Monday, September 17, 2018

Fill ’er Up

 

[Photo of an old fashion service station attendant]


Fill ’er Up

“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is
debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.”
—Ephesians 5:18

Patrons at gas stations didn’t used to pump their own gas. Instead, they stayed in their cars and let the attendant on duty “fill ’er up.” Full service meant checking the oil level, cleaning the windshield, checking the air pressure in the tires, and filling the tires with additional air if necessary. Once you drove away, you felt that you could travel safely until your fuel level once again hovered near empty.

As Christians, God gives us the seal of His Holy Spirit when we turn to Him for justification from sin (Ephesians 1:13-14). And, as we live out the Christian life, the Holy Spirit continues to fill our spiritual “fuel tank.” We, like empty vehicle gas tanks, need that filling in order to travel through this life living for Christ. None of us has the ability to faithfully serve Him without the intervention and help from His Holy Spirit.

Have you ever noticed one of those yard inflatables that has lost air and droops over and looks half dead? Sometimes I feel that way when I come to God asking for a “fill-up.” None of us has the strength, the grace, the power, the energy, or the wisdom we need. In fact, God purposefully gives us tasks and circumstances for which we need Him. Without His divine aid, we are rendered useless.

How does God fill us? If we allow His written Word to soak into us, He gives us direction and faith in His ability to live through us. If we ask Him, He will govern and empower our way with the filling He wants to provide.

One of my favorite hymns puts it like this:1

Jesus, Thou Joy of loving hearts,
Thou Fount of life, Thou Light of men,
From the best bliss that earth imparts,
We turn unfilled to Thee again.

______________________

1 Bernard of Clairvaux. Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts. Public Domain.

—Posted: Monday, September 17, 2018

 

 

Monday, September 10, 2018

No Easy Game of Telephone

 

[Photo of children playing the Game of Telephone]


“Tell it to your children, and let your
children tell it to their children, and
their children to the next generation.”
—Joel 1:3

Nearly everyone has played the “Game of Telephone.” A simple phrase gets secretly passed from one person to another until the last person proclaims it aloud. To the enjoyment of everyone, the phrase has often drastically changed from the original whisperer. The game seems more fun, the more outrageous the change.

When the Gospel of our Lord passes from one generation to another, we should aim at accuracy above all else. We all know people who come from a long line of faithful Christians, but who may have heard a twist to the story that changes them into doubters or cynics of the faith—or even deserters from the faith. Other voices get into the game. In fact, one who sows lies joins the circle and, before long, the last hearer completely disavows what he heard at first.

How do we keep the children of this generation from those who would try to influence them away from the Gospel, the Truth of the Word of God? Parents can’t always prevent their children from hearing wrong voices. However, if they have carefully orchestrated whom their children hear the most, and find ways to introduce them to winsome Christians and friends, this generation can carry on the faithful truths of our great heritage.

When I taught elementary music, folk songs became the “fodder” of my curriculum. Not only did they supply the musical elements I taught, they also provided students with the “mother tongue” of their heritage as Americans. Scripture is the “mother tongue” of our Christian heritage. Our children need to hear faithful preaching and faithful teaching. They need to know faithful Christians in the church and observe their lives of service and devotion.

Children need to see and hear people who have made the Christian life a firm foundation for their lives and whose lives they can emulate. They need to learn the songs and hymns of their Christian heritage. At the end of Moses’ life, recorded in Deuteronomy 31, he wrote a song and instructed the Israelites to teach it and sing it as a testimony of God’s work.

Psalm 78:1-6 speaks of writing parables to teach the next generation. Excerpts of those verses say:

I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from of old… We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord… he commanded our forefathers to teach their children so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children.
Not only has God given us means to teach the next generation, He can give us the courage, wisdom, grace, and all that we need in order to do so. Let us pray for this generation of children and for those who not only begin with the message of Christ, but carry it on throughout their lifetimes.

 

 

Monday, September 3, 2018

Fervor

 

[Photo of an antique clothes iron]


“Don’t burn out; keep yourselves
fueled and aflame. Be alert servants
of the Master, cheerfully expectant.”
—Romans 12:11 MSG

I can’t even imagine what it would have been like to iron clothes before electricity. Not only were there no “easy-care” fabrics, there wasn’t even a way to maintain a heated iron to use for the entire job. Most women used a series of irons, heated one at a time on the wood stove nearby. They had tricks to use for doing the job with a super-heated iron and other tricks to use as the temperature of the iron cooled.

