Friday, October 28, 2016

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 hidden movements in the future. Most of the time, we have more to thank God for than we realize.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Sharing the Gospel with the Gatekeeper and the Key Master

The Halloween season is replete with scary stories on TV. One recurring theme in these stories is a friend or family member being possessed by some unruly ghost, which then has to be defeated without harming the person being possessed. Perhaps one of the best examples of this kind of story is the original Ghostbusters movie. Bill Murray's character had been trying to get a date with a particular client who ends up being possessed by an ancient Spirit called the "Gatekeeper" and Rick Moranis' goofy character is possessed by the "Key Master" and ends up turning into a demonic dog. The Ghostbusters' job is to somehow defeat the ghosts without harming their friends. The ghosts may have been acting through these possessed people, but the possessed people were never really the enemy.

Often, as Christians, I think we could learn a great deal from the Ghostbusters in how we relate to people of the world. Ephesians 6:12 tells us, For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens (HCSB). Now, while I can't pretend to know all of the things that are meant by things like world powers of this darkness and spiritual forces of evil in the heavens, I'm pretty confident what Paul means when he says that our battle is not against flesh and blood. Essentially, Paul is saying, "No person is our enemy."

Too often, as we engage in the battle of daily life, as we encounter resistance to the Gospel message or encounter hate and malice from the people around us. In spite of what we may feel, those people are not our enemies. Our enemies are the forces of evil and darkness which influence and teach people to behave in malicious, harmful ways. Our enemies are the forces of Hell as they possess, influence, tempt and seduce the world we live in and the people who live in it.

We are called to love the people around us. We are called to lay down our lives as Jesus did, to love those who act as our enemies and bless those who persecute us. We are called to this because our Heavenly Father loves those who have been raised in this sinful world and been taught by its systems and cultures just as much as He loves those of us who have already been rescued from it.
As we fight daily battles against evil and, sometimes, just for our survival. We must constantly remember that the people who seem to be opposing us are not our enemies. Our battle is not against flesh and blood and we will never reach our the lost with the Gospel if we respond to them like enemies.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

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.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

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.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Hiding Under the Halloween Candy Bowl

Halloween is an interesting time of year for Christians. Something about the holiday can make some of us a little nuts. Some of us find no conflict at all in celebrating Halloween, choosing to make it simply a time of dress-up and make believe and innocent fun. Some of us believe it to be irrevocably tainted with evil spirits and the forces of darkness, believing that any participation at all amounts to participating in worship of the Satanic. And some of us try to walk a fine line, not believing the celebrations to be Satanic but knowing others do, and avoiding costumes and decorations that touch on the darker side of the holiday. Some of us try to redeem the holiday and hold events at our churches where children will be safe and people might hear the gospel.

I'm not about to settle this argument between Christians if you were hoping for that. Paul left enough wiggle room with respect to eating meat sacrificed to idols that I am going to leave wiggle room here. But I do think there are a few verses that, for me, touch directly on this subject. In Matthew 5:14-16, Jesus tells his disciples, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven" (NLT).

These verses don't tell us who is right about how to handle Halloween, but they can speak to us as individuals about how we handle the holiday. According to these verses our light is to shine out like a city on a hill that cannot be hidden and people are too see our deeds and give glory to God because of them. We must ask ourselves if the way we handle Halloween shines like a light in the darkness. In the middle of that dark night, are our lights shining for all to see? Or do we hide our light under a bowl? If we celebrate the holiday, is there anything to show the world that we are different, that we are children of a God who has conquered the darkness, or are we just like everybody else? If we abstain from the holiday, does our light shine out for the world to see or are we hiding in our homes with the curtains drawn and the lights off, hoping nobody knocks on our doors?

I can't tell you how the Holy Spirit should lead you with regard to this holiday. But I can say, whatever you decide, you must make certain your light is shining. There is no excuse not to shine your light on the darkest night of the year.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Nursery Workers and Uncertain Nationalities

Several years ago, I got the chance to interview candidates for a nursery worker position for our church. We only had a couple interviews, but one of the young ladies who applied stood out from the rest. Not only did she have more prior experience than the others but she dressed more professionally, had a more personable demeanor, and simply impressed me more. That young lady ended up getting the job and has since become a well-loved friend of the family. Primarily because, initially, she simply stood out.

In Luke 17, Jesus has an encounter with ten lepers, all of whom he healed, but only one of which came back to thank him. These lepers all lived in an area along the border between Samaria and Galilee and, all being outcasts from both societies, they probably had a good mix of both Jews and Samaritans. But the only thing we know about any of these men, other than that they all had leprosy, is found in two verses. 'One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan' (Luke 17:15-16, NLT).

Did you catch that? We have what might be a mixed group of men, both Jewish and Samaritan. Might. But we don't know. The only thing we know for sure about this group, aside from the leprosy, is that this man was a Samaritan. Why? Because being grateful and demonstrating his gratitude made him stand out enough for that detail to be recorded.

We live in a dark, fallen, ungrateful world. And when we demonstrate gratitude, real gratitude, it stands out. People are surprised by genuine gratitude when they encounter it in a society filled with entitlement attitudes and give-me-give-me mindsets. Demonstrating genuine gratitude sets you apart and causes people to take notice of you. And, when we are trying to win the world for Jesus, standing out because of our gratitude is not a bad place to start.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

For Rangers Fans, Giants Fans, Or Anyone Else Whose Team Has Just Lost

As a baseball fan whose team's season has come to a close, I was reminded of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. If you don't mind, I've added a few verses of my own that seem fitting right now.

"For everything there is a season,

"A time for every activity under heaven.
"A time to be born and a time to die.
"A time to plant and a time to harvest.
"A time to kill and a time to heal.
"A time to tear down and a time to build up.
"A time to cry and a time to laugh.
"A time to grieve and a time to dance.
"A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
"A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
"A time to search and a time to quit searching.
"A time to keep and a time to throw away.
"A time to tear and a time to mend.
"A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
"A time to love and a time to hate.
"A time for war and a time for peace."

A time to win and a time to choke.
A time to play on and a time to go home.
A time to keep believing and a time to be disappointed.
A time to lose and a time to defy the odds.
A time to rest and a time to begin again.
A time for self-examination and a time to let go of the past.
A time to hang your head in shame and a time to lift it in pride.
A time to be mocked and eventually a time to win.
There is a time for every activity under heaven.
No matter what team you cheer for.