Learning to Play the Dining Room Table

Learning to Play the Dining Room Table


                Do you see a man skilled in his work?  He will stand in the presence of kings. 

Proverbs 22:29    


Talent is greatly overrated. Talent is a God-given gift. But skill is the honing of that gift by dogged, daily discipline.   

We Christians can get uneasy talking excelling at a skill. For one, our faith is founded on what God has accomplished for us – without our cooperation and effort. The
beauty of God is that we don’t work our way up to heaven, but that he
comes down to us.  If you work for something, you get a paycheck. But a
gift is free. Jesus gives us the gift of eternal life. 

But, secondly, striving for excellence sounds suspiciously like pride – which is a particularly ugly sin.     


Both of these cautions are legitimate.  We can’t get to heaven by working hard, and pride bugs others and rots our soul.  

But working hard to develop the gifts God has given us pleases him. The paradox of faith is that we are not saved by our works, but we are created by God to do good works.   


God does not give gifts so that we may gloat in our distinction over others.  God gives gifts so we can serve others. 

I’m not impressed by your natural talent, or my own. The real question is: how hard are you willing to work to develop that natural talent into excellence?   

Rosalind Russell was one of the most famous movie stars of her day.  She
says she gets letters from people who say they have talent – their
teachers think so, their mothers think so, and they were a hit in the
school play.  Russell’s responds, “Fine, but do you also have
self-discipline?”  She claims the ability to work hard is the key to
success in show business.


Schweitzer’s talent as a musician was obvious at an early age.  He was
performing in church by the age of nine.  By his late twenties he was an
internationally renowned concert organist. 

During World War I, he was interned as a German citizen in French occupied Africa He was sent from his home in Africa to a concentration camp at Garaison in the Pyrenees. Schweitzer
had no access to an organ, so his fellow prisoners watched for hours
while he would pretend the dining room table was his organ.  His feet
would work the imaginary pedals as he would perform chorales and fugues
from memory. 
Hour after hour.  

When Schweitzer was released in 1918, after years of confinement, the world was stunned he still retained his virtuosity at the pipe organ.   

His fellow prisoners knew better.  He had been practicing the organ all the time.  It just looked a lot like a dining room table.  



How to Fall Off a Cliff

“How to Fall Off a Cliff”


               Throw all your worries on God, because he cares about you. 

1 Peter 5:7   


It was a dark and stormy night.  The man’s candle lantern blew out, and now he made his way in the inky blackness along the dirt road to the nearest farmhouse.   

In the darkness he wandered off the road and stumbled over a cliff.  As he fell he grabbed hold of a branch jutting out from the side of the cliff. He shouted for help, but his cries were not answered.  Steadily,
his arms began to weaken. When he could no longer hold on, he let out a
groan, and fell . . . six inches to the bottom of the ditch. 


That man was terrified as he hung from the branch. But his fear was due to lack of knowledge. Had he had known he was only six inches from the ditch he would have no trouble letting go.  

That raises an intriguing question: how much of our anxiety is based on a lack of knowledge? If you think about it, just about all our anxiety is based on our lack of knowledge.    


“That’s great, Uncle Marty. Unfortunately,
I already know my anxiety is based on my lack of knowledge, but I can’t
do anything to change it!  I don’t know how the stock market is going
to do next week, or how effective the chemo treatments are going to
work, or whether Thelma will still like me after I accidentally ran over
her cat.”


Maybe this will help. Steve Brown, in a teaching called, Walking Free,
talked about those dreaded threats we all remember. His grade school
teacher warned the class that, if they didn’t behave, they would be sent
to the principal’s office. 

dreaded day arrived when Steve Brown could no longer be good. As he
made his way to the principal’s office, he reflected on his life’s end. 

When he sat before the principal, he said, “You’re having trouble, aren’t you Stephen?” 


“You don’t like that teacher very much, do you?” 

“Uh . . . no sir, not much.” 

then the principal said, “I don’t either.” They laughed together. And
then Stephen realized that all the rumors about the principal were
untrue. He wasn’t the stern authority figure
that other people said he was. 

principal told Steve, “I want you to come down and meet me in my
office, and I’ll get you out before the bus leaves so you can get home
on time.”  They became friends. 


You don’t have to know God’s plan for your future in order to get rid of anxiety.  All you really need to know is that your Father cares about you.  And that he’s your friend.  