This reminds me of something that the Apostle Paul said in his letter to the Roman Christians in the early church. Romans 12:11 from the New International Version says it this way:

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.

According to Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, “fervor” amounts to “warm steady intensity of feeling or expression.”

I think the key word here is “steady.” Certainly the invention of electricity makes the steady heat of a clothes iron possible. Although we sometimes have an awareness of when the electric current reheats our iron, we do not have to make it happen.

Where does the fervor come from for a steady warmth of service to God? Like the old fashioned iron, we must go to the source of the “spiritual heat” and spend time with our Lord, whose Holy Spirit burns within us. To maintain that warmth of passion throughout the day, we must stay “plugged in” to Him and draw on His power, moment by moment.

It’s corny but true: “Seven days without prayer make one weak.” Even one day without an infusing of God’s miraculous power puts us in jeopardy of making crucial mistakes, of sinning against our Lord, or of losing our focus and our fervor.

Remember the symbolism of the day of Pentecost, as recorded in Acts 2? Tongues of fire landed on the heads of each of Jesus’ disciples. This symbol of the Holy Spirit reminds us of the fire that God wants to ignite in each of us: for power, for light, and for a passion to do His work in this world.

Let us pray daily for that fire to burn richly within us that we might become a steady usefulness for our Savior.

 

 

Monday, August 27, 2018

Slow Down!

 

[Photo of a school zone]


“In the morning, O Lord, you hear my
voice; in the morning I lay my requests
before you and wait in expectation.”
—Psalm 5:3

School Zone: When Flashing—15 MPH. I drove by these city schools often and it seemed so unnatural to go so slowly when I impatiently wanted to get to my destination. Even my car seemed to balk at this slow rate. Yet, police watched these areas closely. Nearly everyone, in a kind of reverential fear, obeyed the signs and slowed down.

They remind me of the school days when, as a public school teacher, I would speed through my daily preparations in my classroom without taking the time to slow down and pray. Yes, I had spent time at home committing the day to the Lord. But, I should have slowed down long enough to pray for each class I would see and even for individual students. I know teachers who regularly touch each desk and pray that the Lord will bless the students who will sit there during the day. I even know one teacher who touched the door frame of her door and asked the Lord to bless all who would enter the classroom that day.

Now, I no longer have the responsibility of managing a classroom. What can those of us Christians on the outside do to affect the work within our public and private schools? When you drive through a School Zone, let it prod you to slow down and pray for that school. The forces of evil remain strong. Only the power of an Almighty God can intervene in the educational systems and individual buildings of the schools in our country.

We need to remember those who carry the presence of Christ in their lives within our schools every day: teachers, administrators, staff members, Board of Education members, and students. We need to pray for the safety of our schools and place all those who work there under the protection of our powerful God. We need to pray that truth would prevail and that Christian students would have equal, unbiased treatment.

With so much at stake concerning the education of our future generations, won’t you please join me in the challenge to pray for the schools in our neighborhoods?

May God have mercy and grant overwhelming blessings upon them all!

 

 

Monday, August 20, 2018

Refusing the Remedy

 

[Photo of a child refusing medicine]


“These are the scriptures that testify about me,
yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”
—John 5:39-40

Neither a child spitting out his or her medicine, nor an old man refusing “any more pills,” do themselves any favors when it comes to their healing. When a remedy exists, it is wise to take advantage of it.

Even in Jesus’ time, He met people who didn’t appear to really want a remedy for their woes. In John 5:1-15, we read the story of Jesus meeting a man at the Bethesda pool who had been unable to walk for 38 years. The man was full of excuses why he had not been healed in all that time when a common remedy was available. Jesus asked him, “Do you want to get well?” To prove the man’s faith, Jesus told him to stand and walk. At once, through God’s power, the man walked away.

Many people have heard the “cure” for their lost condition in the death grip of sin. But, they have refused the remedy that Jesus offers to them. The remedy comes through the simple, yet difficult, submission to the truth of the gospel; that of confession of sin, turning from it, and accepting Jesus’ death for them on the cross as the payment they could never make themselves to a righteous God.

