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Friday, January 29, 2010

Rolling Doubles

A few years ago, I read a fascinating book called THE GAME MAKERS. It told about the invention, manufacturing, and selling of some of America's most famous board games.

According to the book, an unemployed man, named Charles Brace Darrow, arrived at the office of Parker Brothers during the early years of the Great Depression. He had invented a game about buying, developing, and selling real estate. At first, representatives of Parker Brothers were not impressed. However, as the Great Depression deepened, that made the decision to purchase the board game.

A lot of work had to be done with the game, but after several conceptual changes, the company felt they had a viable product. However, George Parker, one of the founding partners, arrived from Europe and analyzed what his brain trust had produced. He was still very concerned over flaws he found in the game's rules. Parker was a stickler for details, and he believed one of the essential items of a good board game was well-written rules.

Parker set about re-writing the rules. He spent three days alone debating with members of his staff the wording of the rule regarding throwing doubles. Ultimately, his hard work paid off. MONOPOLY remains the gold standard of board games to this day.

Organization and administration are two words that are often considered "dirty" in today's churches. This is a mistake. George Parker's concern for details and organization reflected a God, who is detailed and organized. Just check out Genesis One and Two in its account of the creation.

I believe the organization and administration done in God's name, for the sake of God's kingdom, and in imitation of God, make for better churches. How about you?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

“Gator-guzzling python comes to messy end”

A few years ago, I came across an article on MSNBC with the aforementioned title. A 13-foot Burmese python, who had escaped his owner or been let go in the Florida Everglades, had come upon a six-foot-long alligator and thought he saw a delicious supper. He was mistaken. What he thought would satisfy his appetite, instead created a mess, according to authorities, of horror-movie proportions.

Frank Mazzotti, a University of Florida wildlife professor, summarized the catastrophe in this way: the alligator evidently clawed at the python’s stomach as the snake was attempting to digest it. When experts arrived on the scene, the alligator’s legs were protruding from the snake’s midsection. By then, the snake was dead.

Through the years, I have seen folks who thought they found the ideal meal to satisfy their appetites, only to arrive at similar ends. Some swallowed substances that created life-destroying addictions. Others found their insides torn up from worry. Still others burned up internal organs from ingesting anger.

Jesus seemed to understand the human appetite is potentially dangerous and we need to satisfy it in a proper manner. After all, it was Jesus who said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Boot Polisher

When I was in college, I remember Jim McGuiggan sharing with us a parable. It was about a wicked and God-hating officer in the British Army, who told about how he was converted to Christianity.

The officer related that one night, a Christian in his platoon came in from sentry duty. He was very tired and wet, and yet, before going to bed he got down on his knees to pray.

The officer, at this time, just a simple private, responded to this act of piety in a harsh way. He took one boot and threw as hard as he could at the Christian's head. Bull’s eye!

The Christian groaned and prayed, groaned and prayed. So the private grabbed his other boot and threw it as hard as he could at the Christian’s head and, again, nailed his target.

The Christian moaned, groaned, rubbed his head—and he prayed. He moaned and prayed, moaned and prayed.

As the Christian continued moaning and praying, his antagonist fell asleep. The following morning, the private awoke and found that the Christian had polished his boots; they stood in perfect formation beside his bed.

This act of humility broke the private’s heart. This loving work of service propelled the private on a road to conversion.

The Christian servant reminds me of Paul’s portrayal of Jesus in Philippians 2. Jesus models for us what it means to put others’ needs above our own, including those needs of our enemies. Perhaps with such loving humility, we can persuade more to turn to Jesus.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Letting Your Light Shine

He says: ‘It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth,’" (Is. 49:6.)

"You are the light of the world…” (Matt. 5:14a.)

In the early 1700s, there lived in the mountains of Saxony in the central part of Europe a religious group known as the Moravian Brethren. They were refugees, having fled the persecution of the anti-Reformation movement in Bohemia and Moravia. Challenged in a chance encounter with a slave from the West Indian island of St. Thomas, this fellowship decided that they wanted to let their lights shine throughout the world. Thus in 1732, they sent Leonard Dober, a potter by trade, and David Nitschmann, a carpenter, to the island to live and preach the gospel.

