long hair dangling around his knees. We offered him the sandwich and a prayer, and he accepted both. After the prayer we asked his name.

He replied, “Gabriel.”

I got a chill.

Prayer: Lord, forgive us when we have used our cynicism as an excuse not to help the truly needy. Forgive us when we have given with wrong motives, not wisely, just to make ourselves look or feel good. Show us how to be “as wise as serpents but as innocent as doves.” Give us pure motives and “the mind of Christ” each day to do Your will, in Jesus’ name. Amen

 

 


 

 

A Warrior’s Story

God is our refuge and strength,                                                                                                       an ever-present help in trouble.                                                                      He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;                                                                                  he breaks the bow and shatters the spear,                                                                          he burns the shields with fire.                                                                      “Be still, and know that I am God;                                                                                                   I will be exalted among the nations,                                                                                   I will be exalted in the earth.”                                 Psalm 46:1,9,10

 

I came across this journal entry from three years ago and just had to share it with my readers. This was probably the most exciting New Year’s I have ever had. Enjoy!                  

It’s New Year’s Day in Louisville. And in New York. And in L. A. And in Paris and Munich and the Middle East. And as far as I know, there have been no successful terrorist attacks.

There were threats, and as usual I prayed. I’ve been praying against terrorism daily since July of 2005. I had become frustrated with praying for the families of the victims after the fact and asked God how – with no idea where the enemy was or what their targets were – I could narrow down my prayer to be the kind of specific prayer He answers in my life – Before these things happen. He had said (in His “still, small voice”), “Narrow it down to what they have planned today.”

Have these prayers been answered? I have a file folder full of articles – just the ones I’ve seen and saved – about thwarted terrorist attacks, some foiled by the authorities and some stopped by ordinary citizens who “saw/heard something suspicious;” some failed because the explosives didn’t detonate, and some failed because the perpetrator had a change of heart. Those are my favorite stories – where a former would-be terrorist is now a child of God – an evangelist, a church planter, an igniter of revival. (Glory!)

Do I think I personally have stopped terrorists? No … well, not exactly. I do believe in the power of prayer, otherwise I would not have prayed the same prayer over 4,000 times and would not be planning to continue. I do believe there’s power in consistent prayer and prayer by many people, and if an act of terror occurred because only 99 people prayed against it and 100 prayer warriors could have stopped it, I don’t want to be the weak link. Of course, GOD is the One who answers those prayers, but for whatever reason, I believe He honors consistency and unity.

I usually pray [these prayers] at night, because if/when I resolved to pray in the morning, there was always something to distract me or make me forget, so I just have a rule that I don’t lie down until I’ve covered our nation, leaders, military, intelligence, security, law enforcement, targets, and the terrorists themselves in prayer. If I am especially tired, it’s hard and might take an hour to pray what I should have been able to pray in eight minutes. (Some will call me obsessive, but I take this stuff seriously.)

Yesterday I prayed earlier in the day than usual and prayed specifically for New York City, Washington D. C., and Los Angeles. I had read that these cities were on high alert because of some threats. I had also heard that over a million people were expected to be in Times Square that night.

Marty and I didn’t go out for any New Year’s Eve festivities. We’re new in town,  and we haven’t made enough friends yet to be invited to any parties. So after babysitting the grandchildren … we turned to Netflix and spent the next 5-10 minutes browsing. After reading a few plot synopses, we settled on “Survivor” (or “The Survivor”) – a movie evidently about stopping a terrorist attack. I thought, “Good, it’ll remind me to keep praying for New York City.” So I said another prayer for those million+ people.

I prayed on and off even as we were watching the movie, and when I realized the terror plot in the show involved a an attack on Times Square on New Year’s Eve, I thought, What a coincidence! and kept praying.

At one point I was heating my shoulder pad in the microwave for an achy neck and noticed it was 11:53. I thought, Only 7 more minutes. I sat back down, and the film showed a sign in Times Square saying  “Only 7 minutes to go!”

I realized this “random” movie, that we “randomly” picked – off Netflix – and started at a “random” time was synchronized – to the minute – with our New Year’s Eve. (We couldn’t have planned that if we’d wanted to, even if we had known in advance what the plot was.)