If your conscience has burdened you because of your refusal of the cure for your condition, recognize this voice as Jesus stepping up to you, as He did to this man at Bethesda and saying, “Do you want to get well?” Then, when He says to you, “Get up, walk with me, and accept my healing” you will know cleansing from sin and peace with God—in effect, a new life. Then, you too will have learned that when a remedy exists, it is wise to take advantage of it.

 

 

Monday, August 13, 2018

Bedrock

 

[Photo of the San Francisco Renaissance Tower]


“Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts
them into practice is like a wise man who built
his house on the rock…but everyone who hears these
words of mine and does not put them into practice
is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.”
—Matthew 7:24, 26

Maybe you saw the 60 Minutes® story about the Renaissance Tower in San Francisco. This story featured the tallest building west of the Mississippi River. It contains condominiums that sell for millions of dollars, drawing the richest and most well-off buyers in the Bay area.

The problem with this posh building doesn’t appear to the naked eye. But engineers, who have studied the cracks in the foundation and say it leans, report that the building sinks about two-inches a year, or about 17 inches so far.

Upon close study, these engineers learned that the builders went down 80 feet and built the foundation on very dense sand. Below the sand, the ground consists of years of packed rubble, mostly from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. To reach bedrock, one must extend the foundation of the building downward at least 200 feet below the surface. The question now becomes, how to fix this $350 million mistake.1

Immediately upon hearing the story, I remembered the parable that Jesus told about two men. The wise man built his house on the solid rock of God’s word. The foolish man built his house on the sand of his own willful ways. Though on sunny days the houses may have both appeared stable, when the storms came, only the one founded on the rock stood firm.

This parable, while a reminder for us all that God warns us about trying to build our lives on anything but His truth, also urges us to consider how we will build the next generations.

We could say that Christians, in general, desire their children, grandchildren, students, and congregational members to love God and follow in His ways. But, I sometimes wonder if we really aim for bedrock, or simply settle for something that appears good, but has its foundations built upon sand.

Do our churches aim to produce in our children strong, obedient, wise, and serious Christians? Or, do we remain content to develop polite, well-rounded, and knowledgeable young people with the appearance of a fine Christian upbringing, but with little to hold them up through the storms of life—even the temptations of college life or the workaday world? Do the programs we offer children in our churches spend more time on the “appeal factor” rather than actually drilling down into the will and consciousness of these young people?

Thankfully, I have seen, in recent years, parents and churches that have genuinely laid brick upon brick on a solid foundation of the Rock, the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us pray for all who influence the next generation of young people that our families and church produce!

May the Christian leaders of the next generation have what it takes to stand strong and powerful in Christ.

______________________

1 Wertheim, Jon. San Francisco’s Leaning Tower of Lawsuits. 60 Minutes (television program) for August 5, 2018. New York, NY: CBS Interactive Inc., 2018.

 

 

Monday, August 6, 2018

Used Tea Bags and Pencil Stubs

 

[Photo of pencil stubs]


“Do not sacrifice to the Lord your God an
ox or a sheep that has any defect or flaw
in it, for that would be detestable to him.”
—Deuteronomy 17:1

When I was a child, I remember a missionary speaker at my church who told of receiving “care packages” from the States. Inside one box he discovered that the people had sent boxes of used tea bags and pencil stubs. Imagine receiving that kind of gift sent to you in Jesus’ name!

The prophet Malachi was burdened for God’s people about just this kind of sloppy mediocrity, selfishness, and heartless worship. Apparently God’s people were giving to Him as sacrifices defiled food and diseased animals. He rebuked them in Malachi 1:14:

“Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king,” says the Lord Almighty, “and my name is to be feared among the nations.”

In our day, we may not present defiled animals to God. But, many of us are quite content to give Him that which has cost us nothing. In speaking to a mom of a chorister in my church choir about the child’s erratic attendance, she responded to me with, “It’s only church, for heaven’s sake!”

Make no mistake about it, God wants our best when we give Him our worship. He wants our excellence. This doesn’t always mean perfection. But, it does mean a heartfelt giving of the very best that we have.

Surely when we give offerings to those less fortunate, we can give gifts our own children would enjoy. When we bring food for the pantry, we can buy the same brands we would buy for ourselves.

Let us please Him as we give. 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 reminds us of what God desires from His people:

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.