Let’s stop whining

I got mildly annoyed the other day when I went through a drive-thru at a local restaurant. It took almost 4 minutes for me to get my soft drink, and mine was the only car there.

Waiting 4 minutes for a soda is enough to get anyone irritated, or at least that’s what I told myself.

I have air conditioning in my office and in my car, but it’s been so hot lately that I can work up a pretty good sweat just walking from one to the other. Why does it have to be so ridiculously hot this time of year? And why don’t they make vehicles that get the temperature down to a tolerable level in less than 10 minutes?

When I go to Africa each year I usually make a few commitments to myself and to God, and they often have something to do with what Paul writes in the text below.

Maybe I’m not alone in this struggle.

But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content (1 Timothy 6:6-8).

We held a Vacation Bible School this year on our trip to Africa, and during class on the last day one of the helpers accidentally dropped a cookie on the ground during snack time. About 20 kids dove to the ground to try to get the cookie, and we never really got control of the class after that.

By the way, I tasted one of those cookies, and it would be the last one picked on our VBS snack tables here, if it was picked at all.

Whenever I go to a poor country, I’m reminded of how sinful it is to complain about so many of the things that bother us.

Complaining about not getting a soda quickly enough when 800 million people in the world don’t have access to safe drinking water?

Griping about air conditioning when 2.5 billion people in the global south are living off $2 a day or less?

It’s just not right. It reflects a spirit of ingratitude that’s inconsistent with being God’s child.

Would you make a commitment with me today?

Let’s stop complaining.

If we won’t struggle to get enough calories to sustain our lives today.

If we’ve got some kind of clothing to wear.

If we’ve got enough safe drinking water to keep us hydrated.

God has given us all that and so much more, so let’s thank him and be content.

What Jesus looked like

What do you see when you think of Jesus?

Fair skin, long brownish hair, beard and mustache, sort of an effeminate-looking face?

For whatever reason—I think because of a picture that was in the center of my Dad’s Bible when I was young—that’s what I think of.

He’s never smiling in my imagination, and I have to try hard to think of his face marked by laughter.

It’s not that I think of him as angry, because I can’t visualize that very well either. In fact, he hardly ever shows any emotion at all. He’s solemn, stoic.

I doubt my imagination is accurate. Here are a few thoughts:

1. He was tougher than those pictures. As a carpenter, he worked with his hands, probably with stones and chisels and hammers. If you had examined the Lord’s hands you would’ve found callouses, and his shoulders would be hardened by months of swinging a hammer and picking up stones.

2. He probably laughed more than we think. He performed his first miracle at a wedding, a place of laughing and rejoicing. Children—usually frightened by stern unsmiling men—were drawn to him. I doubt Jesus held those babies without smiling at them.

3. He got hot under the collar. Jesus didn’t stoically face the corruption of his world. He wasn’t the passive, let-things-slide kind of teacher that seems to be reflected in many paintings. He ran the moneychangers out of the temple courtyard, and he excoriated the “scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites” in Matthew 23.

He was someone who faced all the temptations that we face. He had normal human emotions. He probably got tickled sometimes, and at other times he had to fight to keep his temper under control.

Sometimes I fear we’ve been so afraid of neglecting his divinity that we’ve forgotten his humanity.

He got upset, tired, mad, confused, and frustrated.

He laughed, scowled, and cried.

He was a person like us.

That’s why—when he faced all of life’s temptations without sinning—he was qualified to take humanity’s place on the cross.

Because he was a man, he could take your place, my place.

And he saved us.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

If you oppose God

It’s a terrifying image.

From our perspective they look invincible, unassailable, but God takes his hand and just sweeps them away as if they weren’t even there.

The one who stands against God will not stand.

Here’s one last devotional thought from Psalm 1 . . . focus on the last three verses as you read it again:

(1) Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; (2) but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. (3) He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. (4) The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. (5) Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; (6) for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish (Psalm 1:1-6).

