Stories for Nov. 22-27, 2010

Story of the Day for Saturday November 27, 2010

Small Enough to Win

 

God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong.

1 Corinthians 1:27

 

 

Napoleon, the great conqueror, sneered, “I observe that God is usually on the side of the strongest battalions.”

Maybe he shouldn’t have said that.

On Russia’s western border the town of Vilna (presently Vilnius of Lithuania) had a signpost.  As you traveled east it said, “Napoleon Bonaparte passed this way in 1812 with 410,000 men.”  As you turned west to leave town, it read, “Napoleon Bonaparte passed this way in 1812 with 9000 men.”

How could one of the world’s greatest military commanders lose virtually his entire fighting force?  Napoleon’s army did not encounter a fierce, superior army.  Instead, the main enemy was the snowflake.  Lots and lots of them.

A snowflake is so fragile and delicate. But when snowflakes band together – watch out. Napoleon knew how to conquer opposing armies, but he was not prepared to fight an army of snowflakes, and so he was forced to retreat from Russia and his once mighty army was destroyed.

God loves to take weak things and use them to conquer the strong. You shouldn’t think that he has something against those who are powerful or influential. It’s just that, as we grow in power and influence, we like to hog the credit for it. Once we are awed by our own sense of accomplishment, we inevitably lose a sense of dependence on the Lord. The most loving thing God could do for us when we enamored with ourselves is to humble us and teach us to depend on him. And, conversely, when God empowers the weak, he is providing us a powerful object lesson for the truth that all spiritual gain begins when we acknowledge our weakness and God’s strength to save.

Gideon complained when God told him to save Israel from the Midianites.  He offered the helpful reminder to the Lord that his tribe of Manasseh was the smallest in all Israel.

If Gideon only knew that God considered his tribe far too big! Gideon marshaled an army of 22,000 men, but the Lord told him, “You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands.” Only when Gideon whittled his army down to 300 did God consider it small enough to win.

And, just to make sure Gideon understood how this all worked, God instructed them to wage war by making noise: blowing trumpets,  smashing clay pots, and hollering.

We often talk about how God’s ways are mysterious and beyond our understanding.  True enough.  But, when we see God using the weak things of this world to humble the mighty, we see a living parable : that the true power for salvation comes from him.

That God should act in such ways that teach us his grace is not mysterious at all.

 


(Copyright 2010 by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

Story of the Day for Friday November 26, 2010

Grace Flows Downhill

 

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

1 Peter 5:5

 

 

In 1978, Mr. Behrend Fedderson, announced the “discovery of the year” in the art world.  He “discovered” an exciting new artist, named Yamasaki, and now Fedderson was hosting an exhibition of his art in Frankfurt, Germany.

The exhibit catalog pointed out the “convincing luminosity of his colors” and the “excitement of his powerfully dynamic brushwork.”  Within three hours all 23 of Yamasaki’s paintings had been sold.  The crowd, connoisseurs of modern art, could appreciate the genius of Yamasaki’s bold style.

You can imagine the electricity in the crowd when Fedderson announced that Yamasaki would make a guest appearance to answer questions.  It turned out, however, that Yamasaki was a chimpanzee who was simply encouraged to lob paint at the canvas.

 

We’ll come back to our art exhibit in a moment, but first, let me ask you a question: What is the worst sin you can commit?  Robbery?  (Oh come on, you’re not trying.) Adultery?  Murder?  Now we are dealing with truly devastating sins, but these are not the worst.

The worst sin of all, I believe, is pride.

You can see this truth reflected repeatedly in Jesus’ observations.  He speaks to the temple religious leaders and claims that the tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of them.  Why?  The priests are too proud to admit their neediness for God’s grace; the “sinners” know they have no hope without God’s mercy.

Why is pride so serious a sin?  Because it is the one sin that rejects the grace of God.  When we are filled with pride we expect God to reward us for our goodness.  We are no longer seeking for Him to show us a kindness which we don’t deserve – we want Him to pay us the wages we think we have earned through our righteousness.

God longs to forgive our sins, but how can he forgive someone who does not come to him for forgiveness?   Pride does not want mercy.   It wants a pat on the head.

 

We can laugh at those who want to appear cultured and discerning about modern art, can’t we?   Snobbish pride doesn’t make them look cultured; it makes them look foolish.   But I must remember every day that I am tempted to do the same thing.  Pride tempts me to think that I am better in God’s eyes  than others.  That I don’t need God’s grace quite as much as “other” people do.

