Thursday, March 21, 2019

Changing the Future with a Deep Breath

If you aren't familiar with Doctor Who, you aren't aware that the British television series features an alien called The Doctor, who travels through space and time solving problems and saving people from monsters. Often in the show, some nefarious alien species has altered time for their own benefit and the Doctor has to fix time. Every now and then, though, he encounters a fixed point in time, something that cannot be changed no matter how hard you try our how much time travel you do. Occasionally, even in the time travel realm of science fiction, some decisions can never be changed. They are permanent. Final.

In Daniel 6, Daniel found himself in a land where the king's law could never be changed. According to the laws of the Medes and Persians, any law the king made was a permanent law, without exceptions and without equivocation. So when some of Daniel's co-workers wanted to get rid of Daniel out of jealousy, they convinced the king to sign a law making it illegal to pray to anyone but the king for 30 days. Then they set the penalty for praying as being thrown into a den of lions. Once it was signed, they went and caught Daniel praying to God as they had predicted he would, and then ran to the king. The king hadn't considered this possibility and looked for a way to save Daniel from the law he had foolishly signed. But in the evening the men went together to the king and said, “Your Majesty, you know that according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, no law that the king signs can be changed.” So at last the king gave orders for Daniel to be arrested and thrown into the den of lions. The king said to him, “May your God, whom you serve so faithfully, rescue you" (Daniel 6:15-16, NLT).

The king had made a permanent decision without thinking through the consequences. I guess that makes him just like us sometimes. We burn bridges without thinking about whether or not we will need them in the future. We cross lines of innocence and purity that can never be uncrossed. We make decisions about relationships based on surface level emotions. We make life altering decisions that can never be undone just because it feels like the right thing to do in a single moment or because someone flatters us and our good judgment goes flying out the window.

Sometimes, we face decisions that don't have significant consequences. But frequently we make decisions that will have a lasting impact we have no way of foreseeing. When we face decisions, we must take a step back and think through the consequences. Maybe you can live with that decision now. But will you be able to live with that decision when you can't reverse it? Will you still be comfortable with that decision ten years down the road? Or sixty?

Before you make a life-long decision, take a deep breath and work through the possible consequences. That deep breath might be the only thing that stands between you and a lifetime of regret.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Eavesdropping from Another World

In C.S. Lewis's The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, one of the Chronicles of Narnia, Lucy got the chance to listen in on the conversation of a friend by using a magic spell. When Lucy used the spell, she witnessed her friend say something mean about Lucy in a moment of weakness, when the friend was pressured by others. Lucy found out from Aslan, the Lion who created and ruled that fictional world, that her friend didn't mean it. But Lucy would never be able to look at her friend the same way because she heard something she wasn't supposed to hear and it sank down into her heart.

The author of Proverbs warned us of a similar dynamic with regards to rumors. Proverbs 26:22 tells us, "Rumors are dainty morsels that sink deep into one’s heart" (NLT).  Rumors are subtle and dangerous things that can sink into our hearts and affect the way we see and think about people, whether we later find out they are false or not. When we listen to rumors they make changes within us that we can never fully undo because, like dainty morsels, we digest them and they become a part of us. We may eventually mitigate most of the damage, but our minds will never be quite the same.

But, I can hear you say, how do I avoid rumors? People just tell me the rumors! I don't have any control over that! And in response, I would ask how many times you have told the rumor-sharer that you are not interested in hearing the rumors? How often do you reward the efforts of the rumor-monger by listening raptly to what they have to say? If we choose not to listen, to discourage the rumor-bearer, letting them know that we don't want to hear the rumors, eventually they will come to us less and less because rumors just aren't as much fun when no one listens.

Don't let rumors sink into your heart. Discourage those who would share them with you. Never let them just happen.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Trying to Win Back Kimmie Gibler (One More Wife Will Fix The Problem)

My wife and I were both big Full House fans growing up, so we naturally watched the Fuller House sequel series on Netflix. One of the ongoing story points throughout the first season dealt with Kimmie Gibler and her soon-to-be ex-husband. Fernando had cheated on Kimmie repeatedly and so she had kicked him out and asked for a divorce. Fernando was trying to win her back by being romantic and making grand gestures. And any of the things he did throughout the series probably would have been sweet. If it wasn't for the fact that he was trying to make up for repeated infidelities. He was trying to mix some good things in to all of the bad he had done (and apparently was still doing), hoping it would make everything alright.

In Genesis 28, Isaac and Rebecca decided to send their younger son, Jacob, off to find a wife from Rebecca's family. When they did so, their older son Esau finally realized that his parents didn't really like the multiple Canaanite wives he already had. So Eau came up with what he thought was a brilliant strategy to fix the problem.  Esau visited his uncle Ishmael’s family and married one of Ishmael’s daughters, in addition to the wives he already had. His new wife’s name was Mahalath. She was the sister of Nebaioth and the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham’s son. (Genesis 28:9, NLT). Esau thought that adding another wife to his collection would solve the problem.

