What Could God Do With You?

God took some dust from the ground and from it formed a living, breathing man, complete with God’s amazing image and a free will. Out of nothing but ordinary dirt!!

God took the rib of a man and made it into a woman, specially fitted as a proper companion for the man and able to bear children.

God took an old man and an old woman (Abram and Sarai), far too old to possess the ability to have children (Romans 4:19 and Hebrews 11:12 says they were “as good as dead”), and made a great physical and spiritual nation out of them by giving them a son from their own bodies.

God took a murderous criminal on the lam, working as a shepherd in the middle of nowhere (Moses), and through him led His people out of slavery to the most power nation on earth at the time — among other miracles, leading them through the Red Sea on dry ground.

God took a fearful and shy farm boy, Gideon, and pulled off the rout of 120,000 Midianites with a mere 300 Israelites.

God took a shepherd boy out of the sheep pasture (David) to defeat a giant, defeat every one of Israel’s enemies, become king all Israel, and become a type of the Messiah to come.

God took Israelite hostages (Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) and helped shape two pagan empires by showing them the power and superiority of the one true God through their inspired interpretations of dreams and visions and courageous resistance to compromise with the pagan culture.

God took young Jewish orphan (Esther) and made her not only queen of Persia but a savior of her people.

God took fishermen, tax men, and political extremists (the 12 apostles) and turned the world upside down with them as they witnessed to everyone what they had seen and preached a simple message, the Gospel.

God took a misguided enemy of His people (Saul of Tarsus) and turned him into the greatest church planter that we know of in the first century (Paul).

And God has been taking ordinary, otherwise unremarkable men and women down through the centuries to bring others to Christ — over and over again. He has been taking ordinary Christian parents and raising up teachers, preachers, elders, deacons, servants, and missionaries for His Kingdom. He’s taken ordinary words, ordinary finances, ordinary talents, ordinary education, and ordinary circumstances and made them something extraordinary for centuries. 

God specializes in taking the common and unremarkable and making it into something marvelous. It’s His favorite way to work; (2 Corinthians 12:9) “And [God] has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” 

He even specializes in taking discouraging and tragic circumstances and making something good, significant, and eternal out of them. We are assured (Romans 8:28), “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

The key? Faith, a willingness of the ordinary man or woman to walk through the doors He opens.

Who are you? Nobody? No one special? You might just the very person God is looking for! Look for the doors He’s opening for you; believe and pray that God will help your unbelief (Mark 9:24); and walk through the door.

What could God do with you?

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Something of How Much I Owe

As many of you know, Linda and I went to France this summer. One of the highlights of the trip for me was going to the Normandy beaches and the American cemetery, where well over 9000 WWII dead are buried. The cemetery itself is very well kept and beautiful, and the memorial there is stately and impressive. 

As part of the tour, we all gathered at the memorial overlooking the cemetery; listened to a brief talk about the thousands buried there and their sacrifice; and then turned toward the cemetery to sing the Star Spangled Banner. It’s difficult to describe how moving this short ceremony was for everyone in attendance; there was truly not a dry eye in the place (mine included) at the conclusion. 

I’ve heard patriotic sentiments often expressed on Memorial Day weekends, but on that day the real, enormous price was graphically displayed before my eyes in a way I had never known. The sight of uniform row after row of white crosses and stars of David that just went on and on brought home the enormity of the price in young lives that was paid for our (my) freedom — their lives given in defense of ours. And there was a unity found in the singing of the national anthem. It was sobering, humbling, and thought provoking (to say the least). I had heard, as we all have, that “freedom is not free”; but had not fathomed just how expensive it had been — and in just this one place. 

This has made me reflect anew how expensive my salvation is. Yes, like every sincere Christian, I’ve known the cross, have tried to wrap my mind around the costliness of man’s redemption, and have cringed seeing the movie “The Passion of the Christ”. I still tear up, still after over 50 years of being a Christian, as some hymns movingly speak of Christ’s sacrifice for me; I thought (I hoped) that I “got it”. But now I’m not so sure, and the words of an old hymn (When this Passing World is Done) come back to me with fresh power…

When I stand before the throne,
Dressed in beauty not my own,
When I see Thee as Thou art,
Love Thee with unsinning heart,
Then, Lord, shall I fully know,
Not till then, how much I owe.