When we start losing the sense of our total unworthiness to stand before a holy God, we are entering a dangerous place.  “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

As odd as it sounds, the healthiest place to be is not at the top of the hill – confident that we are closer to God than others.  No, we are best off when we kneel at the bottom and honestly tell God we have no hope except in his graciousness to us.

Grace flows downhill.

 

 

 

(Copyright 2010 by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

 

 

 

 

Story of the Day for Thursday November 25, 2010

Thankful for the ‘Whys’ of Life

 

 

“Why, O Lord . . .?”

Psalm 88:14

 

When Nick Vujicic (pronounced VOY-a-chich) was born, his mother did not cradle him in her arms. Instead, she screamed in horror, “Take him away!”

Nick was born without arms or legs. He is head, neck, and trunk – with a little deformed foot (which he calls “my little chicken drumstick”).

 

As he grew up in Australia, Nick was banned from attending public school.  When he was finally admitted, he was cruelly bullied. At the age of 10, he contemplated suicide. He felt hopeless, alone, cold, and bitter.

Nick cried out to God, “Why?” Why did you make me like this?  Why won’t you answer my prayer and grow arms and legs for me? Why?

 

And then Nick realized that the Lord could use him just the way he was. He noticed that others considered him an inspiration.

Today, Nick is a college graduate with a double major. In 2005, he received the “Young Australian of the Year” award. He is a dedicated Christian man – whose mantra is: “I love life! I am happy!” Nick has learned to be thankful for what he has instead of bitter for what he doesn’t have.

 

Nick has spoken to millions of people. Without legs, of course, he can’t stand in front of his audiences. He is just plopped there on stage. And then he deliberately tips over.

“So, what do you do when you fall down?” he asks the audience.  You get back up. “But I tell you,” he says as he lies on the stage, “there are some times in life where you fall down and you don’t feel like you have the strength to get back up.”  He talks about trying a hundred times to get back up . . . and failing a hundred times.

Nick thinks you should never give up.  Failure is not the end, he tells us: “It matters how you’re going to finish.  Are you going to finish strong?” After a long pause he concludes, “Then you will find that strength to get back up.”

Slowly, he moves toward a book and puts his forehead on it. Then he arches his body and convulses it and plops upright.

 

When Nick would go to the beach, he says he would watch couples holding hands and realized that, when he marries, he can never hold his wife’s hand. He fell into a mindset focusing on “I can’t do this; I can’t do that.”

Now Nick says, “But I realize, I may not have hands to be able to hold my wife’s hand. But, when the time comes, I’ll be able to hold her heart. I don’t need hands to hold her heart.”

 

Nick Vujicic is a happy man. He cried out to God, “Why?” And, I for one, have been deeply touched by God’s answer.

 

 

 

 

(Copyright 2010 by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)
Story of the Day for Wednesday November 24, 2010

Dead Toad in the Stew Pot

 

 

 

He will tend his flock like a shepherd. He will gather the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart. He will gently lead the ewes that have young.

Isaiah 40:11

 

 

My friend, Stan Holder, is a really great guy, and I would never want to embarrass him. So, to protect his identity, I’m going to refer to him, throughout this article, as Buford A. Tiddschnickle.

 

Sta—I mean, Buford, is not a hiker; he is a Hiking Machine. When his wife, Mrs. Tiddschnickle, managed a U.S. Forest Service district in California, Buford and his wife hiked every trail in the district – to the astonishment of everyone who knew how many miles this entailed.

 

But Buford’s slide into infamy began with “The Mount Ksanka Incident.” Ksanka rises majestically to the east of Eureka, Montana. On Bufe’s recommendation, I decided to climb it.

“How long does it take to get to the top?” I asked.

“Oh,” Buford replied, “forty-five minutes?”

After several long hours of desperate scrambling up the western face, no jury in the land would have convicted me had I enacted my plot to short-sheet his bed and put a dead toad in his stew pot.

This is a cautionary tale: never ask a hiker with enormous calves how long it takes to go anywhere. They will tell you sincerely, but they calculate according to their own pace.

 

The thought of following Jesus used to intimidate me. How can I keep up with the Son of God? His life is one of perfect beauty. He forgives the very ones whose hammer blows nailed his body to a tree, while I’m pathetically harboring dark thoughts about toads in stew pots.  How could I have the audacity to consider myself his follower?