It didn’t occur to me until this morning that God was encouraging me about the power of my prayers, as I remembered the end of the movie, where one of the characters said to the woman who had stopped the terrorists, “There were a million people here tonight. And you saved all of them.”

Do I think I saved everybody in Times Square last night? Of course not. I do believe in the power of prayer, and who knows how many other people who believe in it were praying last night? And God is the One who answers the prayers, but for whatever reason, I believe He honors consistency and unity. And I don’t want to be the weak link.

– journal,  January 1, 2016

Prayer: Lord, we understand so little about the power of prayer, just that You want us to do it. Thank You for all the times You have proven true to Your promises and answered us when we cried out to you. Help us to be faithful, too, in whatever You have called us to do. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

What Does the Devil Sound Like?

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.     Ephesians 6:12

Anyone who grew up in the 50’s and 60’s will remember the cartoon showing the cat being tempted by a little red 3-inch-tall imp on his shoulder with horns, a tail, and a pitchfork, whispering enticements in his ear, while a little angel on his other shoulder is squeaking, “Don’t do it!” And we may know how that cat is feeling.

But I seriously doubt that Satan looks anything like that little cartoon character. If he appears at all, Scripture says he appears as an angel of light. (II Corinthians 11:14) I can’t tell you exactly what the devil looks like, but I can tell you what he sounds like, because I have heard his voice in my own life, often without realizing who it is that I’m listening to.

His lies, temptations, and accusations might be heard coming through the mouths of people in the world, and even those within the church, when arguments break out, confusion takes over, and division takes place.

But I’ve found in my own life that there are times when his voice sounds more familiar. For years I didn’t recognize where that voice was coming from, for a simple reason.

It sounded just like me.

It was a revelation to me the first time I heard that Satan can speak to me in a voice that sounds just like mine, and that he speaks in the first person. For example, let’s say that I’m a new Christian, and like any believer I desperately need the fellowship of other believers and to be fed the truth with the preaching of the Word; I need church. This is especially crucial, because during the week I work at a secular job, surrounded by people who are indifferent or downright hostile towards Christians.

So, on Sunday morning, the devil doesn’t pop on my shoulder, poke me with a pitchfork, and say, “Hello, my name is Satan, and I’m here to steal, kill, and destroy. I’m going to lie to you, tempt you, get you to sin, and then accuse you and separate you from God, ’cause that’s my job.”

Instead he says to me – in my own voiceI don’t think it would be that big a deal if I skipped church, just this morning. [LIE.]

He doesn’t say in an impish little cartoon voice “Hey, Christian, go back to sleep and skip church.

He says – in my voice – It’s been such a busy week. I’m exhausted. I need more sleep. [TEMPTATION.] And I pull the blankets back over my head.

Then when I can’t get back to sleep, an hour and a half has passed, it’s too late to get to church, and I’m more tired than I was when I woke up, he doesn’t roar. “HAHA! I win!

He moans –  still in my voice – What’s the matter with me? I did it again! What kind of Christian am I? Am I even saved? I’m hopeless! [ACCUSATIONS. DOUBTS. DESPAIR.] He might even throw in a migraine just for his own amusement.

And all this time he’s had me thinking these are my own thoughts, as I face another week spiritually malnourished.

If you are a believer in Jesus, you have the mind of Christ (I Corinthians 2:16). Not a little angel sitting on your shoulder, battling it out with the little red imp that’s on the other shoulder, although there is definitely a battle going on!

The Bible tell us to put on the whole armor of God and take up the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. (Ephesians 6:11-17) The more we know God’s Word and purposefully put our faith in His truth, the harder it will be for Satan to trip us up with his lies. If we are studying Scripture, meditating on it, memorizing it, and hiding it in our hearts, the more we will be armed against the enemy when he tells us things contrary to what we now know.

The battle is in the mind, and the prize is our very souls. So arm yourself with the truth of God’s Word, and let Him strengthen you against those destructive thoughts that seem to come out of nowhere – now that you know where they’re coming from.

Prayer: Jesus, You know what it’s like to be tempted by the devil, and You fought back with the Scriptures. Help us fill our minds with Your truth, and let Your Word be our sword to fight back – and win, in Your name, Amen.