Esau seemed to have a very common misunderstanding. Esau thought that he could mix one good decision in with all of his bad decisions and everything would suddenly be ok. Now, we could talk about whether adding another wife to the mix was really a good decision but that, too, is kind of the point. When we think we can make one good decision to counteract all of our bad decisions, we simply are not employing good judgment.

How often do we try to place all of our hope on studying for one final test when we have blown off all the others? Or suddenly try to pay our bills first when we have wasted our money for months, hoping we can avoid getting something cut off or repossessed? Or try to make up for a consistently bad witness with a single act of kindness so we can share the gospel with someone?

I'm sure it didn't take Esau long to realize that his parents still weren't thrilled with the women he married and that adding one more wife didn't really fix the problem. Trying to mix a "good" decision in with a slew of bad ones doesn't make everything ok. The only remedy for a lot of bad decisions is consistently making good decisions. Just mixing one in amounts to nothing but a poor excuse to feel better about ourselves.

Friday, March 15, 2019

The Deafening Roar of Minor Miracles

The story goes of a man who was a known smuggler who crossed the border every day. Every day a border agent would stop him with his wheelbarrow and sift through all of the dirt inside the wheelbarrow, but he could never catch the man or figure out what was being snuck across the border. Every night, the man would walk back across the border empty-hand and come back the next morning with a wheelbarrow full of dirt. Eventually, the border agent gave up, never realizing the very thing being smuggled across the border was a bunch of wheelbarrows.Sometimes we miss the most obvious things because we are focused on the dirt.

In Daniel chapter 3, I recently noticed a miracle that I don't believe I've ever seen anyone call attention to. Daniel 3 is the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who are thrown into the fiery furnace for refusing to worship the king's idol. Now, miraculously, they survive the furnace which is so hot that the guards who toss them in are killed while walking around with one who looks like a son of the gods. There are two miracles right there but the miracle I noticed was a different one.

We used to live in an area where we had to burn our own trash. One of the things I have learned is that fires can be loud. (I guess I've always known that, having experienced camping fires and bonfires but never thought about it.) And the bigger the fire, the louder they get. But King Nebuchadnezzar had ordered a furnace, which was already a massive fire, heated seven times hotter than normal because he was so angry, so the roar of this fire was deafening. Then, when he realized the three men had been saved by their God, we read this: Then Nebuchadnezzar came as close as he could to the door of the flaming furnace and shouted: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stepped out of the fire. (Daniel 3:26, NLT) How in the world did Nebuchadnezzar make himself heard over the roar of that massive fire, especially when those three men were in the very heart of the flames?

Granted, compared to being saved from the fire itself, the fact that Nebuchadnezzar was somehow heard isn't all that impressive, but it should have been no less impossible. Yet, of the dozens and dozens of times I have read that story or heard it taught or preached, I've never heard anyone ever mention that. It was a minor miracle that is easily overshadowed by the other events of the chapter. But it was still a miracle.

How many minor miracles occur in our lives that we never notice because they are overshadowed by other events? How is it that a stop light can change the entire course of your day, starting off a chain of events that can last for years to come? Or think about that check that God laid on someone's heart to write two weeks before the need was even realized? What about that morning your alarm clock didn't go off because God knew you were going to need the extra sleep that day? Or when you make a choice to follow the Spirit's lead and the things you sacrificed to obey end up working out anyway?

We continually experience "minor" miracles that are overshadowed by the larger events of the day. Thank God for those miracles, and try to keep your eyes open for God's "minor"movements in the future. Most of the time, we have more to thank God for than we realize.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Asking for Trust While Lying Through Your Teeth

One of the frustrations of the political season is that, unless you completely tune out all forms of media, you have to listen daily to public figures asking for our trust while lying to our faces. From every side during the political season we are lied to and winked at because people are more interested in winning and advancing their own ideas than they are invested in the truth. We're told one candidate didn't really help create jobs (just don't look at the first several years of his tenure, shh). We're told one candidate hated a particular group of people (just don't look at who he actually appointed, ok). We're told one candidate's "scandals" are all phony because there's no proof (just ignore the massive piles of evidence because they were collected by people from a different party).  We're given so many half-truths and outright lies, so much propaganda and spin, so many scare tactics and straw men, that it is hard not to become very angry all the time if you really pay attention. After all, the goal in politics is getting your candidate elected and advancing your political ideology. It's about winning, not the truth.

This tendency to sacrifice the truth for one's own gain is neither new nor confined to politics. We even see an example of it in Matthew 28. The Jewish ruling council had condemned Jesus for blasphemy and convinced Pilate to crucify him, even having an official seal placed on the tomb in which Jesus was buried. But when the soldiers guarding the tomb reported that Jesus had risen from the dead, complete with an earthquake and angel appearances, the priests and elders gave the soldiers a large sum of money and told them, “Say this, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole Him while we were sleeping.’ If this reaches the governor’s ears, we will deal with him and keep you out of trouble” (Matthew 28:12-14, HCSB).

At this point, the priests and elders should have been jumping for joy. Jesus really was the Messiah. God had answered the prayers of his people and sent a savior. They should have been running to Jesus and falling down before him begging for forgiveness. But instead, they disregarded the truth because it didn't fit their agenda and meant they had been on the wrong side. Sadly, they demonstrated that they were more interested in winning, in maintaining their superiority, than in the truth.