But, then, one day, this verse from Isaiah stripped away my fears and excuses. Jesus will lead us like a shepherd. He doesn’t out-hike the flock and disappear over the horizon. Shepherds lead at the pace the sheep are able to walk.

And what if you can’t walk very fast? Isaiah says this Shepherd will go at a gentler pace. And what if you’re only a lamb and can’t keep up at all? Then He’ll pick you up and carry you close to his heart.

 

For years, Buford A. Tiddschnickle has invited me to hike with him, but I’ve always concocted inventive excuses.

This last year, however, I’ve learned a secret about Bufe. He loves to hike with friends and family. He loves to hike with kids. But he always hikes at their pace — not his own.

I think I’m going to hike with him, and deliberately walk slow – just to bug him (since I’m still a little peeved about this Ksanka thing.)

But my conscience has convicted me about the dead toad in the stew pot.

 

 

(Copyright 2010 by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)
Story of the Day for Tuesday November 23, 2010

A Garden Full of Rutabagas

 

 

Is everybody an apostle? Is everyone a prophet? Is everyone a teacher? Does everyone perform miracles? Does everyone have the gift of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?

1 Corinthians 12:29-30

 

 

All my ancestors come from Finland.  The Finns are noted for their determination, which they call “sisu.”  (Non-Finns, like my wife, often mistakenly call this “bullheaded stubbornness”.) Finns take funny hot baths, called sauna, and drink more coffee per capita than any nation on earth.

In all these areas, I have proudly represented my heritage.

But the Finns are also known for their painful shyness, and I have grown up with this dubious distinction.

 

When you’re shy you are uncomfortable in public.  You look at your shoes a lot when you talk to people.  If you have to stand up in front of a crowd to give a speech, you feel like your fly is open.

You shouldn’t think shy people are generally fearful.  I lead trips into remote wilderness areas in Montana. We often encounter fresh grizzly bear sign. A grizzly leaves a pile of poop which is roughly the size of Rhode Island. And, believe me, extroverts get just as nervous as introverts when they come across a fresh pile on the trail.

 

I had a pastor who was charismatic and outgoing.  He once told us in Bible study that shyness was a sin. All Christians, he claimed, should be extroverts.

For many years I lugged around a vague sense of guilt. Gradually, it dawned on me that I was just as judgmental as my former pastor (who really was a wonderful shepherd).  I would look at extroverts and wonder why they were such excitable loudmouths.  Why couldn’t they be more . . . you know, quiet? Contemplative. Like me.

 

We all have a tendency to judge a person according to temperament, rather than character.  We’ve always recognized that people have different personalities. Four centuries before Christ, the Greek physician, Hippocrates, had classified everyone as either choleric (hot-tempered), sanguine (cheerful), phlegmatic (sluggish), or melancholy (sad). We have refined his classifications over the years, but have never refuted the notion that people have distinctly different temperaments.

 

We are not only distinct in personality, but the Bible tells us, God has given us all a variety of different gifts.  At times, we’ve all wanted to pound square pegs into round holes; we have wanted people to change their temperament.

But God gives us a variety of personalities and gifts – for the same reason you don’t plant your entire garden with rutabagas.

 

 

 

 

(Copyright 2010 by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

 

 

 

Story of the Day for Monday November 22, 2010

The War is Over

 

 

 

“If, when we were enemies of God, we were reconciled to him by the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved through his life.”

Romans 5:10

 

What? Enemies of God?  It makes perfect sense once you think about it.  Ask yourself: Who has opposed God’s plan to create a beautiful world without sin and evil?  Who has marred this perfect world He wanted and filled it with sin?  Who has abused and polluted it?  Who has become the obstacle to God’s desire for this world?

We’re all guilty, aren’t we?  We are the ones defeating God’s good plans for this world.

The beauty of this passage for today is that we have been reconciled to God.  To “be reconciled” means to become friends again. Once Jesus offered up His life for our sins, that sacrifice brought an end to the war.

In 1944, a Japanese man, Shoichi Yokoi, began living in a jungle cave on the island of Guam.  For 28 years he lived on rats, frogs, snails, nuts, and mangoes.   Do you know why he lived like this?  He was a Japanese soldier and he didn’t know that World War II was over!

