Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Of Celery, Microwaves and Serving God

"Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few;" Matthew 9.37

I was in the grocery store today in the produce section. I passed by a counter and saw this small bag of cut up celery. I glanced at the price tag. $1.99 it read. Celery was selling today at 59 cents a pound in the stalk. This little bag had less than a half pound and was selling for three times more. And in spite of this I was tempted to buy this little bag of cut up celery. Why? Well, it would save me time making dinner. I wouldn't have to cut the celery myself. In short, I wouldn't have to work as hard.

We live in a fast paced, busy world. We are on the go constantly. Even our children have appointment calendars these days. I don't think we are as much lazy people as we are busy ones and we take short cuts to get by. This is no big deal with celery or microwave dinners, but many of us also have been taking short cuts with our service to the Lord.

Many people are perfectly willing to pay their tithe to a local church, but will make all sorts of excuses when someone expects them to teach a Sunday school class, come out to a work day, bake a cake for the bake sale, or even just show up on Sunday night or midweek service. And the reasons we give are that we are just too busy and too tired.

But this does not change the fact that the fields are white unto harvest, that the laborers are few and that the night is coming. Too often we simply expect someone else to take care of the work of our Christianity. We hire our pastors and expect them to take care of everything. After all that's what they get paid for and, well, the rest of us are just too busy. But I don't see that the Great Commission said, "Go into all the world and teach all nations, except of course unless you are too busy to do so."

Very often, the reasons I am too busy are my own fault. I take on extra duties at work which I really didn't need to take on. I buy tickets to secular entertainment activities. I have dinner parties with my friends. I take the boss out to dinner. None of these things are wrong or bad, but when they take me away from serving God, then there is a problem. If I'm too busy to make it to church on Wednesday night, I should be too busy to make it to the ballet that night or the premier of that new film.

I was reminded today, that I have been short-cutting a lot in my life, and I was warned to not do so with my service to the Lord. So, I'm going to leave the shortcuts to my cooking, but I'm going to serve God with a full heart.

Lord, restore to me the fervor for your service. Amen

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

We Would See Jesus

"Sirs we would see Jesus" John 12

The story is told of a woman who was at a crafts fair who came upon the booth of a silversmith. She grew fascinated as she watched the man work on a silver ladle. He put the ladle into the fire. Then he polished it with a rag. Then he would look intently at the bowl of the ladle. Then back into the fire it went. Eventually, the woman spoke to the craftsman.

"Sir, that ladle looks fine to me. Why don't you put it out for sale and start work on another.?"
Photo Jeff Kubina

"No, ma'am," he answered, "This ladle is far from finished. It still has impurities in it. I will know when it is done."

Her curiosity piqued she asked, "But, sir, how will you know when it is finished." "Ma'am, I will know it is finished when I can see my own reflection clearly in the ladle."

Several years ago, Evie Tournquist sang a song which had the line, "Until you find him in the mirror, you've got a long way to go." Not only does Jesus want to see his reflection in our lives, the world is also looking for it.

As our scripture says, "Sirs we would see Jesus." You and I are the only Jesus the world will ever see. He's been polishing us for years. Have we resisted the fire and the polish or have we submitted to the master's hand. The world is searching for Jesus. They are looking for him in us. I want them to find him in me.

I know, mine is still an imperfect reflection, but the silversmith is still polishing. Day by day the reflection is getting clearer and closer to the master's. One day I hope that people will be able to say, "You really look
like your Father"!

Lord, create in me your image and your likeness. Let people see your compassion in my eyes and hear your gentleness in my voice. Amen

Monday, April 28, 2014

A Lesson from a Kitten

But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
(Isa 40:31)

  I've talked before about my cat named Patches.  When she was just a kitten she would follow right at my heels.   But sometimes she got impatient with my slower pace and she'd see I'm headed in a certain direction and run ahead of me into the room she thought I'd enter.  Sometimes she was right.  Most of the time, though, she gets it wrong.  She stood in the room expecting me to show up, looking around and wondering where I was.  Then she'd me walking by the door and rush to catch up with me.

 I understand this behavior, because I do the same thing with God.  I want to go where He is going, but I get
Patches taking a rest
impatient with the pace he  set for me.  So, instead of following him, I try to figure out where he is headed and rush ahead of him expecting him to keep pace with me.  And, of course, most of the time I'm wrong.  He isn't headed there at all.  I'm waiting for Him to arrive and bless my work and he just walks on by and I rush again to catch up with him. 

 Like Patches, I want God to do things on MY schedule rather than HIS.  So, I rush ahead and usually get it wrong.  I don't understand the subtlety of God.  I may see him going in a straight line, when he suddenly turns to the left or the right and I've going the wrong direction.