Cramming Everything In (Perspective on Priorities)

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33

The teacher stood in front of the class holding a large beaker. He  placed several  large rocks inside, and asked the class if they thought he could fit any more in, or was the beaker full? The students replied that it was full.

But then the instructor took out some smaller stones and placed them around the larger ones, and sure enough, they fit.  “Now is it full?” he asked. The students hesitated to answer.

The teacher pulled out a small bag of gravel and slowly poured it over the beaker, giving the container an occasional shake, until the gravel reached the top.

Now is it full?” he asked. The students said nothing.

Next he got out a little bag of sand and began spooning it over the beaker. As sand slid down in between the large rocks, smaller stones, and gravel, everyone realized how much room had remained after all.

NOW is the beaker full?” This time some students called out, “NOooo!”

They were right. The teacher took out his last prop, a glass of water, and when he had poured the water over the rocks, the stones, the gravel, and the sand, as the last ingredient soaked in, it appeared the beaker was at last full.

Have you ever known someone who seems to do so much with the same 24-hour day that others struggle with? Do these people really have more hours in their day, or do they know something the rest of us don’t about priorities?

Suppose the teacher had started with the water, then added the sand, then the gravel, then some of the small stones on top of the gravel. By the time he was halfway through adding the small stones, he would have run out of room for the rest, never mind the large rocks.

When planning your day, do you focus on the most important things first, or do you just do what seems easiest at the moment? Do you spend a great deal of time doing things that don’t really need to be done today, and then find at the end of the day the ones that have to be done have yet to be done, and now you’re stressed and staying up too late. That kind of poor planning leads to stress, sleep deprivation, and all too often, sickness, which can really slow you down and steal your joy. (Please don’t ask me how I know this.)

So, picturing the big glass beaker, what are our big rocks? If we are believers in Jesus, they are our relationship with Him, being available to Him, learning His will, and doing it.  – or rather, letting Him do it in and through us.

The smaller stones, but still major, are the relationships in your life – being a good spouse, parent, friend, neighbor, and church member. Jesus said “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

Jesus said that the most important commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31)

Other things can be important, too, such as work, school, household chores, and car maintenance. This is like the gravel of life, it surrounds us and is part of pretty much every day. Things like social media, TV, video games, and other entertainment should come last. If we get side-tracked by these too early in the day, it’s amazing how quickly the day can come unraveled, and the stress begins to take over.

This is the time of year we seem to be thinking about fresh starts, and best way to start over is by examining our priorities and trying to order our lives accordingly. If you’re into New Year’s resolutions, I would suggest setting aside some time each morning, if you haven’t already, and spend that time reading Scripture and talking to God about your day. It may not be a long time, but if you have trouble even fitting that much in, try setting your alarm clock 15 minutes earlier. It will be worth much more than the sleep you miss just getting that mindset – that “divine perspective” – to set the tone for the rest of the day. Some days your prayers may seem mundane or clumsy, but it doesn’t matter to God. He sees your heart and will respond when you call out to Him. In fact, you’ll find He’s been waiting for you.

Prayer: Lord, thank You for being a God of new beginnings. As we start this new year, may we celebrate Your love for us by turning to You and giving You our time, our attention, our very lives, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

The Beginning

Light Looked Down 

by Laurence Housman

Light looked down and beheld Darkness.
“Thither will I go,” said Light.
Peace looked down and beheld War.
“Thither will I go,” said Peace.
Love looked down and beheld Hatred.
“Thither will I go,” said Love.
So came Light and shone.
So came Peace and gave rest.
So came Love and brought life.
And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.*

 

Merry Christmas, friends.

 

*John 1:14

‘Tis the Season to Be … Angry?

[M]an’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 James 1:20

It seems that at Christmastime, one thing that’s as predictable as Santa is the controversy over public expressions of faith – whether or not one says “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays,” whether or not a manger scene is permitted in a town hall display, and the ever-popular righteous indignation over the term “Xmas.” At a time when all eyes could and should be on Emmanuel – “God with us” – instead, the world is treated to the modern American stereotype of a follower of Jesus – the Angry Christian.

