NO EXPERIENCE WASTED

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. [Romans 8:28 (NLT)]

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. [Romans 5:3-4 (NLT)]

rocking chairs

God has a plan for each and every one of us and no experience is ever wasted. All that happened in the past has prepared us for what’s happening today and what will happen tomorrow. Consider Moses—the first two-thirds of his life were merely preparation for what he did during the last third. As a member of Pharaoh’s household for the first forty years, he acquired a unique skill set. The adopted son of an Egyptian princess, he understood the workings of Pharaoh’s court. He’d been given a royal upbringing and an excellent education. Since he was cared for by his birth mother, he also understood his Hebrew heritage. With that background, he was well prepared to confront Pharaoh about the plight of the Israelites. In fact, he probably was the only Israelite who could gain access to Pharaoh’s court and that royal education served him well when he wrote much of the first five books of the Bible.

Moses’ second forty years were spent as a shepherd in Midian. A stranger in a strange land, the pampered prince had four decades to learn how to live as a nomad and shepherd. He also had forty years to learn about controlling his temper (the reason he landed in Midian in the first place). The skills he developed while herding dumb animals in the wilderness prepared him for forty years of guiding over two million “stiff-necked” people and their livestock through the desert.

At eighty, Moses might have been thinking about taking it easy—maybe selling the sheep and relaxing in his hammock under a palm tree. God, however, wasn’t going to let those eighty years of experience go to waste. Our life experiences do more than develop character and spiritual maturity; they give us a unique skill set. Everything we undergo provides us with distinctive strengths and abilities. Our successes, failures, sorrows, joys, pain, gains and losses prepare us to do God’s work. Yesterday’s experiences become today’s assets.

We know how the story of Moses ends—over the last forty years of his life, he fulfilled his purpose and led the Israelites to the Promised Land. How will our story end? Like Moses, will we use our assets to further God’s Kingdom or will we waste them while relaxing in the hammock under a palm tree or sitting on the porch in a rocking chair?

No experience is wasted. Everything in life is happening to grow you up, to fill you up, to help you to become more of who you were created to be. [Oprah Winfrey]

So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless. [1 Corinthians 15:58 (NLT)]

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IT SEEMED LIKE A GOOD IDEA

Fools think they are doing right, but the wise listen to advice. [Proverbs 12:15 (NCV)]

Grand Tetons - rubber rabbit brushAfter it was returned by the Philistines, the Ark of God had been neglected in Kiriath-jearim for twenty years. Fresh from victories over the Philistines, David decided to bring the Ark back to its rightful home in Jerusalem. It certainly seemed like a good idea at the time. Unfortunately, ignoring the law’s clear instructions that the Ark could only rest on poles and carried on the shoulders of Levites, David had it placed on a cart pulled by oxen. The oxen stumbled, the cart tipped, and Uzzah reached out to steady it. Under Hebrew law, touching the sacred Ark was a capital offense and Uzzah was immediately struck dead. The Ark should never have been on a cart and it was David’s disobedience and carelessness that caused the man’s death. Nevertheless, David’s reaction was to get mad at God.

How many times do we have what seems like a good idea that turns out bad? We try to do the right thing the wrong way and then get mad at God when things don’t turn out well. How many times have other people been hurt because of our haste, overconfidence, or ignorance? David had wisely consulted the Lord on military strategy against the Philistines. Yet, when it came to moving the sacred Ark, he consulted only his officials, the officers in his army, and the people. Was it pride at his military victories that keep David from consulting God about this endeavor? Remembering that our Father knows best, let’s learn from David’s mistake and seek God’s advice in all of our actions.

Lord, no matter how noble the goal, stop us when we barge on ahead without consulting you. Keep us from both reckless action and thoughtless inaction; show us how to act carefully and prudently. Remind us that easy answers are rarely as easy as we think them to be. Please don’t let our idea of a solution ever create a greater problem.

Commit your actions to the Lord, and your plans will succeed. [Proverbs 16:3 (NCV)]

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ENTERTAIN ME

So my people come pretending to be sincere and sit before you. They listen to your words, but they have no intention of doing what you say. Their mouths are full of lustful words, and their hearts seek only after money. You are very entertaining to them, like someone who sings love songs with a beautiful voice or plays fine music on an instrument. They hear what you say, but they don’t act on it! [Ezekiel 33:31-32 (NLT)]

maccaw - naples zooEzekiel proclaimed God’s message to the Jewish exiles in Babylon. As the Lord’s prophet, he was commissioned to deliver words of both judgment and hope. Some of the exiles recognized him as a prophet but more did not. Although they found Ezekiel’s message entertaining, they had no intention of putting his words into practice. There’s a lesson here for today’s churches: pews filled with people there only for the music, amusement, food, or activities mean nothing if God’s word is not planted in people’s hearts.