Spotting Thieves and Rascals

“Spotting Thieves and Rascals”


Don’t judge anything before the proper time – when the Lord comes. He
will bring to light the secrets hidden in darkness and will reveal the
motives of the heart.

1 Corinthians 4:5    


Our driveway used to be the community gathering place for kids to play basketball.  

My kids had the bad habit of leaving our basketball outside. I warned them that if they didn’t bring it in at night, somebody was going to steal it.  

Sure enough – one day I looked out the window. No basketball.  


So, who took it? I had my list of suspects. When my kids would invite friends over to play, I would level my gaze at them. If you lack my ability, this may sound odd to you, but it’s almost as if I can peer into a person’s soul and know what they’re thinking. When I stare into the eyes of the neighbor kids, I notice the ones who drop their heads slightly and avert my gaze. In this way, I can quickly assess who the thieves and rascals are. 


My wife doesn’t judge people. She just loves them. When the neighbor kids come over, I’m staring at them to root out the
thieves and rascals, and she’s asking them if they would like some
cookies. I don’t think you should reward thieves and rascals by giving
chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven. But she does it anyway.  


You know, it’s bad enough that I think I can discern what’s going on in another person’s heart. What’s even worse is that, once I claim to know their thoughts and motives, I look down on them.   

is the only person who knows what’s going on in the dark, murky places
of our heart. Yet, oddly enough, he didn’t walk around with
a rock in his hand – ready to wing it at the first sinner he met.  

When a Samaritan woman with loose morals met him at Jacob’s well, he told her he knew about her past husbands and present live-in
lover. If his goal was to condemn her, he certainly didn’t have to sit
by a well at the hottest part of the day. He was sitting there because
he wanted to offer her the water of life.
When Jesus looked into the darkness of her soul, it brought out his compassion for her.   


who meet my wife leave with warm cookies in their tummies, but also
with the warm feeling that they are accepted and loved. When people meet
my soul-searching gaze, they leave with a vague feeling of guilt – like
they ought to buy me a new basketball, or something.


kids led a basketball-less life for several months. One day, as I was
cleaning out the entryway closet I found – way in the back – my kids’

The funny thing is: the neighborhood kids don’t look like thieves anymore.  


They still look like rascals, though . . . I can see it in their eyes. 

What Happened on the Drawbridge?

What Happened on the Drawbridge?


God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, that whoever
believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16    (mck)


John Griffith worked as the controller of a railroad drawbridge across the Mississippi River.  One day, in the summer of 1937, John took his eight-year-old son, Greg, along with him to work.   

At noon, John put the bridge up so ships could pass, and then sat on the observation deck with his son to eat lunch.   

was startled by the sound of a train whistle from the east.  He knew it
was the Memphis Express, a 400-passenger train heading over the
Mississippi from East St. Louis 

raced from the observation deck to the control tower.  Just before he
threw the lever to lower the bridge, he glanced down to see if any ships
were passing below, and noticed that his son had slipped from the
observation tower and fallen into the gear mechanism.  His left leg was
caught in the cogs of the two main gears. 

John Griffith froze for a moment in fear.  The Memphis
Express was nearing the  river. If he did not lower the bridge, the
train would have no time to stop.  But if he lowered the bridge, it
would crush his son to death.

knew what he had to do.  He grabbed the master lever . . . and lowered
the bridge.  The train was just starting across the river when the
bridge was completely lowered. 

the train passed his control booth, he saw the faces of the
passengers.  No one looked at him.  No one looked down at his dead son
in the gear assembly. 

In his anguish John shouted, “I sacrificed my son for you!”   


This story, made popular by the late Dr. D. James Kennedy, has been retold countless times as a parable of the Good News.   

But how could such a tragedy become a picture of good news?  Well,
it’s about love, really.  God the Father spoke from heaven at Jesus’
baptism, “This is my Son, whom I love! With him I am well pleased.” 
When Jesus stood on a mountain top with three of his disciples, the
Father repeated his words, “This is my Son, whom I love!” 

We cannot comprehend the moment, but we know that the Father willingly took his beloved Son, and put him to death.

To spare the lives of all of us as we were speeding to our deaths. 
God’s Son stood in our place and died, that we, the guilty ones, might

God loved his Son.  No surprise there.  But the beauty of it all, and what makes this message so good, is that God loves us as well.   

And many years ago, he stood with his hand on the switch, and made his choice.  

“Why Some Good Manners Are Bad”

“Why Some Good Manners Are Bad” 


              But God has composed the Body as to give greater honor to those lacking it.  

