Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Helping Superman Hold His Arms Up

Suggested Reading: Exodus 17:8-16

As Clark Kent was becoming Superman in the television series Smallville, before the public knew his face, he was known as the Blur, a faceless good Samaritan who put bad guys in jail and saved people from disasters. The Blur had become a symbol of hope for the people of Metropolis. But the politicians had begun passing laws against helping people without wearing a uniform and being on the government's payroll. Discouraged, and doubting the possible success of efforts to repeal these laws, Clark had begun to doubt himself as well. So a couple friends who knew his secret identity created a website where people could post video messages for the Blur. When the videos where shared with Clark, he was overwhelmed with encouragement and found the motivation to keep helping people.

A remarkably similar scene was played out in the book of Exodus as Moses was leading the Israelites out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. Without provocation the Amalekites attacked Israel. Moses, who was now more than 80 years old, assigned Joshua to rally the army while he upheld them in battle. Whenever Moses held up his hands, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hands, Amalek prevailed. But Moses' hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun (Exodus 17:11-12, ESV). Whether Moses' raised hands provided some supernatural assistance or simply encouraged the people, we don't know. We just know it helped. But an 80 year old man, or even a 20 year old man, can only hold his hands up for so long before they give out. In order to keep helping his people, Moses himself needed help.

The people who help us often need help themselves. They need encouragement and rest as much as any of us. These people may seem superhuman at times, but they are just as human as the rest of us and many hover near the edge of exhaustion and discouragement. Sometimes, in order to keep helping us, they need help themselves. They need someone to come along and find them something to sit on so they can rest. They need someone to hold them up for a time, giving them encouragement and strengthening them with prayer. They need help.

Or maybe you are the person always helping and ministering to others. Maybe you hover near the edge of exhaustion and discouragement. Maybe you have gone over that edge. Don't be afraid to let people know you need help. Without it, your hands may fail and everyone will be let down. Everyone needs help from time to time.

Let's be ready and willing both to give help and to receive it.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Playing With Friends Who Steal Your Toys

Suggested Reading: John 2:13-25

When I was a kid, I used to play with a kid down the street named "Jack." My mother never really liked Jack and she let me play with him against her better judgment because I liked him and thought he was my friend. It didn't matter to me that Jack tended to make fun of me and insult me. I didn't seem to care that Jack cheated when we played games together. He treated me like dirt but I insisted he was my friend and kept playing with him. Not until the day that we were in my room playing with my new He-Man toy and Jack decided he wanted it, abruptly stood up, and ran to his house with my prized toy did I realize Jack wasn't really my friend. After chasing him down and forcing him to give me my toy back I vowed that I would never call him my friend again.

Unfortunately, many of us continue to struggle with that lesson well into adulthood. The universal struggle to distinguish our friends from those who only claim to be our friends is one of the reasons the author of Proverbs wrote, There are “friends” who destroy each other, but a real friend sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24, NLT).  We all desire to have friends, people we can enjoy things with, people we can trust and confide in, people who like us as much as we like them. But we often find ourselves looking back at friends who have betrayed us and realize we should have known better. Sometimes we extend this struggle to romantic relationships, confusing those potential partners who only claim to care for us with those who actually do.

Part of the secret to avoiding this confusion is by watching our friends' behavior, both toward us and toward other people. We must learn that a person who treats us like crap, who insults us and demeans us, who just treats us badly, is not our friend, however much they may claim to be or however much we wish they were. We can still interact with those people, but we must exercise discretion with regard to how much we trust them. Even Jesus faced this dilemma in John chapter 2 when a large number of people saw his miracles and claimed belief in him. We are told Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind for he knew what was in each person (John 2:24-25, NIV). Jesus knew that not everyone who claimed to believe him really was his friend and Jesus showed discretion about who he trusted. But no one can claim that Jesus didn't love the people around him.

As followers of Christ, we must learn to show discretion in the people we trust. We can love everyone, but we must be as wise as serpents, remembering that not everyone who claims to be a friend really is. Learn to distinguish your real friends based on their behavior. Showing discretion with your friendships is not cynical or uncaring; rather it is the epitome of wisdom. You cannot afford to be influenced by someone who claims to be your friend but consistently shows you otherwise.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Saving a Town from Loaded Dice

Suggested Reading: Proverbs 16:22-33

Several years ago, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson was in a movie called Walking Tall, based on the true story of a man whose town had been taken over by a drug ring and who got himself elected Sheriff to clean up the town. In the movie, The Rock's problems began when a friend invited him to a casino. While he was there, he noticed that one of the men running the games was using a pair of loaded dice. When he attempted to call the dealer on the carpet, the dealer denied it but the Rock took the loaded dice from him and told every one to place their bets because the dice were going to come up seven. Without even looking, he tossed the dice down and the place erupted as everyone who had listened to him and placed bets won. The Rock knew that the roll of the dice was not random and he bet on it.