All those long years he was running and hiding from an enemy that didn’t exist.  The United States and Japan were at peace.   Even when he did hear the war had ended, he said he was afraid to surrender.  He feared execution.

Not many people openly defy God and think that this is a battle they can win.  But there are throngs of people who are running from God.  They are afraid.  If God ever finds them, they think, they are in deep, dark trouble.

Are you running from God?

If you’re running from God because you think he’s out to get you, then you’ll find it’s very hard to pray (how can you talk to someone you fear?)  Reading the Bible is like pulling teeth.  You won’t read long before you have to face Him.

It really stinks to eat rats and frogs to survive, simply because you are at war.  But when the war is over, and you don’t realize it, such a lifestyle is just tragic.

Jesus has negotiated a permanent truce.  God is on our side – or, better yet, we are now on His side.

Harry Houdini was one of the greatest magicians of all time.  On one of his European tours he boasted that he could be handcuffed and locked in any prison cell, and free himself.   Amazingly, he always managed to do so.

But, one day, as he was locked up in a jail in Scotland, things went wrong.  He hid lock picks in his belt and even under his scalp.  It took no time at all to get out of his handcuffs.  But, though he was a master at picking locks, he simply could not unlock his prison cell door.  Frantically, he worked the lock for two hours.  Finally, he admitted defeat and collapsed against the cell door.

The door swung open.  The reason he could not unlock it is because it was not locked in the first place!  The jail keeper had forgotten to lock him in.

If you feel like God’s prisoner – trapped and confined – maybe it’s time to try the prison door.  You will find that, all this time, it was never locked at all.

The war is over.

 

 

 

(Copyright 2010 by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

Story of the Day Posts for Nov.15-20, 2010

Story of the Day for Saturday November 20, 2010

Foot In the Door

 

 

Don’t let the devil get his foot in the door.

Ephesians 4:27

 

 

Dale Hays once wrote in Leadership magazine about a trip he made to Haiti.  While there, he heard a Haitian pastor tell the people a parable, which went like this:

A man put his house up for sale.  He found a potential buyer, but the man was so poor he could not afford the full asking price.  After a lot of haggling, the owner agreed to sell the house for half price, with one stipulation: he would retain ownership of one nail sticking out above the front door.

After a few years, the original owner wanted the house back, but the new owner was unwilling to sell.  So, the original owner found the carcass of a dead dog, and hung it from the single nail he still owned.  Soon the stench made the house unlivable, and the man was forced to sell his house to the former owner.

The Haitian pastor was trying to teach his people, that, if we leave the Devil with one small peg in our life, he will return to hang his rotting garbage on it.

 

We all tend to judge things by size.  Big things are important; little things much less significant.  That is why the devil’s “foot-in-the-door” strategy is especially dangerous.  “It’s just a foot, after all,” we reason, “how harmful could that be?”

But, deep inside, we know better.  The small, daily choices we make are far more significant than the few “major decisions” in the arc of our lives.

When I’m on a diet, I never decide to pig out on an entire bag of potato chips.  I just tell myself, “How bad could one measly handful of chips be?”  After the first handful I say, “Okay, but that was a small handful.  Just one more . . .” When the feeding frenzy is over, there’s nothing left but an empty bag.

 

We cannot completely avoid the presence of temptation.  But we can control the “foot in the door.”  In other words, no matter how holy you are, you are still going to bump into lots of bags of potato chips.  The crucial moment of temptation comes earlier than we usually suppose.  The best time to resist temptation is not after eating “just one handful”; the best time to exercise self-control is before we shove our hand into the bag.

 

Starlings are a major nuisance in many parts of our country.  Unlike many other birds, they roost together.  They can completely carpet an area with their whitewash, and emit a stink that could kill a cow at a hundred paces.

Did you know these pests are not native to North America?  Starlings first came to America when Eugene Schieffelin fashioned the noble dream of introducing to America every bird found in Shakespeare’s works.  If you’re working with our theme at all, you already know my point: someone should have murdered Shakespeare before he started writing about birds! (I’m kidding, okay? I love Shakespeare.)

I am certain, however, that if Eugene the Goofball had foreseen the consequences, he never would have opened the door.

 

 

 

(Copyright 2010 by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

Story of the Day for Friday November 19, 2010

True Greatness

 

When 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

 

 

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.”

 

Frank 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.

Which 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.