In an effort to fill their seats, many churches are moving toward a liturgy of entertainment and many church-goers are becoming more interested in show than substance. I’ve attended services featuring ice skaters, a fighting cage, a t-shirt cannon, ballerinas, a live camel, an angel flying on an aerial hoop, a dragon-like Satan, wide-screen TVs showing popular movie clips, and even the Blues Brothers. While those were memorable services, I wonder if the line between entertainment and witness is getting blurred. The purpose of worship is to please God, not us, and it’s more about offering ourselves to God than offering applause to the band, singers and pastors. Church is about being active worshipers and learners, not passive listeners and watchers. Liking the sermon is not as important as learning from it and changing because of it. Jesus was never boring and, while His parables are interesting, He definitely was not about entertainment when He walked the earth. If entertainment had been His goal, there would have been far more miracles and far less talk of things like discipleship, sacrifice, cross-carrying, self-denial, commitment, and separation from the world.

For churches to be trendy and entertaining, they must keep reinventing themselves with bigger and better gimmicks. While a certain amount of entertainment might get us into church, it is commitment, depth, and community that should keep us there. Let’s not confuse filled seats with saved souls! It is God who is the star attraction at church and a relationship with Him is why we attend worship services. A.W. Tozer cautions us not to be like discontented spoiled children who, instead of a piece of candy, must be wooed into God’s house with promises of amusement, refreshment, fun and games. God might capture our attention with the big things but, as Elijah learned, God isn’t in the whirlwind, earthquake, or inferno; He is found in the gentle whisper.

Worship is not about my enjoyment. It is about my enjoyment of God. It is not about my pleasure or my delight or my satisfaction. It is about my pleasure, delight, and satisfaction in God. Worship is not simply about glorifying God. It is about glorifying God by enjoying Him forever. [Sam Storms]

And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. [1 Kings 19:11-12 (NLT)]

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THE TRILEMMA

We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ. [2 Corinthians 10:4-5 (NLT)]

spiderwort - wild flowerIn C.S. Lewis’ children’s fantasy novel The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the youngest child, Lucy Pevensie, happens upon an enchanted armoire and steps into the magical world of Narnia. Upon returning, she rushes to tell her siblings of her astonishing adventure. Hearing such a tall tale and finding no concrete proof of its truth, her older siblings assume the story to be a figment of her imagination. They take their concern over her falsehood to their wise elderly uncle. He cautions them to use logic and consider Lucy’s story carefully. He points out there are only three possibilities: either she’s lying, crazy or telling the truth. After pointing out that lies are usually more plausible than Lucy’s tale, he asks if she’s lied before. The children admit she’s always been truthful. After pointing out that none of Lucy’s behavior indicates mental illness, they all agree she can’t have gone mad. He then suggests that since she’s neither a liar nor crazy, they could consider the possibility that Lucy’s story is true.

Interestingly, this is the same line of reasoning Lewis uses in what is called the “Lewis trilemma” or his “Liar, Lunatic, or Lord” argument found in Mere Christianity. Lewis uses this logical argument when people claim to believe in the existence of Jesus as a great moral teacher but not as God (which, unfortunately, many people do). Jesus talked as if He was God. He professed to be able to forgive sins and to be the only way to the Father. He claimed to have existed since the beginning of time, that He was a heavenly king who offered everlasting life, and would judge the world at the end of time. Lewis points out that we have only three choices about those fantastic claims: Jesus was either a liar who perpetrated a fraud, a madman with delusions of grandeur, or the Lord. The one thing Jesus couldn’t have been was just a principled man or an excellent teacher of morals and ethics! Jesus was either a very bad or troubled man or He was divine and exactly who He said He was!

There are many people who consider Jesus simply to be a Jewish version of Buddha or Socrates: a great man, filled with compassion and love, who had some profound and noble ideas. That whole Messiah/Son of God thing, however, just doesn’t sit well with them. We should remind them that neither Buddha nor Socrates claimed to be God; Jesus did! The Pevensie children soon learned the truth of Lucy’s claim and, hopefully, others will see the logic and truth of Jesus, as well!

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. [From “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis]

The Father and I are one. [John 10:30 (NLT)]

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. … Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. … And remember, my words are not my own. What I am telling you is from the Father who sent me. [John 14:6,11a,24b (NLT)]

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INCONVENIENCED

Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. [Matthew 9:35-36 (NLT)]

gray-headed or prairie coneflowerMy summer beach novel began with a man having a heart attack on a commuter train. For the next several pages, I was privy to the thoughts of his fellow passengers. They were annoyed and frustrated by the train’s unscheduled stop and saw the man’s collapse as a tremendous inconvenience. As they disembarked to find another way into the city, their thoughts were not of the dying man and his wife but of themselves and how their lives had been disrupted.