For people living in Old Testament times, the idea that the roll of the dice might be random was a completely foreign concept. Proverbs 16:33 reads, "We may throw the dice, but the Lord determines how they fall" (NLT). Numerous other places throughout the Proverbs echo similar themes. The Urim and Thumim, God's way of answering yes/no questions through the priests, relied on the same concept. For the ancient Israelites, nothing was truly random. The Lord was in control of everything. Even during the Early Church era, the disciples cast lots to determine God's will for Judas Iscariot's replacement among the twelve apostles

Now, I'm not necessarily saying we should return to casting lots to make decisions. After all, shortly after choosing that replacement apostle the Holy Spirit fell on the believers and we now have access to God's Spirit to help us with decisions. But I do think we could stand to learn a lot from these biblical characters when it comes to how we view "randomness." We must remember that nothing is truly random when God is in control of even how the dice tumble and which side of a coin lands facing up. That person setting across from you at the restaurant is there for a reason. Your neighbor was placed there by God. That light you caught on the way to work delayed you with purpose. God is a master weaver and has spun the threads of our lives with intricate detail and design.

We must learn to watch for God's hand in the day to day "randomness" of our lives. We must keep our eyes open for those hurting people God brings across our path, for those souls hungry for the Gospel we "bump into" throughout the day, for those brothers and sisters God wants to match us up with for the work of the Kingdom. The dice of our lives are loaded and we must bet on them with the way we live.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Public Shootings, Gun Control Debates and Salvation Sources

Suggested Reading: Luke 2:8-20

One of the things I hate about moving is having to learn where everything belongs all over again. For weeks, sometimes for months, finding what we need will take two to three times as long as normal. Where do the measuring cups go? Where did we store the bandaids? What did we do with the tub of craft supplies? Why can't I find my winter coat? For quite a while after a move we are looking in the wrong places for the things we need. We think we know where to find things but quite often have no clue.

I have found the same thing to be true in other areas of life. Responses to public shootings are one example of this. I have heard people cry out for the government to take away people's guns to prevent criminals from getting their hands on them. I have heard other people cry out for the need for more guns in public places to discourage criminals from attempting anything. But it seems to me that both solutions are only attempting to deal with symptoms rather than the solution. Why? We're looking in the wrong place for salvation. We argue over whether we should have less guns or more guns as if those are the only two options available to us and forget about the much more powerful solution waiting for us on or knees.

When Jesus took on flesh and was born into the world as our savior, God announced the news to a group of shepherds through angels. They were told, "The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign:You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger" (Luke 2:11-12, NLT). Why did God chose to send his son to be born into seeming poverty and need a feeding trough for a bed? In part, to remind us that salvation doesn't come through worldly power. Without the angels' directions, the obvious place for the Messiah, the Son of David, to be born would have been the palace. But God wants us to look to the places where we are weak, where we must depend entirely upon God for our salvation.

When we look to places of earthly power to save us, whether it is to the government, to the barrel of a gun, or to wealth, we have looked in the wrong place for salvation. Salvation comes from admitting our weakness and depending on God, whether it is personally or nationally. As a nation, we must stop pretending that we can pass laws or gather enough ammunition to bring peace. Peace comes when people encounter the Prince of Peace. So we must strive to draw people into his presence, through both word and deed. We must look in the right place for our salvation.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

You Were Dead And You Didn't Know It

Suggested Reading: Ephesians 2

When I was in college, a movie came out that had a very interesting watch to re-watch ratio. It made lots of money getting watched the first time but, once you saw the twist at the end, you could never watch the movie the same way. The movie was The Sixth Sense and featured the much maligned and mocked little boy who said, "I see dead people." Bruce Willis played a psychologist who was trying to help this little boy, only to discover right at the end of the movie that he himself has been dead the whole time. He had been walking through life, trying to accomplish things, unable to connect with anyone, including his wife who was beginning a relationship with another man. Throughout the course of the whole movie, he was trying to live his life and never realized he was dead.

The movie is a great illustration for the way we were when God found us. In Ephesians 2:1-2, Paul is reminding the church at Ephesus what their lives were like before Christ and he says, "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously walked according to this worldly age, according to the ruler of the atmospheric domain, the spirit now working in the disobedient" (HCSB). In verse 12 he adds, "At that time, you were without the Messiah, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, with no hope and without God in the world" (HCSB).