The world is full of them, and you probably work or go to school with some of them. They’ve got nothing but disdain for things of God. They mock him and people who follow him.

I’m thinking particularly of a couple of books that have been published recently by authors who obnoxiously oppose belief in God. They’re arrogant, defiant, condescending.

If they persist in their rebellion God will sweep them away. I don’t write that with pride or pleasure, but that’s what the psalmist says.

Ultimately, it makes no sense to resist God. For a while it may seem to bring some kind of faux independence.

But in the end, they’ll perish. No one stands defiantly against God.

How does this relate to you, a believer?

Never be intimidated by the patronizing tone of the skeptic. Pray for him, show him the love of Christ, treat him kindly . . . maybe he’ll come to faith.

But regardless, this will always be true: The Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

Who I want to be

When I was a kid I wanted to grow up to be an NFL running back like Tony Dorsett or an NBA star like Larry Bird. Somehow those goals never materialized.

Have you ever had an idol?

Over time our dreams change, mature, deepen. Hopefully they become more spiritual.

I think at the very beginning of Psalms the writer is describing an ideal person, someone to aspire to be like.

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish (Psalm 1:1-6).

Look at verse 3 carefully: “He is like a tree planted by streams of water . . .”

The psalmist paints a picture of stability, constancy, reliability.

This is the man whose kids and wife can count on him. He does what he says he’s going to do. He keeps his promises, honors his word, stands behind what he says.

This is the man who doesn’t give up when the storms come. He might lose his job, or be burdened by stress, but he keeps his faith. His wife knows she can trust him; he’ll be there.

This is a woman of deep faith. She’s spiritual and prayerful and committed. When her kids think of her they think of stability. She’s strong, godly, and wise.

This is the woman who faces life’s disappointments with courage. She holds the Lord’s hand through the challenges and setbacks and failures. Eventually, inevitably, the wind dies down, and she’s closer to God than ever.

This is who we want to be.

We don’t want a fickle faith, on one day and off the next. We want to be close to God no matter the circumstances.

And the great thing is—that’s exactly what God wants to do in us.

He wants to take our meager faith, our immature efforts, our imperfect offerings, and give us depth. He wants to plant us by the streams of water.

And he’ll do it, but he’ll take his time. Strong trees don’t grow overnight.

But that’s who we want to be, and that’s who—by God’s grace—we’ll become.

In all that we do, we’ll prosper.

What makes you smile?

I once sat in a hospital waiting room for awhile with a man I’d never met.

We’d just said “hello” when he began pulling out the photo albums. I doubt you’ll ever find someone who was any prouder of his grandkids than this gentleman.

And you would be too, wouldn’t you, if all of your kids or grandkids were almost certainly going to be president or cure cancer or eliminate poverty?

Apparently, these were some incredibly accomplished kids, and there’s no telling what they might do when they’re old enough to start school.

We’ve all got something like that, don’t we? Something we like . . . a lot.

Something, to use Bible talk, we “delight in.”

It can be something as trivial as sports. They’ll glow for weeks when their team won the title.

Or maybe it’s another hobby, like woodworking, hunting, shopping, clothing, or home decorating.

Nothing makes some folks smile as much as a store-wide 50% off sale at their favorite outlet.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

God created us to enjoy things–our families, our hobbies, our passions.

But of course some people delight in good things but stop short of taking pleasure in what’s really good, inherently good, perfectly good.

They love the good, but not the great. They thrill at the temporal, but not the eternal.

And that’s where we mess up.

In our devotional time for a couple of days, let’s meditate deeply on the first psalm. Notice what it says about delight:

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish (Psalm 1:1-6).

His delight is in the law of the Lord.

Sometimes I struggle with that, don’t you?

Sometimes I’m quicker to scroll through Twitter or Facebook than I am the word of God.

Sometimes I switch on ESPN or Discovery before I look at my Bible.

And I miss out.

I miss out on what really satisfies, what really delights, what really lasts.