1 Corinthians 12:24    (mck) 



Finns are considered one of the most informal cultures in the world. Some have said their national costume is the tracksuit. They seldom wear suits and ties and normally call teachers by their first names.  

The Finns don’t make a big fuss about a person’s status in society.  But they are kind, and understand their informality could easily offend those from other cultures. Thus, guidebooks on social etiquette have been frequent best-sellers in Finland.  


Manners should be motivated by respect for other people. But, sometimes, manners originate to show our dis-respect for them. 


medieval times, feudal societies marked their social status by their
“manners.” Our English word, “courtesy,” originally referred to the
behavior of those in
royal “courts” – as opposed to the feudal
peasants. Those who received a formal education adopted distinct
manners to indicate their superiority to the uneducated masses.
Before 1611, dining forks were unknown in England. After Thomas Coryate introduced them from Italy, they soon became markers of social status and sophistication.  

Don’t get me wrong: I highly encourage showing
respect to those in offices of authority. While performing their
duties, we’re doing a good thing when we call a judge “Your Honor,” or a
policeman, “Officer.” But we must remember that drinking tea with our
pinkie in the air can become a thinly disguised means of displaying our


The Bible says we should show respect for those in authority. But God destroys snobbishness by flipflopping the rules. He has composed the body of Christ so that those who lack status are to be shown special honor.   


A century ago, Cecil
Rhodes was, to put it mildly, an influential man. He founded the Rhodes
Scholarship, the largest diamond company in the world (DeBeers), and
even founded a country (

As a British statesman, Rhodes was a stickler for proper dress. Once, Rhodes
invited a young man to dinner. The man arrived by train and was
directly escorted to Rhode’s mansion in his travel-stained clothes. The
young man was aghast to see that all the other guests wearing full
evening dress.

When Rhodes spotted his young guest, he immediately disappeared. When he returned to his guests, he was no longer wearing evening dress, but instead, an old suit similar to that of the young man who just arrived off the train.  


Manners can be used to flaunt social status. But manners can also be used to show that, in God’s eyes, we’re all loved the same. 







Are You Wise, or Just Blowing Smoke?

“Are You Wise, or Just Blowing Smoke?” 

               Wisdom is justified by what it produces. 

Matthew 11:19   (mck)


Do you want others to think you’re wise? The simplest way is to smoke a pipe.    

Don’t worry about the brand of tobacco nor the pipe style. They don’t matter. But you must – and I repeat myself for emphasis – you must have good matches that light on the first strike, or you’ll look incompetent.  


Okay, the stage is set: now you must wait until a friend asks you a question, such as, “What is the price of tea in China?”    

Pick up your pipe, and tamp the tobacco in the bowl with your index finger.  (Don’t do anything fast or it won’t work.) 

“Well,” you say. 

Light a match, get a good draw, lean back in your chair and puff on your pipe a couple times. 

With the pipe between your teeth you say, It all depends.” Now, slowly take the pipe out of your mouth, point the mouthpiece at your friend, and deliver your line, “It all depends. . . on how much it costs.”   

It works! (Okay, maybe it’s more effective for men than women, but it does work.)  


Some of you, however, don’t really care if you appear wise; you want to be wise.  You are the difficult ones to please.  


The first thing to realize is that wisdom is not based on intelligence.   

Lewis Terman
was a Stanford psychology professor who dedicated a lifetime of
research to study geniuses. He began in 1921 by locating 1470 children
with IQs over 140. These geniuses, called “
Terman’s Termites,” were tracked into adulthood. Would they have better jobs? Better psychological health? Better marriages?   

Terman published several volumes of research on these geniuses, called Genetic Studies of Genius. After compiling a mountain of research, Terman discovered that highly intelligent people are no more likely to be successful in life than anyone else.   


Wisdom is not about being intelligent; it is about knowing and living what is True. And that is where the spiritual merges with the “real world.” The deepest source of wisdom is the truth that the
Lord reveals. Jesus said that wisdom is justified by her works. If
someone claims to be wise, in other words, we should look to what that
wisdom produces.

The Bible says that all of God’s wisdom is found in Jesus. If you doubt that, look at what Jesus’ wisdom produces.  The life touched by his grace is a beautiful thing.  


For those of you who only want to appear wise, you might also try cultivating a British accent.  

Floating like a Genius

Floating like a Genius


               And the waters rose and increased greatly upon the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. 