But for most of us, until shortly before we encountered Jesus when the Holy Spirit was moving in us, we didn't realize we were dead. We may have begun to suspect. We may have started noticing that life wasn't what it should be.  But we probably weren't completely aware of how dead we were until Jesus gave us life.  In many ways, it's similar to falling in love, really falling in love for the first time. Up until that moment, we may think we know what love is. We may think we know what love feels like and what love drives us to do. But when it really happens for the first time, all of those previous encounters we thought were love suddenly fall by the wayside in comparison. Suddenly, we realize that we didn't know a thing about love. We thought we knew what life was, but when Jesus gave us real life and we discovered what it means to really live, suddenly all the things we once thought were life fall by the wayside and seem empty and meaningless.

When God found us, we were dead. We were without hope. We were cut off from God. But God went out of the way to find us. God saw us in our living death and brought us life. Today, take a little time and remember what is was like to be dead. Then thank God for bringing you to life.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Driving With Mr. Instant Perfection

Suggested Reading: Hebrews 5:11-6:12

Several years ago I was friends with a young man who was a relatively new Christian.  He was extremely excited about the Lord and about sharing the Gospel with people but he would still make dumb decisions from time to time. During this time, we had the opportunity to take a long road trip together. As we drove and talked, this young man shared with me his excitement about what God was doing in his life and proceeded to tell me, "It is just amazing how the Lord has just matured me. How he has perfected me to the point where I don't sin anymore!" Having been a witness to some of his less than intelligent antics and a few times when he had lost his temper, I wanted to bring up his mistakes and say, "Think again, buddy," but I found a more tactful method of reminding him of his immaturity.

My friend wasn't alone, though. All too often we begin to think much more of ourselves than we should, believing we are much more mature than we actually are, even if we are too smart to say it out loud. The author of the book of Hebrews was dealing with a similar dynamic when he wrote, "You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong" (Hebrews 5:12-14, NLT).

The author of Hebrews was reminding his audience that mature people don't just talk like they are mature but they act like it, recognizing the difference between right and wrong and showing it with their actions. When we want to evaluate how mature we are, we should take a long look at our actions. Are we willing to admit when we are wrong? Are we able to accept criticism without feeling attacked? Are we caring for the defenseless and helpless?

One of the first signs of maturity is the ability to recognize one's own immaturity. Can we judge our actions with honest consideration or do we think we have things under control? Anytime we start thinking we have arrived, that is a definite sign we have a long way yet to go.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Needing Reminders for a Photographic Memory

Suggested Reading: Exodus 13:1-16

My memory is a little schizophrenic. I can look at the words on a page and remember them exactly when I want to. I'm able to recall the tiniest bit of trivia at a moment's notice and recall study notes for tests extremely easily. But ask me to remember that I have to be somewhere at 2:00 Thursday afternoon or to recall a conversation I had with my wife last night and I might as well be brain dead. Now, putting aside for a moment the conversations with my wife (I still insist half of them don't actually take place), the only way I can recall appointments is to set myself several reminders. Sometimes, these reminders take the forms of sticky notes left where I will see them, but my schedule is so inconsistent that sticky notes don't really work anymore. Most of the time I have to plug the appointment into the calendars in my phone and tablet and create a minimum of three reminders, one or two for the day of the event and then a few days before as well. Otherwise, I'm likely to forget completely. Once I didn't set a reminder and didn't remember an appointment until two months after it had passed. Reminders are an absolute necessity for me.

But just as badly as I forget appointments, nearly all of us have a tendency to forget the ways God has intervened in our lives. We have short memories and when the next tragedy strikes or trouble arises we can find it difficult to look past the current circumstances and remember how God has stepped in to help in the past. That is one of the reasons that, when God was leading his people out of slavery in Egypt, God commanded them, "On this day in early spring, in the month of Abib, you have been set free. You must celebrate this event in this month each year after the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Hivites, and Jebusites" (Exodus 13:4-5, NLT). God was setting up a reminder for the people to help them constantly remember God's power, kindness, and desire to set them free from their enemies. Since Israel settled in the land and then consequently forgot their devotion to God, we shouldn't find it surprising that scripture says they didn't celebrate this Passover feast until centuries later under the reigns of Josiah and Hezekiah. They never set up their reminders.

As God intervenes in our lives, as God saves us from various trials, helps us through times of difficulty or provides for us in the most impossible of circumstances, we would be wise to set up little reminders in our own lives, memorials that constantly keep us mindful of God's acts of love and power on our behalf. Sometimes they can be celebrations like Christmas and Easter traditions that have our own little twist. They might be our own little rituals that serve to slow things down and make us think about God's goodness, anniversaries of important events in life or a little plaque that sits on our desk at the office. Whatever God has done in your life, memorialize it, be intentional about remembering it and telling the story from time to time. You will be amazed at how much those reminders help when difficult times arise.

Helping Superman Hold His Arms Up

Suggested Reading: Exodus 17:8-16 As Clark Kent was becoming Superman in the television series Smallville , before the public knew his fa...