I Love YouTube

YouTube geralt via pixabay

I like to watch flash mob proposals and acapella singing groups and funny movie clips. But what I really love about YouTube is the chance it gives me to watch great sermons, new and old, by pastors from all over the world. I watched one recently by Philip Yancey called Rumors of Another World, delivered at the University of California Veritas Forum several years ago. You can find it here:  Let me re-tell my favorite story from that talk, though, the one that struck me most. 

A group of high ranking US health officials met to discuss the greatest threats to long life and well-being here in our country. They made a list of the top problems, including the seven listed below.

·                Smoking and tobacco use

·                Obesity and poor dietary choices

·                Drug addiction

·                Alcohol abuse, including drunk driving and fetal alcohol syndrome

·                Stress based hypertension

·                Sexually transmitted diseases

·                Violent crime

As they pondered solutions to these life threatening and life altering issues, one member of the think tank shed a very different light on the subject. That man was Dr. Paul Brand, a physician who spent years in India working with those who suffered from leprosy. Dr. Brand explained that, while the list I’ve just shared with you is perfectly valid in the US, a similar committee in India would come up with a very different threat roster. That list would include: 

·                Malaria

·                Leprosy

·                Polio, until very recently

·                Smallpox

·                Yellow Fever

“If I went to that group,” Dr. Brand said, “and declared ‘I can get rid of those problems,’ they would say, ‘Wonderful. Then we would live in paradise!’” 

How blessed we are here in the United States! We’re virtually free of all those dreaded diseases. But what have we done? We’ve replaced them with a whole new set of problems that we’ve brought on ourselves. To this, Philip Yancy says, (my paraphrase) “I’ve come to see that, if God designed this planet and our bodies, he did it to give us life to the fullest…I used to think of God’s way, his definition of sin, as a way to keep us from having fun. Now I see that it’s a way to keep us from hurting ourselves. The church teaches us the best way to live.”

So, today, I challenge us all to take a look at that list of US problems and begin, by God’s grace, to eliminate any still lingering in our lives. God’s way IS the best way, and he means for us to take care of ourselves as we live in obedience to him.

Photo by geralt via pixabay.com

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Wise Guy

bible proverbs wise guy Luis Quintero via unsplash

I’m reading “The Message” by Eugene H. Peterson. Yes, I know, it’s a somewhat controversial book. Some say it makes the Bible easier to understand. Others decry it as too far afield of the translations we’re used to reading. Let’s set those arguments aside and see The Message as, at the very least, the work of a learned man who loved the Lord and wanted his congregation to get into the Word. You can check it out at Biblegateway or YouVersion . Today, though, I’d like to share an edited excerpt of Peterson’s introduction to the book of Proverbs. You won’t find it on either of the sites listed above. I own a kindle copy and read it there.

“Wisdom is the art of living skillfully in whatever actual conditions we find ourselves… A college degree is no certification of wisdom…Wisdom has to do with becoming skillful in

  • honoring parents
  • raising children
  • handling money
  • conducting our sexual lives
  • going to work
  • exercising leadership
  • using words well
  • treating friends kindly
  • eating and drinking healthfully
  • cultivating peace.

Threaded through all these items is the insistence that the way we think of and respond to God is the most practical thing we do. In matters of everyday practicality, nothing, absolutely nothing, takes precedence over God.”

This passage drives home yet again the need to see the Bible as our Manufacturer’s Handbook. Those of us who neglect its wisdom—or kid ourselves into thinking there’s little current wisdom available within its pages—do so at our own peril. On the other hand, by keeping our noses in that Book and applying what we find there, we often discover that smoother sailing can indeed be ours.

I’d like to know your favorite Proverb, or a tale of how following Biblical instruction helped you out in a “worldly” and practical way. Three dear friends have gotten the ball rolling below:

Paul: “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his foolishness.”

(Perhaps this the proverbial way of saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Or maybe Paul was just messing with me.)

Nadine: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

(This one gives me more peace than any other when I’m faced with a big decision.)

Lorri: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).

(Oh, how different the world would be if we all followed that bit of advice!)

And now, how about you? What’s your favorite proverb? Has following it helped?

Photo by Luis Quintero via Unsplash.co

A Simple Life

photo-1510333337682-fdd0eba357a4 Robert Nyman UnsplashI attended a women’s conference a few weeks back. I had my notebook ready, and captured all sorts of wise words and valuable lessons. One stood out from all the rest.

“Someone asked the question, ‘What are you doing with your life?’
The answer I heard was, ‘I’m following Jesus. How about you?’”

Is life really that simple?

Yes, I think it is. My college chaplain used to say, “Few things are necessary, really only one.” (More about that here.) Our one thing is following Christ. Simple doesn’t mean easy, though. In order to follow Jesus, we have to see where he’s leading us. That requires time and effort and a good deal of going against the flow of our culture. It takes:

Knowing him: spending time in prayer, taking time to read the Bible, immersing ourselves in teaching about who he is and what his will looks like.

Listening to him: limiting distractions that crowd out his still small voice with clamor and confusion, asking him to speak and looking for his leading.

Opening ourselves to others: letting true fellowship take the role of godly counsel at times when we aren’t sure what following Jesus looks like.

Stepping out in faith and courage: taking action in some situations, while waiting patiently in others. When we don’t yet know the path that’s right, and can’t keep waiting to make a decision, we have to seek our Lord’s will and trust that, as we step out in faith, he will keep us going in the right direction. When we do know what following Jesus looks like in a particular circumstance, we still need the strength or courage to follow through.