What about you?

Pray about this today.

Pray that God will help you delight in his law. Pray that he’ll touch your heart and give it a hunger for what really satisfies, instead of the world’s cheap substitutes.

I wish there were a switch we could flip, and God would remove our shallowness and give us spiritual depth that finds its satisfaction in Scripture.

But it doesn’t work like that.

It starts with realizing that our delights might be misplaced, and then asking God to fix it.

He’ll do it.

If the word of God isn’t your greatest pleasure, take a step toward spiritual maturity by asking him to open your heart to his truth, just as he did Lydia’s heart (Acts 8:14).

Those grandkids are special, your favorite team may be incredible, but nothing can truly delight like the law of the Lord.

Do we Christians overuse the word “blessed”?

We Christians throw the word “blessed” around somewhat flippantly, don’t we?

“How are you?” “Oh, I’m blessed.”

“Have a blessed day.”

“Bless you.”

“He’s been a real blessing to me.”

It’s definitely a powerful word, but sometimes using a word too much—especially without thinking about it—robs it of its true significance.

Of all the words he could’ve chosen, the psalmist uses “blessed” as the first word of the first psalm:

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish (Psalm 1:1-6).

What does it mean to be blessed?

Sometimes we associate it with material prosperity . . . “The Lord has blessed us with so many things.”

Or maybe physical well-being. “I’m blessed to be cancer-free.”

There’s nothing wrong with using it like that, but it’s so much richer.

In this psalm it means to be favored by God. It means to live the life God called you to live.

It’s related to the word “happy,” but it’s so much richer than the fickle, tied-to-today’s-fortunes kind of happiness that characterizes many folks.

The psalmist makes it quite clear: the blessed person is the one who avoids the choices of the wicked but instead chooses to delight in God’s law.

God always blesses that person.

Will he be rich? Probably not.

Will his health be good? Not always.

Will his life be struggle-free? Rarely.

But he’s blessed because God always favors those who seek him more than anything else.

If you’re looking for this, you won’t find it in a financial windfall or a clean bill of health or a streak of good luck.

You’ll find it when you seek God above everything else.

God bless you.

Sometimes we drift

My Dad told me a story about a time when he and a fellow sailor went snorkeling off a Hawaiian beach when they were stationed there with the Navy.

They started following an exotic fish only to realize—almost too late—that they hadn’t kept track of time. When Dad finally lifted his head out of the water, what he saw terrified him.

The beach was so far away as to be barely visible.

A few minutes of distraction almost cost them their lives, but both of them made it back safely, though exhausted.

It occurred to me recently that something similar often happens spiritually, but with much more tragic consequences.

Have you ever watched someone walk away from God?

A once-devoted follower of Jesus who worshiped him passionately now avoids speaking of him.

It’s a terrible thing.

Occasionally, I suppose, it happens with one big splash, some kind of all-of-the-sudden loss of faith that leads to desertion. Maybe it’s a catastrophe that creates doubt that wasn’t there before, or at least wasn’t recognizable.

But more often it happens another way. It begins slowly with a few tentative steps away from God. They’re not noticeable at first, maybe not even to the one taking them.

If not checked, however, a believer finds himself so far from shore that he no longer has the strength or will to make it back.

That’s why the Bible has warnings like this one:

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will (Hebrews 2:1-4).

Maybe our first tendency is to do what I did above—think about a friend or family member who’s drifted.

But a more appropriate response is to look inward.

Some Christians let down their guard—not much, perhaps, and maybe no one else even knows. Just a little more relaxed attitude toward sins that used to bother them, or perhaps a lesser commitment to spiritual things like worship and prayer.

Does that ever describe you?

“Pay much closer attention,” the Bible warns, “lest you drift away.”

Perhaps this passage should lead us today to conduct a sort of spiritual checkup.

How’s my relationship with Jesus?

How’s my devotional life?

How am I treating people?

Is my worship spontaneous and sincere or rote and ritualistic?