Mind you, in those years missionaries didn't come home on furlough every two years. Yet, in the years following this small band of believers sent missionaries to Greenland (1733), the Indian territories of North America (1734), Surinam (1735), South Africa (1736), the Samoyedic peoples of the Arctic (1737), Algiers and Ceylon, or Sri Lanka (1740), China (1742), Persia(1747), Abyssynia and Labrador (1752). Beginning in 1732 and over the course of the next 150 years, this group of faith was to send 2158 of its members into the world to proclaim Christ.

Reading of the Moravian Brethren I am humbled. This truly was a group that maintained a divine discontent. They wished to be a light to the world. I hope that every disciple of Christ will capture this fervent spirit in seeing to it that every person on earth hears the good news. Surely, with all of our money and resources, we can take the gospel to every person on earth.

So often it is hard to discover what God's will is in making a decision. However, this is one area in which we know what God's will is; the question is will we meet the challenge. What it all boils down to is this, are there enough of us willing to go, and are we willing to send them?

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Serendipity of Failure

A few years ago, James Burke noted in TIME magazine that Alexander Graham Bell invented an instrument to inform people of the arrival of telegrams. He did not realize it would become the telephone.

Alessandro Volta devised a eudiometer for exploding bad-smelling gases with electricity. This became the spark plug.

In the late 1800s, aniline dye accidentally fell into a German researcher's petri dish that contained a bacterial culture. He discovered that the dye “preferentially stains and kills certain bacteria.” This paved the way for chemotherapy.

Serendipity intervened: in London summer of 1928, an open window in a hospital lab let in a spore that settled on a staphylococcus-culture dish left unwashed. A mold grew and contaminated the staphylococcus. The lab user returned. Hence, because his lab had not been cleaned, lab user and bacteriologist, Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin.

An Italian explorer sailed across the Atlantic Ocean hoping to find a new route to India and enrich himself trading for spices. Christopher Columbus instead discovered a new world, which literally led to seismic shifts in geography, world power, and, literally, world view.

By its purest definition, all of these inventions and discoveries were failures. They did not meet their original objectives. However, the successes of the byproducts of these “failures” have been staggering.

All of these serve as a nice metaphor for the Christian’s walk with God. Whether they are true failures or unplanned directional turns, Scripture teaches us God can work through both. This truth lends an atmosphere of excitement to the Christian journey. As my colleague, Tim Henderson, put it in one of his blogs, “It is better living to be watching for the unexpected than expecting the living to follow our plan. May you enjoy a life of watching God do more than you can explain or imagine.”

Tim’s words remind me of some of Paul’s, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” (Eph. 3:20-21.)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Why NOT Forsaking the Assembly Makes a Difference

Sometimes it is hard being a dad. You try teaching you kids and, unfortunately, sometimes they don’t want to listen. That’s when you pray that, at just the right time, someone else will come along to reinforce what you taught. Perhaps they will listen to them.

A few years ago, one father called another. He explained that he had a young son. One Sunday morning, the father’s young son was sitting down in a pew for his church’s early morning worship service. In walked a young man, a college student, who took a seat in a pew. He was obviously beaten up and his arm was in a sling.

The boy knew that the college student with the sling had flown much of the night and arrived at the airport at three or four in the morning. The reason he had been flying was because his team had played a football game in Lawrence, Kansas the night before against Kansas State. The reason his arm was in a sling was because he was knocked out of the game with an injury. Still, despite pain and exhaustion, he made the decision to worship God with his church—then he would go to the training room for treatment.

One father, with tears, shares his heart and gratitude to another. “My little boy saw that. I just want you to know that was the biggest impression anyone will ever make on my 10-year-old.”

The father who received the phone call was Brad McCoy. The college student whose first priority was to attend the Sunday morning worship service was Brad’s son, Colt.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

When a Commode Becomes a Temple

Philip Yancey gave me chills in his book, REACHING FOR THE INVISIBLE GOD. He told of a Cambodian man testifying at an international conference on evangelism. The man had been placed in a concentration camp by the Pol Pot regime.

When asked what he resented most about the camp, he replied, “Even more than deprivation of food, even more than the torture, I resented having no time to meet with God. There were guards yelling at us, forcing us to work, work, work.” Yet, this prisoner was convinced his death was imminent. Thus, he desired to spend time each day with God in preparation, but it was to no avail.