 

 

 

 

(Copyright 2010 by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

 

Story of the Day for Thursday November 18, 2010

We All Win Together

 

Do nothing from selfish ambition or vanity.  Instead, in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Look out – not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Philippians 2:2-4

 

 

Jesus lived in a “high status” culture.  People were quite competitive about their ranking in society.   Even where you sat at a meal indicated your rank.

Have you noticed how often Jesus’ disciples argue about rank?  The gospels portray them as quite competitive.  Jesus reveals for the first time that he is the Messiah, and that he will sacrifice his life for others.   The disciples don’t get it.  Soon Jesus catches them arguing about who is the greatest.  When the kingdom comes in glory, James and John ask if they can have the highest seats of honor next to Jesus.  Even at the Last Supper, Luke tells us the disciples were arguing about who is greatest.

 

In the end, however, Jesus transformed a handful of vain and self-centered followers into a body where no one was obsessed with outdoing the others. Just as all the parts of a body work for the good of the whole, so we are to be “one in spirit and purpose.”   That is why Paul urges us that “each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also the interests of others.”

 

Don’t get me wrong: competition is not always bad. High school sports are a form of competition.  So is business.  Even though these forms of competition can easily get out of hand, they are not inherently bad.

All the same, Jesus has made it clear that our purpose in the body of Christ is not to compete for the highest status, but to lower ourselves to serve. Those who kneel to wash the feet of others are the “greatest” in the kingdom.

 

Some Christian missionaries lived among the Agta Negritto people in the Philippines.  They introduced them to the game of croquet.  They gave everyone a mallet and a ball and showed them, not only how to hit the ball through the wickets, but how to knock someone else’s ball out of the way.

The Negrittos didn’t understand.  “Why would I want to knock his ball out of the way?”

“So you can win!” the missionaries explained.

The Negritto people survive by working together as a community, so they did not understand this kind of competition.

The Negrittos ended up ignoring the missionaries’ advice.  They shouted encouragement to each other until the last person completed the course and then they shouted, “We won!  We won!”

That is how we live in the body of Christ.  We all win together.

 

 

 

 

(Copyright 2010 by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

 

Story of the Day for Wednesday November 17, 2010

God’s Problem

 

 

Don’t worry about anything. But in everything, with prayer and requests, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

 

 

Years ago, I saw an odd thing.  A pickup truck in an alley slowly crossed a street and made its way past me.  That was not, however, the “odd thing.”  What was unusual was that the truck was being driven by a dog.

A man parked his truck in the alley and left the engine running while he ran a quick errand.  Apparently, his dog got behind the wheel and managed to bump the shift lever into gear.   When the man returned to his vehicle, he found it a hundred yards down the alley – angled into a hedge.

There is a good reason why we don’t issue driver’s licenses to dogs.  They’re lousy drivers.

Throughout my life I have wanted to be in the driver’s seat.   If God would only answer all my prayers the way I ask them, everything would be so great.  But He doesn’t.  And, that is why I sometimes get anxious.

But this passage makes an amazing statement: it doesn’t say we will be at peace once God answers our prayers the way we want.  Instead, it makes the wild claim that we can find peace as soon as we “present our request to God.”

Do you understand why this is so?   If you think you can only be at peace when God gives you whatever you ask for, then it means you want to be in control.  The fact is, though, we can steer the universe about as good as a dog can drive a truck.

Once a friend took me flying with him in a small plane.   As we crested a mountain range we hit fairly severe turbulence.  I white-knuckled the arms of my seat as we bounced along and the wings flapped like they were going to snap off.  Now, suppose my pilot friend told me to take over the controls.  Would that lessen my fear?  No way.

Trying to take control from the one who knows best what to do always increases  anxiety.

The Bible teaches us we can find peace before we get the request we want from God.  Peace is found as soon as we pray.  Why?  Because, in prayer, we are taking all our worries and problems and making them God’s problem.  We are trusting Him to know best how to guide and direct our lives.

Why don’t you take all your worries and bundle them up in a big bag?  Make sure you have all of them in there.  Then hand the bag over to the Lord.  Tell Him what you need.  He can take it from there.

And you can know a peace that is beyond understanding.

 

 

 

 

(Copyright 2010 by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)
Story of the Day for Tuesday November 16, 2010

Higher Ways

 

 

“My thoughts are not your thoughts.  Neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Isaiah 55:8-9

 

You’ve heard this passage many times, haven’t you?  We use it when we are confused.   When we don’t understand how God can love us and yet still treat us the way he does, we shrug, and quote these verses as a statement of trust.