But before we start judging the priests and elders, we should take a hard, long look at ourselves. How often do we ignore certain facts because we don't know how to counter them and still be right? How often do we pretend scripture doesn't address a particular activity or attitude because we enjoy it too much or because quitting would be difficult and inconvenient? How often do we only pass on a portion of the truth because the whole truth would makes us look bad or expose our errors?

When we find ourselves engaging in these kinds of activities, we prove ourselves to be more invested in an idea, in winning, or in keeping what we have than in the truth. As a result, we begin living a lie, knowing that we're wrong, knowing that we simply won't admit it. In the end, living a lie sears our consciences until we no longer care. And that should scare us.

Don't put your ideas, ideologies, politics or position above the truth. If we've been on the wrong side of an issue, it is better to swallow our pride and switch sides than to live a lie.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Being a Redheaded Christian

If you ever see me or my wife in public with our kids it is impossible to not know who our children belong to. Both of the kids have a the same bright red hair as my wife and the same family facial structure that runs on my side of the family. Even if they wanted to, my children could not deny who they belong to. When we go out to eat with large groups, it is very easy for our waiter or waitress to know who belongs on our check.

Similarly, people should experience the same things with us because we belong to Jesus.   But how, exactly, does that work? It's not as if people can look at us, like they look at my children, and notice the physical resemblance. So what is it that people can see that lets them know we belong to Jesus. I'm sure we could come up with lists of things: compassion, caring for the poor, righteous living, honesty, integrity, loving our neighbor as ourselves. All of those things are important, of course, and we should be characterized by those things. But none of them are the thing that causes people to recognize our affiliation with Jesus when they see them.

In John 13, immediately after Jesus' last supper with the disciples before his crucifixion and after Judas had left to betray him, Jesus told the disciples, "I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love one for another" (John 13:34-35, HCSB). According to Jesus' words here, there are two important things necessary for people to recognize that we belong to Jesus. First, they must see us, as believers, loving one another. Of all the things that we can do, Jesus pointed to this one as the one that would let everyone know we belong to him. Not being loving in general. Not even loving our neighbors as ourselves. Not being non-judgmental. Loving each other - our fellow believers. Is it any wonder that the world doesn't believe we belong to a resurrected Lord when we are often better known for fighting each other and arguing with each other than for loving each other?

But the second thing Jesus's words require if people are to recognize that we belong to him is that people must see us together. We cannot be seen to love each other if we are not seen with each other. More than that, we cannot be seen to love each other if we are not seen to love being with each other. Do you really believe that people love each other when they never want to be around each other?  Is it even possible to love someone if you are never together? At least in a biblical, unconditional, love-is-a-choice-not-just-a-feeling kind of way?

Do you want to convince the people in your school or office or neighborhood that Jesus is real and you belong to him? Let them see you with other believers, actively loving each other the way that Jesus loved us. By this all people will know  that we belong to him.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

I Wish I Could Get Attacked For That...

During the last presidential campaign, I heard a commercial blasting one of the presidential candidates as someone who used to have a Swiss bank account. Aside from the fact that owning a Swiss bank account doesn't have any direct bearing on one's qualifications to be president, my first thought as I heard the commercial was, "I wish I had a Swiss bank account!"

Then I got to thinking about what I would do if I had enough money to warrant a Swiss bank account. Obviously I would be saving some of it (that's what Swiss bank accounts are for), but what else would I do? I would imagine that many of us have those fantasies from time to time. What would I do if I won the lottery? What would I do if someone left me a million dollars? How would I spend that kind of money? I've known a few people who suddenly came into money and I have discovered that the answer to that question is surprisingly predictable: they spend it on the same kinds of things they already spend their money on, just to greater extremes. People who already spend money on their family tend to spend even more. People who give to the church tend to give even more. People who waste their money tend to waste it even more.

As I was pondering this phenomenon I ran across this verse from Psalm 37:26 about the righteous person, "He is always generous, always lending…" (HCSB). When I read that verse, I immediately played the devil's advocate (not literally), asking, "Well what if he doesn't have much money?" But then I realized the verse didn't say, "He is generous when he has a lot" or "He lends money when he can afford to." The proverb says, "He is always generous, always lending…" The righteous person doesn't give because he can afford to; the righteous person gives because of who he is.

Jesus reinforced this principle in a number of parables, most notably the parable of the talents where three different men are given sums of money to use in their lord's name. At the end of the story, those who have been faithful with the little they have been given are rewarded with more and the one who did not manage for his lord's benefit had everything taken away from him. Jesus ends the parable with the master telling his faithful managers, "You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share in your master's joy!" (Matthew 25:21,23, HSCB). Jesus was teaching that what you do with a little, you will also do with a lot.

If you ever wondered how you would handle a sudden influx of wealth, look at the things you spend your money on now and you will find out. Be faithful and generous with the little you have and you never know when God might give you the opportunity to be faithful and generous even more.

Changing the Future with a Deep Breath

If you aren't familiar with Doctor Who , you aren't aware that the British television series features an alien called The Doctor, w...