Then, he observed that the camp’s guards could get no one to volunteer to clean the cesspits. Who wanted to root himself in the raw sewage? So, the man volunteered for the horrible job.

At the conference, he enthralled his audience with these words, “No one ever interrupted me and I could do my work at a leisurely pace. Even in those stinking depths, I could look up and see blue sky. I could praise God that I survived another day. I could commune with God undisturbed and pray for my friends and relatives all around me. That became for me a glorious time of meeting with God.”

Here was a man who desired to commune with God so much, a de facto gigantic commode became for him, a temple.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Man Who Snubbed George Washington in Death

One of my favorite historians, Edward J. Larson, writes about George Washington's death in 1799. There was one prominent politician, who refused to attend Washington's funeral. He refused to attend any memorial service for Washington. He refused to send any note of condolence or issue any statement to the press expressing his respect for Washington. That man was the vice president of the United States. That man was Thomas Jefferson.

It was almost two years before Jefferson demonstrated any hint of respect. After winning the presidential election in 1800, he called upon Washington's widow. Jefferson had grown bitter in his opposition to Washington’s political views. Finally, only after winning his election to the presidency, he did the right thing.

I crack up today when I hear folks complaining about partisanship and hostility in politics. Truth be told, it is rare when there is a lack of partisanship in politics. Throughout our history, the political dialogue has typically lacked civility and been mean-spirited.

This is one reason why I think we, as Christians, must be very careful regarding politics. Our calling is much greater. 200 years have not made Thomas Jefferson’s snub look any better, even though he was a Deist. Imagine the poor reception we receive from the unchurched world, when we behave in a way inconsistent with our Christian ideals.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Two Men, Two Lives, Two Deaths

Don Richardson tells a moving story in his book LORDS OF THE EARTH. Two missionaries, Stan Dale and Phil Masters, were working in Irian Jaya, Indonesia a few decades ago. They were working with the Yali tribe in the Snow Mountains. This tribe observed many customs that we would consider cruel and inhumane.

As one might imagine, when the missionaries began their work among these people, they did not receive a red carpet welcome. One night Stan Dale was attacked by the tribesman and shot five times with arrows. Fortunately, he survived and returned to work with the tribe. Dale worked for several years without results. Meanwhile the hostility and rancor of the tribesman grew until Dale and the other missionaries faced what they knew was an impending attack.

One day, the vicious attack came. While others ran for safety, Stan Dale, Phil Masters, and a Dani tribesman named Yemu, remained with the hope that they could somehow persuade the attacking Yali tribesman to cease.

As Stan faced the murderous men, he was shot by a multitude of arrows. However, as each arrow pierced his body, something phenomenal occurred. Stan would remove the arrow—and break it in two. Finally, he reached the point that he no longer had the power to extract the arrows. Nonetheless, in spite of his physical weakness, he continued to stand.

Seeing the courage of Stan Dale standing with fifty arrows in his body, Phil Masters displayed his valor. Standing in his tracks, Phil was quickly encircled by warriors. By now, the warriors were even more vicious because they were frightened. Stan had not fallen, thus the warriors became desperate. Rapidly they shot Phil full of arrows. After the attackers had finally subdued the two missionaries, they mutilated the two bodies.

Following the mutilation, the Yali tribesman remembered that the missionaries had spoken of a resurrection. To counter-act this, they dispersed the remains of the two missionaries throughout the jungle.

Two men, two lives, two horrible deaths—did it make a difference? Yes. In these acts of bravery, the savage, godless system of the Yali tribe was destroyed. Because Stan Dale and Phil Masters willingly suffered persecution, many of the Yali tribe as well as tribes in the surrounding area decided that they wanted the same faith as these two courageous men.

Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life,” (John 12:24-25).

Monday, January 18, 2010

Working for the Hosts of Heaven

Today is Martin Luther King Day. I consider Dr. King to be one of the most important human beings of the twentieth century.

Within the civil rights movement, Dr. King sought to motivate men and women to offer their very best to God. In that context, King declared, "If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted and Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of Heaven and Earth shall pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’"

Those words have inspired millions. From the day I encountered that quote, it, too, has motivated me.

Friday, January 15, 2010

How Reading the Bible Saved a Marriage

(I first heard this story on spring break campaign, when I was in college. The person relating it to us said that it came from the voice of HEARTBEAT—
Landon Saunders. For the sake of privacy, I am going to change the names of the spouses.)

