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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Standing on the Backs of Others Won't Make You Taller

I watch two vehicles scrape each other Tuesday. The first, a SUV, was changing lanes.  It was in a right turn only lane and needed to get in the middle lane to go straight. The driver used a signal and began the lane change. The second, a sedan, rushed up to fill the lane so as to force the SUV back into the right lane. The SUV continued to make the lane change. The sedan stayed in the lane and continued to push forward. Neither car was going more than 20-30 mph. The SUV scraped the front right fender of the sedan with his back left fender. The sedan began honking her horn ferociously. The SUV, realizing what had just happened, pulled over to the right. The sedan followed. The whole incident could have been avoided.

I believe the driver of the SUV could not see the sedan. The driver started the lane change when no one was in the desired lane. The driver of the sedan wanted to keep the SUV from making the lane change and get behind her rather than in front of her. She evidently thought she could force the SUV back and did not consider the possibility that she was in the SUV's blind spot. She could see and forged ahead until the two vehicles scraped together.

Now, why did this happen? I suppose the SUV driver was at fault because he made a lane change into a vehicle in that lane. He did not start the lane change with someone in that lane. However, I believe the driver of the sedan owns a significant portion of the blame. She saw the situation and sought to exercise her power of being in the lane. She caused this mishap. (I can't call something so obviously avoidable and so purposely executed an accident.)

What would cause her to act this way? I really don't know but I wonder if it had something to do with pride. Could pride have said, "This is my lane and I am not going to let someone else get ahead of me in it?" Pride just doesn't want the seat of humility. It doesn't want to get behind anyone.

Pride is not always a bad thing. It is good to be proud of your children, your spouse, your parents and your country. You can even be proud of your own accomplishments. Pride becomes bad when it takes a life of its own. The pride that won't apologize, won't give mercy, won't acknowledge the accomplishment of others, won't bow to the needs of others is the pride that the Bible loathes.

Destructive pride respects no profession, no gender, no ethnicity, no socio-economic group nor any physical characteristic. The preacher can be as proud as the pro athlete; the black woman as proud as the white woman, the poor as much as the rich and the short man as much as the tall man. No one is immune. Everyone can easily catch the disease. Even the most humble person can take undue pride in his humility. The rich can take undue pride in his generosity.

Pride is like a pandemic disease which everyone has but can only diagnosed by others. It is always easy to identify the pride in others. However, we hardly ever recognize that our ability to point at others is made so keen by having the same problem. The reason I see the pride in someone who talks so much about his own accomplishments is that I do the same thing and do not recognize it in myself any more than the windbag who is doing so in front of me.

How many of us have thought more of a person because of his pride? We think we have to tell people how great we are so they will believe that we are great. Yet, most of us think less of the person who has filled our time with their self adulation. We make mental notes to end these conversations more quickly in the future. Our choices of seating will certainly be more selective in the future. (I wonder how many people have made these same mental notes about me.) In reality, we are brought low by our pride rather than lifted higher.

Can the reverse be said of humility? Will our allowing others into our lanes, choosing the seat of humility, speaking of the greatness of others bring us to honor? Of course, we know that it does. Who is more popular than the person who takes a genuine interest in others over his own interests? Who is more loved that the one who listens? Are we so afraid of going unnoticed that we can't take the place of humility? Must we force ourselves on others to gain their praise?

Absolutely not! Jesus said the greatest person is the one who serves others. Wisdom from this world says that is absurd. The world seeks to be served. That is why there are so many infomercials which promise wealth and power over others. Pride is appealing but it never delivers the praise it promises.

I kept driving after I saw these cars scrape. I turned and continue on my journey. A vehicle in front and to the left of me indicated it wanted to get in my lane. I slowed down to give it plenty of room. The driver changed lanes and zipped ahead. Maybe no one other than me noticed.

Proverbs 29:23 (ESV)
23 One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Is Jesus Still in a Stable?

The Magi gave Jesus their best. They didn't find Jesus is a stable. Sometimes I wonder if Christians want to keep Him in a stable when they give Him their leftovers.

Matthew 2:11 (ESV)
11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.

I have to watch what is given to the church. People will wear out furniture, upgrade something or simply wish to get rid of something at home and bring it as a gift to the church. There have so many old artificial Christmas trees given to the church that we had to get rid of seven or eight of them a few years ago. There have been so many pianos which need repair, so many pieces of furniture with broken legs, so many junked up cars and so many old computers given to the church that I have lost count. People clean out their garages and attics or upgrade their furniture or electronics and bring their refuse to the church. Somehow, what is no longer good enough for them is still good enough for Jesus.

 I'll see a lot of these things coming in after Christmas. Here it comes right after they have gotten the new stuff.

Jesus was born in a stable. He was placed in a manger for a bed. There wasn't enough room for Him to be born inside. Other people and other things occupied that space. The stable was good enough for his birthplace. The manger was good enough for His bed.

Yes, He was born in humble circumstances but is that where He should be kept? Do people think that He lived in a stable all of His life? Why aren't people giving Jesus their best and accepting something less for themselves? Why aren't people giving Him the best and accepting less for their own lives? Could it be there isn't enough room for Him because of other people and other things?

Yet people are very happy with their gifts. They think they have "sacrificed" for the Lord when they have really just gotten rid of their old junk. They take pride in gifts which cost them nothing.

Many people do not realize that we are inviting a very important person to come to our church this next week. They use the sanctuary for storage. They leave collections of old literature in the hallways. They stuff worship bulletins in hymnals. If I tell them that we need to keep the place tidy because of this VIP, many would ask me, "Who is it?" They don't even recognize the presence of the Lord and, therefore, do not really know He is there.