What I’m going to next is not easy.  When we are puzzled by the actions of God, we must learn to be humble like children – who often do not understand how their heavenly Father could love them and still treat them the way he does.  All of you dads who take your little children to the clinic for immunization shots know exactly what I’m talking about.  Your child is too little; you can’t explain why you are taking them into a strange place so that a strange nurse can administer a searing pain into their arm.

Because learning to trust God like a children is such a vital lesson to learn, what I am going to say next is not easy.

But here goes: this passage from Isaiah is not talking about the wisdom of God when he treats us in severe ways.  It is not talking about learning to trust God – even when it seems as if He is not in control of things.

No.  When God talks about His ways being higher than ours, do you know what he is referring to?  His tender mercy!  He’s not talking about his sovereignty but about his love.

Take a look at the verse right before it.  “Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts.  Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”

Don’t misunderstand me: God does allow us to experience painful times, and we can’t always understand why a loving God would do this.  But here it is not God’s wise purpose that Isaiah is talking about, but the incomprehensible nature of a God who shows mercy and compassion to bad people (like us) and still wants to forgive them.   God’s grace is so much higher than our ways or thoughts.

In the mid-1800s., Franz Liszt was one of the most renowned pianists alive.  A young woman who was giving a piano recital advertised, falsely, that she was a former student of Liszt himself.

You can imagine her anxiety when she discovered that – the day before her recital – Liszt himself had arrived in her German town.

Grief-stricken, she found the famous composer’s hotel room and poured out her confession.  She sobbed as she admitted her lie.

Liszt looked at her with sympathy.  And the point of the story is: he forgave her.  Right?

Yes.  But he did more.  He told her to sit down to the piano and play.  After he gave her a few pointers he said, “Now that I have instructed you, you can truthfully claim that you are a pupil of Liszt.”

What an additional act of kindness on his part.  So, that is the point, right?

Yes, but that is not all.  He then told this young woman to also advertise that, at the end of the concert, the final number would be performed by Liszt himself.

Grace upon grace upon grace.  That is how the Lord treats you.  And that is why He says that His ways are higher than our ways.

 

 

 

(Copyright 2010 by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

 

 

 

 

Story of the Day for Monday November 15, 2010

 

Gift of Grace

 

Each one should use whatever spiritual gift he has received to serve others. . .

1 Peter 4:10

 

 

When we talk about spiritual gifts, we can easily get the wrong impression.  The emphasis seems to be on the word “spiritual” – distinguishing it from “normal” gifts, such as being a talented musician or mechanic.

Surprisingly, the Greek word for “spiritual” is not even present in the term.  Instead, if you translate it literally, it comes out like “grace gift.”  The emphasis is not that the gift is “spiritual” or “miraculous,” but that it is a gift of God’s grace to us.

When God gives us grace, he is giving us something we haven’t earned.  We don’t get it because we deserve it. It’s just a gift.  When God washes us clean from our sin, it’s a gift.  When he promises us eternal joy in heaven, it’s a gift.

 

As Jesus gave his life in sacrifice to us, he wants us to know the same kind of life.  Whatever talent we have is a gift of grace, which we are not to use to promote our own glory, but to serve other people.

Using your talents to serve others doesn’t sound especially fun – at least not when you compare it to receiving admiration and becoming the focus of attention. But once you get the hang of what it really means to help others, there is no comparison.

 

Father and son, Frank and John Schaeffer, wrote a book, Keeping Faith. Marine recruit John Schaeffer explains how, if you drop out of training for medical reasons, you are put in another platoon and pick up where you left off.  But no one wants to leave their platoon.  They have suffered so much together.  They are a band of brothers.

Schaeffer writes about Recruit Parks.  Parks was a small, skinny kid from New York.  He developed double pneumonia just before the final, tortuous test to becoming a Marine called “The Crucible.” Their Senior Drill Instructor, Staff Sergeant Marshal told the platoon: “Parks is going to finish with us if I have to carry him in my pack!”

The night before the Crucible, unbeknownst to the Drill Instructors, a few of the stronger recruits took out the heavier items in Park’s pack and put them in their own.

For the 2 ½ day Crucible, they marched 54 miles with all their equipment.   They only slept four hours a night and received only two meals for the entire ordeal.