We all go through spiritual down times, of course, and being at a low point doesn’t mean we’ve lost our faith.

But it probably means that we need to look back toward the Lord, pray to him, and ask him to turn our hearts toward him again.

The best time to stop a drift is soon after it starts, before it gathers momentum. If you look around today and notice signs of distraction, turn back quickly.

Don’t let yourself get too far away from shore. That can be deadly.

A beautiful thing

Baptism is a beautiful thing.

It’s beautiful because of what it signifies, the picture it paints, the story it tells.

Every time a believer is baptized, the gospel of Jesus is preached.

On a Friday, Jesus hung on a cross outside of Jerusalem for six hours and finally, when his work was done, sacrificed himself. Soldiers took his body and buried it in a nearby tomb.

The religious leaders rejoiced.

The Romans forgot.

The disciples grieved.

And early Sunday morning Jesus came to life again.

A few days later he met his followers on a nearby hill and told them to share this story with the world. Tell them this simple message, he said: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16).

Baptism is a reenactment of Jesus’ Friday-through-Sunday experience.

When someone believes in Jesus, she commits herself to him, turning her back on the person she used to be and embracing a life of discipleship—what the Bible calls repentance, or death.

Her body will be lowered into a tomb, but not one of dirt and rocks. Instead, she’s immersed in a grave of water.

Just as Jesus came alive early that Sunday, new life enters her spiritual body and she’s raised from the water as a new person.

All of her sins—every mistake, every disappointment, every failure—are removed forever.

Washed away, not by the water but by the blood.

As she comes out of her grave she’s alive like she’s never been before.

Forgiven, justified, sanctified.

She hasn’t earned it, because baptism could never be a work of merit.

She doesn’t deserve it, because baptism doesn’t make her any worthier.

But there, in the water, Jesus cleans her.

His righteousness, his life, his merit, become hers.

She is, as the ancient ending to Mark puts it, “saved.”

And because of that, she knows she’ll take part in another resurrection.

When Jesus returns he’ll raise her body once again, this time from the earth, and this time never to die again.

There’s nothing more beautiful than that.

No Plan B

[dc]W[/dc]hen Jesus returned to heaven after his resurrection, Gabriel asked him (as the legend goes): “Lord, what plans have you made for continuing your ministry on earth? How will everyone learn what you did for them?”

“I told the apostles to tell everyone they could, and for them to tell every new Christian to do the same,” Jesus said.

Gabriel looked confused.

“What if Peter is too busy with his nets and the others are too busy with their work and the Christians are too busy to tell their friends. What’s your other plan?”

Jesus didn’t hesitate.

“I have no other plan,” he said.

That’s fictitious, of course, but it illustrates an important point about what we ought to be doing.

Shortly before Jesus ascended back to heaven, he told a confused and scared group of uneducated men to “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15).

He told them to tell their converts to obey what he’d commanded them.

In other words, he took a nail-scarred hand and pointed to your hometown and told you to share the good news with the people around you.

But it’s hard, isn’t it?

Life’s so busy, and sometimes it’s hard enough just to make a small dent in this week’s to-do list.

Kids to chauffeur, meals to cook, diapers to change, bills to pay, floors to mop, employers to please . . . the list goes on.

Who has time to speak a word about Christ?

It probably won’t happen accidentally. You’ll need to decide to do it.

Will you do that?

Will you look for an opportunity this week?

There won’t be a trumpet, and whoever he is won’t beg for you to lead him to the Lord.

But if you ask God to open the door, and you pay attention to what God is doing, it’ll happen.

He’ll bring someone into your path who desperately needs Jesus Christ, and before you know it you’ll be obeying the Great Commission.

Take a few minutes now and ask the Lord to use you to introduce someone to him. It might be a family member, a neighbor, or a visitor at church. But just ask him to put you in the right situation and give you the courage to say what you need to say and do what you need to do.

He’ll answer that prayer.