 It's a sad thing when you realize you're no smarter than a kitten, but I guess what makes me different from the kitten is that God gave me to ability to know this.  So, what can I do?  Well, as our scripture says, I must WAIT. We often see this as a passive thing like waiting in line.  And particularly those of us who happen to be Americans hate lines or as our friends in the UK call them Queues.  

But perhaps a better analogy would be a military one.  Before being deployed, the troops will be called to a staging area and they have to wait there to receive their marching orders.  They are waiting on their orders from their superiors.  When we WAIT upon the Lord, we are not dozing, or letting our minds wander.  We are listening closely to hear him say, "Move Out" and let him tell us where.

 Lord, Today remind me to let you set the pace in my life. Amen

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Work of the Husbandman

"I am the true vine and my father is the husbandman." John 15.1

I've been doing a lot of reading this week about ancient farming practices. I've been especially interested in the ancient art of vinedressing. The vinedresser (also known as the husbandman) was the vineyard equivalent of the shepherd. It is hard for the twentieth century urban mind to understand the pride and concern that the vinedresser had for his vineyard. The vines were his charge. The fruit of those vines were his pride and joy. His life was consumed with first planting, then later tending that vineyard.

First, the vineyard had to be planted. In first century Israel, this was no easy task. First, the ground had to be cleared. There wasn't much vegetation to worry about, but there were rocks. There were lots of rocks. They were on top of the ground, sticking up through the ground, and just below the surface of the ground. These had to be removed to make way for the seed to be planted. Remember, before you were saved, God cleared out the "rocks"
which would have prevented you from receiving the Gospel. He was preparing the soil for planting.

After removing the rocks, the ground had to be plowed and the seed or seedlings planted. These young seedlings were vulnerable to the elements, to trampling by livestock, to being eaten by other animals. The vinedresser would guard the seedlings and protect them. He took those rocks that had been thrown out of the vineyard and used them to build a wall around it to keep out animals or even human enemies desirous of destroying the crop. He would build a tower out of the stone where he could see the approach of any threat to the vines. He kept watch during the day and slept in the tower at night ready to protect his vines.

As the vines grew, he would divert water from the Jordan or other rivers into irrigation ditches. This water needed to soak the roots of the vines to make the fruit sweet and juicy. How like our great husbandman who sends us the refreshing waters of the Holy Spirit to produce sweet fruit in our lives. 

As the vines aged, the dead branches needed to be cut away, as did certain wild offshoots. These dead or useless branches would take nourishment away from the productive branches and dilute the potency of the fruit. Have you ever felt the pruner's saw cutting away at branches in your life? Sometimes, the vinedresser would take a branch from one vine and graft it into another to create a new type of fruit. Sometimes the Great Husbandman grafts us together with significant others in our lives so that together we might produce a special fruit that will nourish others. 

Finally, at the end of the season, the vinedresser returns to harvest the fruit and carry it away to the great storehouse of the vineyard owner. There the fruit will fulfill its purpose in feeding others. Then, the vinedresser trims the branches, waters the vines, and waits for a new crop to emerge. I want my vine to produce much fruit for the husbandman who cares so much about his vineyard.

Lord, Thank you for all the work you  have put into me.  May my fruit be pleassing to you. Amen

Living in the Presence of God

We hear the words so often that we don’t really hear them.  “Let’s all enter into the presence of the Lord,” the worship leader or pastor says.  Yet, do we really appreciate what that means?  What a glorious thing to be able to stand in the presence of the Almighty Lord of Lords and King of Kings.  We are invited as welcome guests, nay more than guests, beloved children into the very throne room of God to enjoy fellowship with him. 

    It is a glorious thing, indeed, Sunday after Sunday to enter the presence of God surrounded by our sisters and brothers. But what about Monday through Saturday?  What happens in the intervening six days that we have to be coaxed back into the presence of God?  Has God somehow deserted us in that time?  Has He withdrawn His presence from us?  If not, then why do we need to be invited back into the presence of the Lord? 

    God is omnipresent.  He is everywhere.  David wrote, “Where shall I flee from thy presence?  If I ascend up into heaven thou art t here: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.  If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost part of the sea even there shall thy hand lead me and thy right hand shall hold me.” Psalm 139.7-10.

    So, if God has been there with me all week long, why do I need to be called back into His presence on Sunday.  Perhaps its because I’ve been living as if he was not there. His presence has been there, but I have not been experiencing it.

    Think about it this way.  Have you ever been working intently on something or absorbed in a book or TV show and someone walked into the room without you noticing?  They stand there quietly for several seconds or minutes before you notice them in the room. 

    It’s called selective perception.  We don’t perceive everything possible to be perceived in any setting.  We perceive what our minds are focused on. So, even though God is standing right beside me while I’m teaching my classes at school, I might not notice that because I’m not thinking about it.  I am focusing on the job and not on the one who sustains me on my job.