Each squad had to pretend one of their men was wounded and drag and carry him through combat conditions.  Park’s squad designated him as “wounded” and carried him.  They put recruits on each side of him on the ropes course.

As they stood at attention and saluted the flag at end of the Crucible, Parks stood with them, weak and pale.  He received his “Stars and Bars” – becoming a Marine with his platoon.  Tears streamed down the cheeks of his comrades.  They carried each others burdens.  And no one was left behind.

 

Ask those Marines if it’s worth it to use your strengths to help your brother.

 

 

(Copyright 2010 by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

Stories for November 8-13, 2010

Story of the Day for Saturday November 13, 2010

Too Busy To Listen

 

 

Shouting in a loud voice and covering their ears, they rushed together at him and dragging him out of the city they stoned him.

Acts 7:57-58

 

 

We were up on Still Peak above our house when my brother-in-law hushed us and said, “Do you hear that?”

We are stopped jabbering and listened.

“I don’t hear anything.”

“Exactly,” said Sean, “you can’t hear a single thing.”

He was right. No cars or machinery. No dogs. No wind.

 

Silence is odd to us because we seldom experience it. We live in a noisy world. All the same, we rarely make much of an effort to get away from the racket.

Do you find it a struggle to take time for quiet reflection? Why is that? Yeah, you’re  really busy. But do you think there might be a deeper reason?

I ask because I’ve discovered you can drown out the voice of God by noise.  Sometimes, the Holy Spirit speaks in a still, small voice. And our conscience is an avid talker, but only speaks in a whisper. TVs and radios can easily overpower that voice we need to hear.

 

When Stephen was arraigned before the Jewish high court on charges of blasphemy, he gave a lengthy recitation of God’s coming to their forefathers, and their rejection of the Lord’s graciousness to them.

Things got tense when Stephen came to his point: “You stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears!”  He told them, in other words, that they were not listening to God, but were resisting the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit, in fact, was speaking to the high council at that very moment – through the words of Stephen.  And how did they respond?  They drowned out his voice by shouting him down and covering their ears.

 

My friend, Ruth, was riding with a woman who chauffeured a van load of kids.  Ruth noticed the transmission was making a funny noise.  She asked, “You think you ought to get that fixed?”

The woman grinned at Ruth and said, “This is how I fix it,” and immediately turned on the radio until you could no longer hear the noise from the transmission.

 

Are you taking time for quiet?  When we are silent before the Lord, we may realize that some things need to be fixed.  But that’s a good thing.  Whether we need to make changes, or find forgiveness, or comfort, or inspiration, God will speak a good word to us when we are quiet enough to listen.

 

 

(Copyright 2010 by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

 

 

 

Story of the Day for Friday November 12, 2010


Learning To Be Angry 

 

Be angry, but do not sin.

Ephesians 4:26

 

 

God wants to teach us how to be angry.

Does that sound odd to you? How can God teach us to do something sinful?

The first thing we must realize is that anger is like a knife.  A knife can be used to murder, but it can also be used in the hand of a surgeon to save a life.  Anger is like that.   You can find truckloads of references in the Bible where God is angry.  Jesus becomes angry.   And Paul is quoting Psalm 4 when he says, “Be angry, but do not sin.”  Apparently, it is possible to become angry without sinning.

 

So, when is anger a godly emotion?  I have often heard people defend their behavior to others as “righteous anger,” but in almost every case it is not righteous at all.   They assume that, if they were right in their grievance, then they were justified in retaliating with vengeance.  But that is definitely not righteous anger.

God wants our anger to be an expression of our love for others.   Imagine that you are walking down a sidewalk and spot a one-year-old child standing there smiling at you.  Suddenly, a big, burly man strides past you and hollers to the child, “Get out of my way!” and deliberately kicks the child in the face.   Would you become angry?  Of course you would!  But your outrage would arise from your compassion for this child.

Godly anger is meant to motivate us.  It  moves us to act bravely to do the right thing.   It centers our focus.  Martin Luther said, “I never write better than when I am inspired by anger.  When I am angry I can write, pray, and preach well; for then my whole temperament is quickened, my understanding challenged, and all worldly temptations and annoyances go away.”

 

In Jesus’ day, God’s people had to offer sacrifices in the temple.  But God told the poor, who couldn’t afford the animal sacrifices, that they could offer a dove instead.

But then the chief priests seized the market. They mandated that only doves bought in the temple could be offered for sacrifice.  And then they spiked up the price of a dove from about one dollar to about one hundred dollars.