In America we Christians seem to have become spoiled, having grown up with rights such as free speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of expression. Some of us also had the advantage, or disadvantage, of growing up in a society where the Christian faith was the norm. In case you haven’t noticed, this is no longer the case. In our  comfortable complacency, have we forgotten what Jesus was all about?

He was conceived in the womb of an unmarried girl, in a culture where the penalty for fornication was death by stoning. He was born far from His mother’s and foster father’s home, in a stable, because the only welcome He received was a “No Vacancy” sign. He was sought after by the king of that region, and His parents had to flee to a foreign country for Him to survive. He grew up poor, with few, if any, rights under Roman rule. His ministry was met with mixed reviews. Some loved Him, some wanted to stone Him. And some eventually condemned Him to death by crucifixion. He was cursed, beaten, spat on, mocked, and executed. And before He died, He told His disciples, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated Me first.” (John 15:18)

So, why are we so indignant that the world doesn’t receive us with open arms? Why do we expect people to say “Merry Christmas” who have no idea what we are celebrating? Why do we want our government to display our Savior’s birth, when we ourselves fall so short of displaying His glory in our own lives? What is it about resenting the term “Xmas” that somehow makes us holier than everyone else?

Some random thoughts:

Thought #1: “Happy Holidays” means just that. It’s someone’s friendly way of saying, “Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!” and possibly “Happy Hanukkah!” (Hey, Jesus celebrated Hanukkah – John 10:22. If it’s good enough for Him, it’s good enough for me.) If the person is deliberately avoiding mentioning Christmas in particular, a sour look on your face is probably not going to make him fall on his face and cry out, “What must I do to be saved?!”

Thought #2: Since our government represents all kinds of people with all kinds of beliefs, it MAY be inappropriate to display a manger scene on public property. Not being a constitutional lawyer, I can’t say for sure. Some would say it’s not unconstitutional to put up such a display, but my thoughts are: Is anyone going to be saved or lost depending upon whether some statues are displayed in front of a courthouse? And if not, is this really the hill you want to die on? Here’s a thought: If your town won’t tolerate a manger scene on public property and you own property, put up a manger scene in front of your house. If all the people complaining about the lack of manger scenes had one in front of their own houses, the true meaning of Christmas would be everywhere!

Thought #3: Chi or “X” is the first letter in the Greek word for “Christ.” It was one of the secret symbols used by early Christians to identify themselves in times of persecution. So, the terms “Xmas” and “Christmas” are basically the same thing. If you really want to show your spiritual superiority, you may want to explain that to the ignorant masses, and you might get a dialog going. – Just kidding! There are probably better ways of showing your love for Christ than quibbling over His name. (He has many!)

As Rebecca LuElla Miller, a fellow blogger, has pointed out, a great way to celebrate Jesus is to do something He would do – volunteer at a soup kitchen, ring a bell for the Salvation Army, or make a sizable donation to a ministry you believe in. Upset about the secular drivel you’re hearing on the radio that passes for “Christmas music”? Why not gather some friends and visit a nursing home, foster care facility, or hospital, and sing the real stuff? LOVE people in Jesus’ name. I guarantee it will make a more positive impact than any protest, boycott, or bad attitude.

Prayer: Lord, make us so aware of Your presence in our lives that Your love, joy, and peace just spill over to those around us. Help us not to be the “Angry Christians,” thus alienating the people you want to draw to Yourself. Instead, may our very lives be a year-round celebration of You, in Your name. Amen.

Room at the Inn

… and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.                                                                                                                                                                        Luke 2: 7

The room was unfamiliar, the bed uncomfortable, and I was was awake … again. While Christmas carols were running through my head, the noises of the city continued to shatter the silence, despite the fact that it was 2:30 in the morning.

We weren’t supposed to be here. We were supposed to be in St. Louis with my parents, sleeping soundly in the house where I was raised, surrounded  by Christmas sights, sounds, and smells, our bellies full of my mom’s great cooking. Unlike the hearth and the warm crackling of the fires my dad was so good at building, the hotel radiator turned itself on and off intermittently with a clanging sound, usually just about the time I was about to fall back asleep… So, I lay awake, feeling sorry for us.