Bob, a young man working with HEARTBEAT ministries was a workaholic. Things went sour in his marriage and it disintegrated. The couple obtained a divorce.

Bob, broken-hearted, went to Landon and asked, "What do I do?"

Landon said, "You do nothing—except get up an hour earlier each day and read the Word."

Because the divorced couple had a child, they occasionally had contact with each other. In time, the ex-wife asked Landon, "What has happened to Bob? He has changed so much."

Six months later, the couple remarried. Later, Bob wrote a tract for HEARTBEAT ministries calling it, "An Open Letter to a Troubled Marriage."

Clearly, many variables are present in marriage. However, never underestimate the power of the Word of God on an open heart.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Captain of Our Ship

In this blog, many stories I share are more accurately called parables. Like Jesus, I tell them for the point of the story. They may or may not be true. The following is one of those parables.

A seagoing captain commanded a passenger ship that was sailing from Liverpool, England, to New York. His family was on board with him. One night when everyone was asleep, a squall unexpectedly swept over the waters and tossed the ship violently, awakening the passengers. They were all terribly afraid because of the storm.

The captain’s little 8-year-old girl was also awakened. “What’s the matter?” cried the frightened child.

Her mother told her that a sudden storm had struck the ship.

“Is Father on deck?” she asked.

Her mother responded, “Yes, Father’s on deck.”

Hearing this, the little girl snuggled back into her bed and in a few moments was sound asleep. The winds still blew and the waves still rolled, but her fears were calmed because her father was at the helm.

God’s Word tells us, when we face the trials of life, we rest assured knowing God is on deck steering the ship that is this world. While we have free will, we can experience peace knowing God can work His will no matter what decision we make. Moreover, God is steering his ship toward a meaningful destination.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Noble Stop

A few years ago, I read a letter written to the editor of my hometown paper. Signed by Sandy Wills, the letter moved me greatly:

"To the Editor:

"It was cold and misty and I was driving from work from Mount Vernon. About where Hwy. 21 intersects with SH 37, there was a small boy standing on the shoulder of the road. He had a sad look on his face.

"In the middle of the road lay a dog that looked like a poodle. He appeared to be dead. A big man was gently picking the dog up off the highway while wrapping the dog in his coat. The little boy then pointed to where the man should take the dog.

"I thought as I was driving home, what a random act of kindness it was for the man to stop and help the little boy. The world would be a better place if we all slowed down in our hectic lives and took a moment to be kind to someone in need.

"There's a phrase that says, 'Kindness is something the deaf can hear and the blind can see.' We all need it at 1 time or another."

"To the man who stopped thank you. You made my day."

That man made my day, too. Paul tells me in Galatians five that kindness is a fruit of the Spirit. Nothing demonstrates the character than the demonstration of kindness.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Family Strife

Recently, I read about a young man named Jason Zacchi of Dearborn Heights, Michigan. He chose to rob a local Wendy's.

According to the police report, Zacchi, who is 27 years old, walked up to the drive-through window. He had in his hands a sawed-off shot gun. He demanded money. There was a commotion. The restaurant's manager came to see what was happening.

Immediately, she recognized the robber, in spite of the fact he wore a blue bandanna to cover his face. The reason she recognized him -- she was his mother. Police arrested Zacchi and his girlfriend accomplice and charged both with armed robbery—after his mother turned him in.

All of this reminds me of a story I read in the Bible. It, too, tells of a family member committing a crime against another family member. It is found in Genesis 4...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Who Is Going to Hold?

John Brodie was pro football’s first player to sign an million dollar contract. His career spanned from the late fifties to the early seventies and during his prime, he was without doubt one of the great quarterbacks in the game.

In the mid-sixties, Brodie and the old American Football League’s franchise—the Houston Oilers—arranged a deal which called for him to switch leagues and join the Oilers. It was this transaction that helped to cause the merger between the National Football League and the AFL.

Because of his success, a reporter decided to goad Brodie a little during a particular press conference. The reporter asked Brodie why it was that a million dollar quarterback had to hold the football on field goals and extra-points. "Well," Brodie replied, "If I didn't, it would fall over."

Now that's a great answer. John Brodie certainly didn't have to hold the football. Some other "lesser" player could have performed this menial task. But Brodie's answer indicated an attitude of humility. An attitude which displayed that he was not too big for a job.