Genesis 7:18    (mck) 


The official opening of the Imperial Hotel was canceled when a massive earthquake (with a magnitude of 8.3) rocked the city. 


Frank Lloyd Wright was hired to build the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo,
but was dismayed to learn that the construction site was covered with
sixty feet of alluvial mud. Not only was it impossible to build a solid
foundation on such fluid ground, but the area was prone to earthquakes.

however, took up the challenge. If he could not build a foundation
strong enough to withstand a quake, why not build one that would “ride
on” the tremors?

designed the hotel to float like a boat. Each room was hinged like a
string of railroad cars so they could sway during a quake. Normally,
wiring and piping is encased in concrete, but Wright had them suspended
so they could swing freely.


On September 1, 1923, the day of the hotel’s grand opening, one of the most devastating quakes in Tokyo’s history leveled the city. 

When news of the disaster hit the United States,
the word spread that Frank Lloyd Wright’s hotel had collapsed. One
newspaper called Wright for comment. He told them they could print the
story if they wanted to, but they would have to retract it later. Wright
was adamant that his hotel withstood the quake.

Later, Baron Kihachiro Okura sent a telegram to Wright: HOTEL STANDS UNDAMAGED AS MONUMENT TO YOUR GENIUS. CONGRATULATIONS. 


what was Wright’s “genius”?  His brilliance was his ability to
acknowledge weakness. Since he couldn’t design the building to resist an
earthquake, he made it “weak.” It didn’t matter if it rattled and
swayed – all it had to do was “float.”


Many artist renditions of Noah’s ark depict a ship, with a sloping hull. God, however, didn’t tell Noah to build a boat; he told him to build a big, rectangular box. Ships have hulls so they can go somewhere. The ark’s only purpose was to float.  

the flood of God’s judgment deluged a wicked world, the ark served as
God’s protecting mercy for those inside it. It didn’t matter how high
the flood rose – the ark just floated on top of the water.


one is strong enough to withstand the crushing weight of guilt. But the
Lord invites us to enter his ark. When we take refuge in his grace, we
can be confident that we will float on top of the storm – safe, warm,
and dry.

Learn what it means to float, and Frank Lloyd Wright won’t be the only one considered a genius.  


Should I Poison My Dinner Guests?

Should I Poison My Dinner Guests? 


             Some people, coming from Judea,
taught the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the
custom of Moses, you can’t be saved.” This created sharp disagreement
from Paul and Barnabas, and a big debate erupted.

Acts 15:1-2     (mck) 


rats are smelly and can do more damage in my workshop than I can. So,
they’ve got to go. Using rat poison, my devious scheme invites them to
be my dinner guests.

our husky with a brain as big as a lima bean, shares my feelings about
pack rats. But her strategy involves chasing them under wood piles and
then standing guard over them for hours. Her policy of aggressive
harassment scares away my clients.

Mona and I are bonded in a common quest: to get rid of pack rats and make this world a better place in which to live. But, though we are both committed to The Cause, we have conflicting strategies.  


Christians aren’t supposed to fight, but, as believers, we are highly prone to butting heads, because we care so deeply about spiritual things.  


Years ago, Capper’s Weekly reported about Joyce Grimm, from Lucas, Kansas. She was walking across a parking lot when she saw a driverless car. It was slowly rolling out of its parking space. 

swiftly ran beside the car, swung the door open, and jumped in. She hit
the brake and brought the rolling car to a halt. As she got out, a man
in overalls approached her. She beamed with slightly suppressed pride
and said, “Well, I stopped the car.”

The man in overalls said, “I know. I was pushing it.” 

Joyce and the man in overalls had the same objective: to assist the
owner of the vehicle. But, because they understood the situation
differently, they found themselves working against each other.


Some well-meaning Christians in Antioch
told new gentile converts that they needed to get circumcised, like
Moses taught, in order to be saved. Paul and Barnabas sharply disagreed.
Everyone had the same goal (that the gentiles find salvation) but they
disagreed on how to get there.

issue could easily have divided the church in her infancy. But they
talked it out and got it right: both Jews and gentiles are saved solely
by the grace of the Lord Jesus.

we encounter conflict in the church, a good starting place is to find
where we agree – where we share the same convictions . . . and work from
our shared beliefs rather than our differences.


I believe that poisoning my dinner guests is still the way to go. And I still think my dog is a dingbat for trying to defeat pack rats by intimidation. But we will continue to discuss the issue with an open mind and monitor results. It’s what you do when you’re a partner in The Cause.  