It wasn’t just a really good man whose life was given for our own. It wasn’t 9000 plus lives of courageous young men who were sacrificed for our salvation. It wasn’t an angel, an archangel, or the whole angelic host that was offered. It was much, much greater than all of them combined. It was the exquisitely and supremely high price of the very Son of God, offered up only because nothing less could do what needed to be done. That’s why the sky darkened and the earth quaked in aguish as the breath-taking, heart-stopping, agony-filled “impossible” happened; God (2 Corinthians 5:21) “…made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 

Now, much more, my prayer is…

E’en on earth, as through a glass,
Darkly let Thy glory pass;
Make forgiveness feel so sweet;
Make Thy Spirit’s help so meet;
E’en on earth, Lord, make me know
Something of how much I owe.

Won’t you make it your prayer, too? As we together take the bread and cup this Lord’s Day and every Lord’s Day, let us together try to fathom anew something of how much we owe.

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What If?

A couple of Sunday evenings ago our Bible class began a new study on 1 Peter. As we were discussing the general circumstances and purpose of this letter, we naturally started talking about the terrible persecution of Peter’s day under the Roman emperor Nero. We compared those times with the much much milder persecution we face today; and that led us to wonder how we might fare under the kind of pressure (including martyrdom) that early Christians faced, and what it would do to the church.

Of course, how we each might fare in the fire (sometimes literal) of serious persecution would be an individual answer in each case. However, one thing for sure, it would certainly cause us to “count the cost” and get “black and white”, “hot or cold”, “all in or all out” about faith in a hurry. Gone would be the deceptive “gray areas” in which so many modern Christians live. Priorities in life would be sharpened in stark relief; spiritual things would come first or not at all. Worship of the Savior, because it could cost you your life, would not be taken lightly. Fellowship would be stronger and more dear. Scriptures would be highly valued, devotedly read or not owned at all, because owning a copy could be a capital crime. The confession of Christ would be courageously made, or not made at all — no maybes about it. Which way do you think you’d fall?

Most of the “fringe” folks in the church, who now tend to be sporadic in attendance, would disappear overnight from any assembly (Matthew 13:20, 21). Some might even betray the church’s meeting places and the identity of members. The average Christian would have to make some life-changing decisions about confession or denial, commitment or abandonment, loyalty or betrayal. Some would leave, some would try to compromise, and others would try to be “secret disciples”; but others would gather courage, “step across the line”, and become much stronger spiritually. Even those in the core of the church (its leadership and most involved members) would be tempted to shrink back (for example, Peter); concerns about their family’s safety would test them (1 Cor. 7:26-35) as they quickly became prime targets for persecution. Most of the church’s core would stand strong, but even some of these might leave. The folks who would be left would be the “real deal”. Which would you be, if serious persecution broke out?

What would be left of such a “whittled down” form of the church? It would be the “true believers”, the committed, the determined, the courageous, and the pious (in the good sense of the word). The fire of persecution, you see, burns away the dross and refines the gold (1 Cor. 3:11-15). Persecution boils away that which waters down the potency of the church, leaving only the virile, distilled essence of real Christian faith. Can you imagine such a church? What would the songs and prayers of their worship be like? How likely would they be to boldly step out on faith, no matter the earthly penalty, no matter the impossibility, no matter the size of the giant? How earnest and convicted would they be about the truth of the Bible? How close and genuine would their fellowship be? How much would they be emphasizing the hope of eternal life? How loving, active, evangelistic, courageous, and focused on the Lord would they be? And paradoxically, how great would their joy be, even as they suffered for the name of Jesus (Acts 5:41; James 1:2; Matthew 5:12). No wonder the church grew so quickly in the early centuries — even under persecution! The certainty of their faith combined with the persecution they endured produced world changers!! 

But you know, we needn’t wait for persecution to have a world changing church. We can personally stop straddling the fence now, get serious about our faith now, move from lukewarm to hot now — and urgently encourage others to do the same. Starting now, we can all swear-off ever getting seduced again by “good enough”, when it comes to the Lord’s business; we can set our eyes on the things above and never look back. Consider what it will do for the Lord’s church! Even more, consider what it will do for your eternity!

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Family Communication Rules Avoid Nagging

Over the last several days we’ve been taking a look at some of the most common pitfalls of the way families communicate. This time we’ll be considering a problem that is among the most often complained about, nagging.

Nagging is a constant and disrespectful complaining, criticizing, or fault-finding. It’s aim is to force or manipulate the other person by verbal harassment to do what you want. It is different from a humble, persistent appeal for something truly important or necessary; the attitude of humility or disrespect being one of the key differences.

The unfortunate fact is that nagging often works. Like the drip, drip, dripping of water on a stone, resistance is just worn down, so that the nagger gets what they want. It is manipulation and a variety of extortion: “Give me what I want or I will continue to harass you with my words.” However, “doing whatever works” (in this case, nagging) is not Christian behavior; rather, it is typical worldly conduct.