Surely we Christians, called by Jesus to be a humble people, can demonstrate this kind of spirit.

Friday, January 8, 2010

He Failed English

He failed English three times and never graduated from high school. He joined the marines and served the United States during the Second World War. After the war, he pursued his dream—to write. Relentlessly, he submitted articles to magazines for publication. Finally, in January 1951, ESQUIRE magazine published his piece “The All American Razzmatazz.”

An avalanche of publication followed. He wrote over 15 books. His book, EXODUS, alone was translated into dozens of languages.

By the end of the twentieth century, Leon Uris was considered one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century. Not bad for a guy who failed English.

Proverbs 12:24 tells us, “Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in slave labor.” Each of us has been gifted by God; we have an inclination or even a passion regarding what we should do with our lives. Sometimes, people cease following their God-gifted passion because of adversity. Someone deems them a failure, and they give up.

Diligence is a virtue. Perhaps, if we could find more joy in the journey rather than the results, more of us could persevere and experience the blessing of fulfilling our God-given calling.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Those Are My Trophies

Mark Kriegel writes that a few years ago, Michael Shustek, chairman and CEO of the Las Vegas-based real estate company, Vestin Group, hired Joe Namath as the company’s spokesman.

Shustek grew up a huge fan of Broadway Joe, the superstar athlete who famously guaranteed his New York Jets would defeat the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. His favorite BRADY BUNCH episode was the one where Joe Namath made a guest appearance. He was also well aware of Namath, the playboy bachelor, who spent the first twenty years of his adult life squiring the most beautiful women of the world.

But Namath married and had two small daughters. “Broadway Joe” was no more. Instead, Namath had devoted himself to his wife and his two young daughters. He endured a devastating divorce, in which his wife left him for a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, a move she had calculated would help advance her career as an actress and artist. Namath received custody of his daughters.

One day, Shustek and Namath enjoyed a game of golf. Afterwards, Shustek asked to see Namath’s trophies. Namath, AFL and Super Bowl MVP, the Hall of Famer, took Shustek into a room, where his daughters’ school art projects were the focal point of the room. Pointing to them Namath said, “There. Those are my trophies.”

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

What’s the Point?

A few years ago, my wife watched an episode of GOOD MORNING AMERICA with Gwynneth Paltrow as a guest. It was shortly after she won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE. Joel Siegal was interviewing her and he asked about all of the awards she had won, all the magazine covers she had appeared on, and how these made her feel.

In effect, Paltrow replied, “It’s good, but after awhile you ask, ‘What’s the point? Your realize all of that is empty. And you look for spiritual meaning to your life.”

Now, last time I checked, Gwynneth Paltrow had not converted to Christianity. However, I hope she continues to ask good questions such as, “What’s the point?” She may very be on her way to Jesus.

After all, Jesus asked this same question years ago. He put it like this, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?”

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Real Thirst

Let me share with you a story from one of my favorite football coaches—Bear Bryant, the great University of Alabama coach in years past. One summer on the late 1920s, the Bear was on break from his high school in Arkansas. He decided to go north to Cleveland, Ohio (where his sister lived) and get a summer job.

Later, when it came time for him to return home, he caught a train—literally. That is to say, as a freight train was pulling out of Cleveland heading south, Bryant ran beside the train and he jumped on it. In St. Louis the Bear hopped on another train that was heading south through Arkansas.

Forced by circumstance to ride on top of a boxcar all night, he almost froze to death due to the cool September night and to the air whistling by his body from the speed of the train. The next morning when the train had stopped for a few minutes, he climbed down from the top of the boxcar and crawled inside and closed the door. The only problem was that when the sun had risen, the boxcar became like an oven during the next few hours of travel.

Fortunately, when the train reached a small town, it stopped. Had Bear ridden much longer in the boxcar, he very well could have dehydrated. As he was staggering out for air, he noticed the train had stopped by a rice field. In the field was a small boy standing knee-deep in water. Bear got off the train and into the water and, pushing the rice apart, he drank his fill. The water was filthy, it was muddy, it was full of debris and smelled. In spite of this, the Bear said it was the best drink that he ever had.

I think this story is emblematic of the spiritual thirst that exists in our country today, and there is an answer. Jesus said in Matt. 5:6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” [NIV].