Which Way is Up?

Which Way is Up?


you are invited to a wedding feast, don’t take the place of honor,
because someone more honorable than you may have been invited.  Then the
one who invited you both will say to you, “Give this one your place.” 
And then, in disgrace, you will have to occupy the lowest place.

Luke 14:8-9   (mck)


The sixth Academy Awards ceremony was held in 1934 in the Ambassador Hotel.  Frank Capra already knew he would win the Oscar for Best Director, for his film, Lady for a Day 

The Master of Ceremonies that night was Will Rogers. He opened the envelope and remarked, “Well, well, well. What do you know?
I’ve watched this young man for a long time. Saw him come up from the
bottom, and I mean the bottom. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.
Come on up and get it, Frank!”

Frank Capra
jumped up and made his way up front to accept his award. The
spotlights  swept over the audience. Capra hollered, “Over here!”

Capra strode up on the dais . . .and then the awful truth sank in. The winner was the “other” Frank – Frank Lloyd. 

As Capra returned to his seat he later called it, “the longest, saddest, most shattering walk in my life.”   


Capra can easily serve as the “poster child” for Jesus’ teaching,
“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself
will be exalted.”
If we do not choose humility, then we will receive humiliation.   

Our egos can blind us to the painfully obvious truth that we are not the center of the universe. Rationally, of course, all people admit they’re not more important than anyone else. So, why don’t we behave the way we believe?  

Wish I knew.    

The desire to exalt ourselves is competitive – it also include the dark desire that others be lowered.  We see this all day long in sports. We have tied our egos to a team; their victory on the field serves to exalt our sense of superiority.  Sports is no longer about friendly athletic competition – it is about an obsession to feed our egos. 

means what?  Our obsession with winning is also our obsession with
other teams losing?  Don’t you think there is something sick about that?


The competitive desire to be singled out for honor, however, was not invented by modern civilization.  Jesus’ own disciples wrangled frequently – arguing the
case for their own superiority.  We look back to that holy moment in
the upper room as the night Jesus gave his church the Lord’s Supper. 
It’s difficult for us to also remember it as the night the disciples got
into an argument over who was the greatest.
The argument died down, apparently, when they saw Jesus kneeling to wash everyone’s feet.  

Pride makes us step on others in order to stand higher. But Jesus is not impressed. True greatness, he thinks, is only found in humble service.  

The Secret Weapon

The Secret Weapon

          When the Israelites saw the man, everyone ran away in great fear.  

1 Samuel 17:24   (mck) 


We consider some people brave by the very nature of their occupations: smoke jumpers, police officers, firefighters, babysitters.  

And, standing atop this list are soldiers.  

So, for an entire army to spot a single combatant, and scatter in a panic seems a little peculiar. But that is exactly what the army of Israel did when Goliath strutted out and challenged them to a duel – winner take all. 


A shepherd boy with five smooth stones and a slingshot stepped forward to challenge the giant. And we all know the story from the standpoint of what David did to Goliath. But do you remember what David did to the army of Israel that day? 


The soldiers of Israel watched as David marched up to this fearsome warrior, and opposed him “in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.”   

When David stood triumphant over Goliath, the soldiers of Israel sprang to life.  They let out a roar and surged after the frightened Philistine army. The army of Israel chased the Philistines and kicked their can all along the Shaaraim road from Judah to Gath.  


When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, devastating
our naval fleet in the Pacific, they had a twofold objective. They not
only wanted to cripple our naval power but also to crush the American
resolve to wage war. 

The Japanese high command, however, was completely unaware that we had a secret weapon.  

The “secret weapon” was an artist from a small town in Vermont.
Norman Rockwell painted pictures of patriotism and bravery. He painted
pictures of “Four Freedoms” – those liberties that are the hallmark of
our nation.
He painted the American spirit. 

Fueled by the vision Rockwell portrayed for us, Americans responded. “Remember Pearl Harborwas not a discouraging reminder of a humiliating defeat. Instead, it became an echo of an earlier cry, “Remember the Alamo!” when a few brave Americans stood bravely against overwhelming odds.  

The power of an artist to inspire a nation was the one weapon for which the Japanese military had no defense.  


brothers and sisters in Christ may be impressed by your talents, but
they are not inspired by them. They are inspired by your courage.

Make no mistake about this: when you face your Goliaths in the name and power of the Lord, the greatest victory will not be yours; it will be the victories of all those who have found courage from your example.