My husband has twice been on trains delayed because of a jumper’s suicide on the tracks. His fellow passengers were no different than the fictional ones. Their thoughts were about themselves and how the delay ruined their day. They seemed to forget that the cause of that delay ruined a whole lot more than a day for someone’s family and friends.

A friend who taught typing in the local college several years ago mentioned having had a student with only one arm. When she first saw him, her initial thought was of the difficulty his handicap posed for her as a teacher rather than empathy for the challenges he would face conquering a keyboard. Like the train passengers and my teacher friend, we usually see life through the eyes of self-concern. Forgetting that it really isn’t about us and we’re not the center of the world, our self-interest undermines our compassion.

The disciples were no different. Disturbed and annoyed, they wanted to send away the woman who kept begging Jesus to heal her daughter, the crowd of hungry people they had no money to feed, and the parents who brought their small children to Jesus. Seeing a woman desperate to free her daughter from torment, hungry people requiring food, and children needing His touch and blessing, Jesus wasn’t bothered and never sent people away without meeting their needs. Surely all those people who followed Him and pled for healing inconvenienced and delayed our Lord. Rather than complain, Jesus showed mercy, sympathy, patience and kindness. Christ and compassion go hand in hand but compassion doesn’t always come easily. It’s only human to have our first response be, “What does this mean to me?” or “How will I be affected?” It may be human but it’s not Christ-like.

“It must be hard for you,” said a man to my friend. “Yes,” she admitted, “but it’s much harder for my mother who has Parkinson’s!”  My friend was inconvenienced by caregiving but she understood that it was no picnic for her mother either. On the days she resented the weight placed on her shoulders, she remembered it was even worse for the woman whose weight she was carrying. When she considered life from her mother’s position, any feeling of being inconvenienced was replaced with love and compassion. Isn’t that what doing unto other really means? To truly do unto others we need to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes instead of complaining about a little scuff on ours!

Father, when confronted with other people’s misfortune and difficulties, forgive us when we look to ourselves first. Instead of seeing how we’ve been inconvenienced, help us see ways we can help.  Replace our annoyance with patience, our callousness with kindness and our self-concern with compassion.

The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But the good Samaritan reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” [Martin Luther King, Jr.]

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. [Colossians 3:12 (NLT)]

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SETTLING THE ACCOUNT

Buena Vista, Iowa
Your wickedness will bring its own punishment. Your turning from me will shame you. You will see what an evil, bitter thing it is to abandon the Lord your God and not to fear him. I, the Lord, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, have spoken! [Jeremiah 2:19 (NLT)]

One autumn day, the atheist farmer told the minister that he’d plowed, disked, fertilized, planted, cultivated and harvested all of his fields on Sundays. He bragged that he had the biggest crop ever while defying the Biblical command to rest on the Sabbath. Moreover, he’d cursed the minister’s nonexistent God the entire time he worked. “Explain that!” challenged the farmer. The minister calmly replied that God doesn’t always settle his accounts in October!

For much of the year, I live in southwest Florida in an area with one of the highest life expectancies in the nation—83.5 years. That’s more than four and a half years longer than the average American and more than ten years longer than someone in Gasden, Alabama. Among other things, statistics show that the fatter our wallets and the thinner our bodies, the longer we’re likely to live. Nevertheless, no matter where we reside, how much we weigh, how well we eat, how many doctors we visit, or how wealthy we are, we will all say farewell to our life here on earth; life is terminal. We never know when God will settle his accounts but we do know that, someday, He will!

In Jesus’ parable of the rich man and the destitute and diseased beggar, we are warned about eternal judgment and that once we reach our journey’s end, there are no transfers. Hell is a real place and our final destination is final. When death arrives, and it will, what we’ve accumulated here on earth will mean nothing. Neither richness nor poverty is of importance; what matters will be our relationship with Jesus Christ.

Like the rich man in the parable, we are free to ignore the cries of those around us, but we’d better be prepared to do some crying ourselves. Like the farmer in my story, we are free to reject the message of Christ but, if we do, we must be ready to face the consequences of that choice. God is not to be disregarded or treated carelessly. Our loving God doesn’t send anyone to hell; He just honors the sinner’s choice. If we wish to live apart from Him in this world, He will be happy to oblige us in the next.

 If you board the train of unbelief, you will have to take it all the way to its destination. [Erwin W. Lutzer]

And remember that the heavenly Father to whom you pray has no favorites. He will judge or reward you according to what you do. So you must live in reverent fear of him during your time here as “temporary residents.” [1 Peter 1:17 (NLT)]

How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. … Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it. [James 4:14,17 (NLT)]

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