Because nagging is about words (the strong suit of most women), it is a tool often used by women; Proverbs 27:15 tells us “A constant dripping on a day of steady rain And a contentious woman are alike.” Nagging works, as we noted above, but only temporarily—and with consequences. We’re warned in Proverbs 14:1 “The wise woman builds her house, But the foolish tears it down with her own hands.” The disrespect that accompanies nagging toward husbands and children tears relationships down “brick by brick”.

Nagging, however, isn’t the sole domain of women; men are guilty of it, too. It’s one thing to be respectfully consistent and even persistent about standards and expectations, as husbands and as fathers. But when it gets accompanied by eye-rolling, name-calling, and nasty attitudes it shifts from appropriate husbanding and fathering to angry, destructive nagging. The wise man reminds us in Proverbs 10:19, “When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise.”

And kids, you aren’t immune from this warning either. The attitudes and habits of nagging that show up later in marriage and family are usually developed as children and teens—toward siblings, parents, teachers, and even friends. Do your present self and future family a big favor, nip it in the bud now. Refuse to sink to level of disrespectful complaining, criticizing, and fault-finding. Refuse to harass others in order to manipulate them to do what you want. Take Paul’s advice here, especially the second part of the command, (1 Timothy 4:12) “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.”

Whether used by men, women, children, or parents; nagging isn’t good. It is worldly, it is not pleasant, it does not yield any permanent results, almost always produces resentment, and promotes avoidance rather than unity (nobody wants to hang around a nag). So, watch out how you communicate your complaints, petitions, critiques, and persistence; let your words and attitude reflect respect and love toward others. It is what Jesus did and what disciples of Jesus must cultivate in their own communications—just as Paul taught (Ephesians 4:29), “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”

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Family Communications, Part 6; Upon Confession & Repentance, Forgive!

In the last installment of this series of blog postings, we took a look at how important it is to confess and ask forgiveness, when you’re wrong. By the way, just in case it hasn’t occurred to you, you will occasionally be wrong — yeah, really. However, confessing and asking forgiveness is only half of the solution to family communication failures; the other half is the actual forgiveness.

Far too many families and relationships are plagued by the diseases of unforgiveness, grudge carrying, and revenge tradition. We get our feelings hurt or we don’t get what we want, and we decide that we are right and justified in “getting even”. It’s a powerful temptation, but if we intend to make our families and other relationships functional (as opposed to dysfunctional) we need to grow up and learn better habits.

First we need to leave justice where it belongs, in the hands of governmental authorities (for matters of crime—see Romans 13:1-4) or in the hands of God (see Romans 12:17-21). Revenge is not ours—ever, and even grudges are forbidden (Lev. 19:18). Never let the words, “But he did it to me first,” cross either your mind or your lips again. Do you believe in God? Then believe that He will take care of all wrongs at the right time, and do a much better job of it than we ever could.

Second, when confession, apology, and forgiveness is asked for, then forgive. Give it ungrudgingly for three reasons. Your own forgiveness depends on it (Matt. 6:12); don’t endanger your own salvation. It is the example God Himself has given us (Eph. 4:32); you wouldn’t want God to give forgiveness to you grudgingly, would you? And reluctant, half-hearted forgiveness sends a relationship-destroying message to the person seeking forgiveness; it says, “I’m not really sure I want to.”

Third, learn that forgiveness is actually possible; some people don’t think it is. Their error comes from a misunderstanding; they think that forgiveness means forgetting the offense, “forgive and forget”. Forgiveness, however, is not about forgetting the offense, but rather about treating the other person as if it had never happened. When God forgives; He treats us as if we had never sinned, had never been the Hell-bound sinners we were (if you are now a Christian), and had never become enemies. We, instead, are made heirs of Heaven. Read and think about Luke 15:11-32. And the wonderful by-product of this deliberate decision to treat the person as if it never happened is that before long our feelings really do change and we actually do start to forget. Wonderful family heal can come, all by acting better than we feel.

Fourth, don’t bring the offense up again in an unforgiving way. Don’t use past offenses as a way to win an argument or beat someone

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Family Communications, Part 5; When You’re Wrong, Admit It and Ask Forgiveness

Have you ever known someone who “couldn’t be wrong”? My bet is that you’ll say “YES!” And maybe an eye-roll or a head tilted toward the person you have in mind will accompany your answer.