We had arrived at the airport, two hours early at my husband’s insistence, only to find that our flight had been delayed two hours. Even my exhausted brain could calculate that we had been stuck at the airport for four solid hours, trying to entertain two small, restless children surrounded by adults with short tempers, harsh voices, and stress overload. The atmosphere was not exactly jolly, although we had succeeded in singing carols with the little ones for a brief time before my scratchy throat gave out. (The traditional Christmas cold was right on schedule.)

Our connecting flight had been canceled due to increasingly hostile weather, and the airlines had been forced to put up a multitude of disgruntled travelers in local hotels. So here we were.

As the radiator clanged on yet again, I lay there thinking how unfair it was to be waylaid on our way to gather with family for a time of togetherness and celebration. The high hopes of how wonderful it was going to be only made the disappointment more bitter. My mental picture of Christmas somewhere between Currier and Ives and Norman Rockwell, contrasted with this drab hotel  in the middle of a cold, noisy city – What could be worse? 

The moment I posed the silent question, I was humbled; I knew the answer:

Imagine being nine months pregnant and learning you had to make a long journey on foot (OK, maybe a donkey, although the Bible doesn’t mention a donkey specifically). And imagine that journey was not in order to be with family and friends, but to pay taxes – taxes you could ill afford – in a strange town where everyone else was heading, and at the pace you were going, you were bound to get there last, and every room would be taken. Imagine arriving, seeing all the inns were filled up, and suddenly going into labor! Imagine the only place you had to give birth was not a sterile hospital room, or even a clean hotel room, but a dark, smelly, itchy cave, surrounded by animals. Imagine all you had to dress your newborn in was strips of rags, and the only crib you had to lay Him in was a feeding trough.

Suddenly I found a few things to be thankful for. Since I wasn’t sleeping anyway, I passed the time changing my grumpiness into gratitude:

I gave thanks for the hotel room that was available for us, despite the sudden rush of people needing accommodations, the bed that was clean and warm, and for the warm body next to mine that meant I didn’t have to go through this “adventure” alone.

I thanked God for the little sleeping angels in the cot and on the couch, the food we had been able to buy so that they wouldn’t lie awake crying with hunger. I was sobered by the thought that there were those who were not warm, not full, and not loved, except by a God they didn’t even know.

I contemplated how He had always provided for me, even when I didn’t yet know or love Him. I appreciated the fact that that the wailing siren passing beneath our window had nothing to do with us, and that even if it did, I could rely on Him no matter what. Remembering past Christmases where a hospital room or a funeral home had been part of the scenario, I knew I could always rely on His love, because it was a love that caused Him to knowingly and willingly make a more drastic transition than we ever had –  from the glories and pleasures of heaven to a cold, harsh planet full of selfish, ungrateful, unholy people.

Most of all, I thanked Him for the reason: that the God and Creator of the universe loved us so much that He was willing to give up His home for a time and die for us to pay the penalty for our foolishness – our evil intentions, our wicked deeds, our destructive words, our character flaws, our blunders – and all the good things we failed to do. The perfect Son of God had sacrificed Himself so that, believing in Him, we could be forgiven and spend eternity with our heavenly Father in our forever home, warm, happy, loved,  and secure.

(Talk about a homecoming!)

Dear readers, I have no idea what circumstances you find yourselves in this Christmas. But may you not be sidetracked by the world’s distractions and inconveniences. Even in the stark calamities of life, He is there. He has been there. He has purposefully chosen to be with us in our imperfect world, our disappointments, our frustrations, our sufferings – He bore it all. Because He loves us that much. So over the din of the world – the complaints, the cursing, the wailing sirens, the exploding bombs, the weeping at the graves – may we still hear the angels declare:

“I bring you good news of great joy … unto you a Child is born!”

Let’s spread that news today.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, it is beyond our comprehension that You loved us enough to leave heaven to endure a cross, but we thank You. Help us not to be distracted by the trappings of Christmas, the thwarted human expectations, and whatever the world, the flesh, and the devil might use to take out eyes off You. Let this season – and every day of our lives – be all about You, for it’s in Your name we pray. Amen