But at its core, the life we’re meant to lead is one of simply following Jesus. When I’m discouraged or confused, I take comfort in the fact that Jesus wants me to follow him. And he knows I want to do just that. My prayers for guidance are absolutely 100% within his will, and 1 John 5:14-15 says, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.”

Photo by Robert Nyman via Unsplash.com

Awkward Peace

peacekeeping hands rawpixel unsplash.com

My pastor’s sermons nearly always leave me mulling over at least one sound bite, a short phrase that requires thought and provokes action. Here’s a recent quote of his:

“At some point, friends, we’ve got to be a little awkward,”

Doing the right thing can look a little goofy—and feel a little goofy—particularly when it comes to making peace and building relationships.

The deepest and best friendships can require an uncomfortable degree of transparency. On occasion, after I open up about my thoughts and prayers, or even just try to be funny, I spend hours wondering if the friend to whom I bared my soul thinks I’m, well, goofy. All that second-guessing is a waste of time! Worse yet, it tends to make me want to re-construct those little personal walls that can keep me from the true fellowship and friendship I need (and that the Bible tells us we’re never to forsake.) Furthermore, a little awkwardness on my part may make new friends and old feel more comfortable about opening their true and imperfect selves to me.

Then there’s that whole sticky area of peacekeeping. The Bible doesn’t seem to make allowances for awkwardness in that department at all.

  • We’re told to honor others above ourselves, so humble pie is okay with God.
  • We’re warned about grumbling against one another, so a healthy dose of tongue biting may be part of a godly lifestyle.
  • The gospel of peace is even part of the spiritual armor described in Ephesians 6, essential equipment as we stand against the devil’s wily ways.

The phrase “blessed are the peacemakers” conjures up an image of a smiling faces graciously parting two warring factions, like hall monitors at a schoolyard. That’s certainly one element of peacemaking, but there’s another, far less heroic, element to peacemaking. It’s a nitty gritty, personal challenge:

We are supposed to make as much peace as possible with everyone around us. And do we? Do I? Do you?

I hope you’ll stop right now and ask God to show you any peacelessness (not a word, but it ought to be) in your life. And then, by his grace and in his strength, go and make peace, even if you must eat humble pie or bite your tongue or endure awkwardness. Our Savior asks this of us, and that’s all we need to know.

Been there? Done that? I hope you’ll tell me your story here.

 

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A Level Praying Field by Beth Smith

playing field Henrique Macedo via Unsplash.com
We’re all a lot more alike than we realize. For example, does your mind ever wander in church? Have you ever found yourself singing a praise song while asking yourself one of these questions?
  • What’s for lunch?
  • When is the game starting?
  • Why don’t we ever sing my favorite song?
  • Did I turn off the curling iron? (female)
  • Will there be doughnuts after the service today? (male)

Admit it! We’ve all had a few of those thoughts. One of my children, who shall remain nameless, said he (or she) wondered what it would be like if frogs jumped out of the baptismal bowl. I must admit I’ve never had that thought.

We also all have our differences. Our society tries to compensate for that. Consider the way kids choose up sides for a game. The best players get chosen first for each team in order to even up the talent. (Almost everyone I know claims to have felt the pain of being the last one chosen. I certainly have.)

We might also think there’s a spiritual playing field—a “Praying Field” run by God. (Maybe we fear we’ll be the last one chosen there as well.) Not true! God’s children are all of equal value in his eyes.

For God so loved the world…that whoever believes…” (John 3:16 NIV). We all receive his love. We are all “whoevers.”

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 NIV).  When we come to Him, when we accept his love, we all receive the same forgiveness and mercy.

The Lord…is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9 NIV). Somehow we fall into two ways of thinking about God’s ability and willingness to forgive us. We consider ourselves either too good to truly need it, or so bad that it couldn’t possibly work.

Listen! Sin is sin. We can’t enter into heaven with a single bit of it. We all need forgiveness. We’re on a level field. God offers all of us the same love and the same forgiveness. God equally desires each of us to be His own. As you go about your day today, I hope you’ll make a point of accepting God’s love and forgiveness and sharing it with those around you as well.

Photo by Henrique Macedo via Unsplash.com

Christ Beside Me

 

pub unsplash Nikola Jovanovic

Franklin, Tennessee is a charming little town. Steve and I went there for a clean water event several years ago. We stayed in an unforgettable bed and breakfast—run down, yet run by a lady delightful enough to make up for the shortcomings of the room she offered. We hiked a long wooded trail and almost got lost. We dined with Jars of Clay in a barn-like venue owned by Michael W. Smith. And, most memorable of all, we spent several hours in an authentic Irish pub.

I don’t remember the menu or even what the live musicians were playing. What I remember is the poem running around the ceiling edge of the walls like an old- fashioned border:

Christ beside me,

Christ before me,

Christ behind me,

Christ within me,

Christ beneath me,

Christ above me.

Those words, written by Saint Patrick over 1500 years ago, often whisper in the back of my mind, reminding me that I am never alone and that all I do is to be done with Christ, in his name and by his power.

How might our daily lives change if we reminded ourselves of those truths every single morning? Wouldn’t they become part of our path to a happy life, one where the enemy could no longer cause us to fear, where stress over our own performance would simply melt away?

And can we doubt a single line of that verse? Isn’t it really just a rewording of the promises of God heralded by his holy Word?

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head” (Psalm 139:5 NLT).

For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).

I need those promises every day, just as you do. And so my prayer for you today, and the prayer I hope you will lift up on my behalf as well, is this, from Colossians 2: 6-7:

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”