This is a problem that most men have. Men are often afraid, that if they apologize or admit that they’re wrong, they’ll lose the respect of others. Real leaders, respected people—so goes the flawed theory—never make mistakes.

However, women have this problem, too. How many men—and even women—have you heard joking about how the most important words for a new husband to learn is “Yes, dear” and “You’re right, I’m sorry”?

And teens famously have this problem—knowing better than mom or dad or teachers or anyone trying to offer advice. Mark Twain is quoted as saying, “When I was a boy of seventeen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-five, I was astonished at how much he had learned in eight years.”

In other words, pretty much everyone has had this problem to one degree or the other. And since we’ve all suffered from this problem, we can all answer the question authoritatively: “How much did it really contribute to good communication?” Zero, nada, nothing, right? In fact, whether it is an idea that was off-base, or hurtful words that were spoken, or offensive deeds that were done; the unwillingness to admit fault is a big communication killer. The impasse or offense becomes the constant elephant in the room. Just like Isaiah described how sin separates men and God—“But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.” Isaiah 59:2—so also sin separates people.

The offender often just hopes, out of embarrassment or pride, that the others will simply forget about it and everyone will just pretend it never happened. As someone who does a lot of counseling, believe me when I tell you that’s it’s just not the way that things work.

As a minister, let me simply quote James 5:16, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” Confessing your sins (wrongs) to the person you wronged, admitting it, and sincerely asking for forgiveness is the Christian thing to do. This gives relationships, communications, and reconciliation the very best chance to thrive and flourish. And, yes, there can be a hiccup in communication principle, when the offended person refuses to forgive— we’ll talk about that next week.

In the meantime, admitting it, when we’re wrong, is not only a command from God to be obeyed, not ignored; it is the fast track to really talking, to true understanding, to personal (and spiritual) growth, and the healing of resentment, distrust, and divisions. Is there a wall between you and someone else? Remember the offense, admit your part of the problem, apologize, and tear down the wall.

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Family Commuication, Part 4; Avoid Using a Loud or Angry Tone

We’ve been thinking about healthy communication skills in this blog space for the last several days. We’ve talked about the importance of listening and letting the other person finish talking, the clear wisdom of thinking before you speak, and “speaking the truth in love.” But good, effective, and Christian communication has even more facets to it. For today, let’s talk about avoiding loud, angry voices.

It has been said that somewhere between 60% and 90% of communication is non-verbal (depending on who you are and the circumstances you’re in). That is to say that the words that we use are only part, the minority part, of how people understand us. This non-verbal communication includes things like body language, facial expressions, gestures, and tone. Often we use the “right” words, but with the wrong tone; and then we wonder how the discussion turned into an argument and then into a shouting match. The problem was that what we were saying was “colored” (darkly) by the way were saying it.

God knew this a long time ago as He inspired the wise man, Solomon, to write, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger,” (Proverbs 15:1), and “By forbearance a ruler may be persuaded, And a soft tongue breaks the bone.” Proverbs 25:15.

Psychological studies have been done on what happens to communication, when the volume gets turned up. The short version is that the louder you are the less likely you are to be heard; the softer you speak (even a whisper) the more likely you are to be heard.

We’ve all been there before, right? As person 1’s voice gets louder, person 2 feels compelled to get at least as loud or louder—which compels person 1 to get louder still, and so forth until an irrational, out of control screaming match results. It doesn’t matter that you are using words, communicating what you really wanted to say isn’t happening. And I’m sure that I really don’t need to remind you that such verbal escalation to can lead to violence.

On the other hand, when a loud voice is answered with a softer voice, the loud voice tends to feel compelled to dial back his/her volume, too (nobody wants to be the only hot-head). And if a still softer voice is used in response, the overall volume and emotional intensity goes down, until finally actual words are being heard, rationality is restored, and real communication gets accomplished. “A gentle answer turns away wrath….”

Taking God’s advice on this isn’t easy. If (when) we are provoked to anger, it will take deliberate thought and a lot of self-control to not get loud. Emotions naturally provoke loudness, and loudness naturally provokes more emotion—not rational thought, listening, and “getting” what the other person is saying. So, applying this principle—especially when provoked—will take some effort. But it’s worth the effort for fewer “knock-down, drag-outs”, for fewer serious apologies that need to be made, and for real understanding.

So, get it out of your mind that louder wins, that louder is stronger or righter, or that louder guarantees that the other person will hear what you have to say. That’s all Satanic lies and the fast lane to “Dysfunction Junction”. Employ a softer voice, perhaps even a whisper at times, and prepare to be amazed at how much of what you wanted to communicate is actually received by others.

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