    Now, I’m not saying that one should float through life in a trance-like state absorbed with “spiritual” meditations all day long.  We certainly do need to focus at times on the things of life.  We have all known those folk who are “so heavenly minded, they are no earthly good.”   But even in those times when my attention is turned toward this life, his image should still be shining in my peripheral vision.  And when this life begins to overwhelm me, then instead of letting the darkness descend around me, I need to heighten my awareness of his presence. 

    Experiencing the presence of Good should not be a sporadic thing.  It should be a constant experience in the life of a believer.  Sometimes it will be in the foreground like in moments of private devotion and public worship.  The rest of the time it will be the pervasive ambiance of daily living.  It needs to be the backdrop against which the grand drama of life unfolds.  It should take no more than an instant for the believer to shift focus and find His presence sustaining, comforting, encouraging and directing one’s life.

Lord, today, let me be no more than a thought away from your presence. Amen

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

What to do When the Lion Roars

"Be sober, be vigilant: because your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion walketh about, seeking whom he may devour."I Peter 5.8 

Our pastor asked an interesting question one Sunday in church. He asked, "What do you do when you hear the lion roar?" It's one of those questions which  stuck with me all day long.

When Satan begins to roar in your life, you should recognize it as him. The attacks may come through finances, health, family, employers, even, at times, church members. But you still recognize the sound of the enemy of your
Photo by Tambako
soul behind them. Usually, facing Satan produces some anxiety, otherwise known as fear.

Now, fear isn't all bad. It heightens our awareness of danger so that we can be on our guard or "vigilant" as Peter says here. However, our response to fear can be devastating. Cognitive psychologists say there are four possible responses to fear. The four-F's of fear I call them.

The first is Flee. We flee the dangerous situation. Obviously, if I'm crossing the street and an 18-wheeler is barreling down on me, I'm going to flee. But in the spiritual realm this is not the best choice. To many of us have been running from Satan. And when he knows he's got you on the run, he'll keep hounding you until he neutralizes your work for God.

The Second is Freeze. They say that if you face a dangerous animal staying very still is your best chance for survival. However, in facing the evil forces of this world system, it is not. Some Christians face trouble in their lives and their ministry comes to a dead halt. No, they aren't falling away, but they aren't marching onward either. They are simply paralyzed with fear.

The Third is Faint. Just pass out and hope for the best. Some Christians have fainted in their spiritual battles. They have fallen asleep. They are insensible to the glories of God or his requirements.They have lost spiritual consciousness.

The final response is the one we need to adopt when facing a threat from the enemy. Its FIGHT! If Satan has been chasing you, maybe it's time to turn around and start chasing him. If your car breaks down and you can't get to church, don't pout about it. Put some praise music on the stereo, get on your knees and pray through the time of the church service for souls to be saved. If you loose your job, while you're looking for a new one, volunteer your time to work around the church. In other words, when Satan throws something at you to keep you from advancing the kingdom, redouble your efforts for Christ.

I can't say I've always turned and wrestled with the lion when he has roared, but as each year goes by, this old warrior has begun to run to the battle more often, because only those on the front lines see the victory first.

Lord, fill me anew with your boldness as I face my adversary. Give me courage and strength and determination to win the battle. Amen 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Judging without Evidence

"Judge not, that ye be not judged." (Mat 7:1 KJV)

When you enter a courtroom, there is one thing and one thing only that counts in judging a defendant - evidence. You have to have all the relevant facts to make a decision about the case. If you don't have all the facts then under our system of juris prudence you have to acquit because you cannot be sure the person is guilty.

It's too bad people didn't apply the same logic to their judgments outside the courtroom. We jump right in judging other Christians behavior. Yet, do we really have all the evidence? No we don't. We simply don't know enough to judge someone else. For instance, we don't know where people came from. We don't know what they've gone through. We don't know what they are struggling with. I remember one young Christian saying to me once, "You know people criticize me because I still smoke. But less than a year ago, I was mainlining heroin. God delivered me from that. He'll deliver me from nicotine too. It just takes time." 

To judge someone's walk we have to know from where they started. If they haven't caught up with you yet, it could be they started further down the road.

Perhaps most importantly, we don't know the heart of the person. We only see how they dress, what they say, how they act. We can tell much from that but not all. God though doesn't judge based on outward appearance, but rather he "looks on the heart" (I Samuel 16:7) Until I can look at a person's heart, understand his motives, know why he is the way he is, I cannot judge his actions. Besides, I don't have time to judge anyone else's faults. I have a full time job dealing with my own.

Lord, help me remember who is best at judging the hearts of men and keep me focused on my own walk and not on the walks of others except to be a good companion on the journey. Amen