The Bible says that we will all stand before Him to be judged one day. I wonder how many people will hear Him say, "You gave Me your junk." I wonder how many people will recognize how wrong that is. They will say that it was still perfectly good. (So, why did they upgrade?)

A friend of mine had an old organ given to his little church a few years ago. A deacon went with him to pick it up. Both the deacon and the pastor saw that this organ was a piece of junk. The deacon said, "Pastor, you go on. I can load up this organ and get it to the church." So, after thanking the donor the pastor reluctantly headed back to the church. He didn't know what he was going to do with this organ and he didn't want to upset the donor.

The deacon arrived soon after the pastor had gone back to his study. He came in and said, "Pastor, I don't know what I was thinking but I failed to latch the gate on my pickup and on that bumpy old road that organ just fell right out on the road. It must have busted into a million pieces!"

"That's okay," the pastor said, "I just appreciate your service to the Lord."

Both of them looked at each other and knew what had really happened. Neither of them thought that Jesus should stay in a stable.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Why I Thank God Even in My Wife's Cancer

In August we learned that my wife has breast cancer. At first, the word "cancer" takes your breath away. You know that others get this horrible disease buy you want to believe it will never visit you.

I told my church the week  before Thanksgiving. I was able to give them this testimony.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 (ESV) 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Thanksgiving is God's will.

It is to be done in all circumstances. I don't thank God for cancer but I thank Him even so because He is still the same God who loved us before we heard there was cancer.

None of us deserve God's grace. We deserve Hell.

Romans 6:23 (ESV) 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I shouldn't complain when I have already received God's amazing grace. He gave us life with Him forever when we deserved to be separated forever.

God allows the good and the evil to strike everyone.

Matthew 5:45 b(ESV) For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Some people ask why God would allow cancer to come into our home. I ask, "Why not?" I shouldn't expect that I have been so good that God would protect me from all hardships. He certainly didn't do so with Moses, Job, David, Paul or many others in the Bible. They went through some very tough times even when they were faithful.

Our own righteousness doesn't give us a leg up on others.

Isaiah 64:6 (ESV) 6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

I often hear people ask me why the bad things happen. They tell me that they have been good. They want to know what good it has done them. I guess they don't get it. It isn't about us nor does our own righteousness put us at the front of the good times line. Our righteousness comes from what Jesus did on the cross. That's pure grace.

We don't have the right to question God's grace or the apparent lack of grace.

Job 40:2 (ESV) 2 “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.”

Honestly, I often don't know what God is really up to. I don't know why some things happen. I weep with parents who lose little children and have no answer. I know that some day we will see God's goodness in what has happened but I don't know what it is. I don't believe I will see the good in some of these things until I meet their children in heaven. Then, I don't think it will matter. I think the parents will have their children forever. The time on earth will eventually seem short.

Faith thanks God before the struggles have ended.

Jehoshaphat was surrounded by armies that he couldn't defeat. He declared a fast and received a word from God that the battle did not belong to him or his people. So, he places the choir before the army and goes singing to find the armies who have come against him and his people have defeated each other. And what were they saying? Look at scripture.

2 Chronicles 20:21 (ESV) 21 And when he had taken counsel with the people, he appointed those who were to sing to the Lord and praise him in holy attire, as they went before the army, and say, “Give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever.”

Even when things go bad, we are to continue giving thanks to God.

Daniel did so even when a law was passed which would prevent him from giving thanks to God. Doing so would mean that he would be thrown in a hungry lions' den. But he still thanked God.

Daniel 6:10 (ESV) 10 When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.

So, I still thank God. My wife does too.

Thankfulness is at the heart of answered prayers.

Philippians 4:6-7 (ESV) 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Why is it at the heart of thanksgiving? Because it expresses our faith more clearly.

We thank God because His love has not left us no matter what we are going through.

Romans 8:38-39 (ESV) 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I know that it doesn't say "cancer" in the above list but I believe it is included in "anything else in all creation." God's love has not diminished one iota while we are in the middle of the toughest times of our lives.

Thankfulness is the means of approaching God.

Psalm 95:2 (ESV) 2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

Who really wants to hear someone who comes griping? Thankfulness reveals we still trust in God.

We thank God for His constant presence.

Romans 8:9 (ESV) 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

My wife and I know the Lord Jesus. We know He is in us. We, therefore, have His presence continually.

We thank God for His comfort day and night.

Psalm 42:8 (ESV) 8 By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.

I suppose we should expect a few moments of fear but it hasn't come. I know it is because of His constant comfort.

We thank Him for His power.

Jeremiah 32:27 (ESV) 27 “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?

That means that our God is too big to let cancer defeat Him. I know I don't have a promise from Him that there won't be more struggles or even death someday but I know that if these things come, they will come with His permission. Thus, I know He will be with us through it all. He is greater than anything that can come against any of us.

We thank Him for the good He will bring.

Romans 8:28 (ESV) 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

I don't believe that cancer is good. I believe that God will cause good to happen because of what we have had to go through. Maybe the good will come through this testimony. Maybe it will affect someone's life positively.

This testimony was given to the church on November 24.

(On November 27 my wife had some pretty major surgery to get rid of the cancer. Yesterday, the report from the surgeon was that all of it was removed. She will still have to go through radiation in January after she is healed from the surgery. (Radiation will be five days a week for four to six weeks.) I praise God for this report.

Our story is better because my wife has had regular mammograms. I would like to encourage every woman not to avoid this procedure. The cancer was caught early and my wife has a very positive prognosis. God can heal anyone at any time but that doesn't mean that we should tempt Him by avoiding what we need to do to protect ourselves.)