Not only that, but God specified in Isaiah that there must always be a place in the temple where the “unchurched” Gentiles could come in order to pray and draw closer to God.  But the priests had commandeered the Court of the Gentiles in order to set up their market.

When Jesus saw this he got angry.  But his anger motivated him to boldly march into the temple and clear away those extorting the poor and to restore a place for the Gentiles to pray.   This is what godly anger does.  It motivates us to oppose injustice and help the needy.

Godly anger is not about being “right” in our grievances and getting even.  It is about being focused and on fire to promote truth, justice, and help for others.

 

(Copyright 2010 by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

 

 

Story of the Day for Thursday November 11, 2010


Are You a Poser?

 

 

“Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”

Luke 12:1

 

 

When it comes to mechanical things, I am a certified nincompoop. But when I’m in the market for a used car, I see no need to advertise this fact to the seller.  In order to skillfully negotiate the price, I carry myself with an air of self-confidence and authority.  Privately, I know my only leverage in negotiating price is the frown.  I ask the one selling the car to pop the hood.  I stare at the engine and have no idea what I should be inspecting.  So I just frown.

Sometimes the seller will think I have spotted the car’s weakness, and confess, “Yeah, well, the co-axial crankcase activator valve needs a new gasket, but . . .”

If he only knew!  I’m just a poser.  And who knows why I do it?  I couldn’t barter down the price of a “pre-owned” lollipop.

 

Hypocrisy is often misunderstood.  Non-Christians accuse Christians of being hypocrites when they fail to live up to the moral standard set by Jesus.  That is not necessarily hypocrisy – that’s just failure to live up to the moral standard set by Jesus.  We are called to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  This is the standard we strive for, but we will never attain it in this life.  A Christian is no more a hypocrite for failing to be perfect than a basketball player is a hypocrite for failing to score on every shot.

Hypocrisy is pretending to be more righteous than we really are.  We seek to impress others, but God is not impressed.  He knows it’s an act.

Jesus warned his disciples about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, because it is highly contagious.  It is like yeast, which is so seemingly insignificant, yet quickly affects the entire lump of dough.

The hypocrisy virus primarily spreads within Christian circles. One person wants to “share” a recent miraculous answer to prayer.  Then another just wants to bless the Lord for the unbelievable miracle they experienced last week.  And then another shares.  And another.  You have to be really strong, once the virus starts spreading, to say something like, “Well, I haven’t experienced any miracles lately.  I’m really wrestling in prayer with lustful thoughts, and I don’t feel like I’ve made any progress this week.”

Hey – don’t hesitate to share wonderful answers to prayer – as long as your motive is to encourage others. The key is not to pretend or show off.

 

On the other hand, it doesn’t mean you need to blurt to the world all your inner secrets and struggles.  As Fran Lebowitz said, “Spilling your guts is just exactly as charming as it sounds.”

Jesus is concerned that we grow in faith, but that we do so humbly and honestly.  We can’t fool him. But the really beautiful thing is that we don’t have to.  We can show him the wreckage in the complete trust that he longs to clean up the mess, renew us, and change us from posers into the real thing.

 

(Copyright 2010 by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

Story of the Day for Wednesday November 10, 2010

“Long Suffering” is Not Only Long, It’s…

 

Walk worthy of your calling, with complete humility and gentleness.  Be patient – bearing with each other in love.

Ephesians 4:1-2

 

“Patience” is more than the ability to wait. Fishermen are patient and can stare at a bobber for boundless stretches of time. They are relaxed, comfortable, content.

The biblical virtue of patience, however, involves pain. The King James Version often translated the word for “patience” as “long-suffering” – suffering for a long time.

By the way, what do we call a person who suffers health problems requiring hospitalization?

 

Here in Ephesians, Paul speaks of patience in the context of our relationships with each other. Love means that we willingly put up with the annoying behavior of others (and hope they will put up with our faults as well.) This kind of patience is more than simply waiting. We are choosing to allow love to transform our attitude toward other people.

 

John used to be a missionary in western Africa. He needed to fly to the country’s capitol, but the country was so poor, and at war, that they did not have commercial flights available.  His only option was to fly in a military transport plane.

The plane had been gutted. All the seats had been removed so they could cram more soldiers into it. As John boarded the plane he saw it was filled with wounded soldiers who were moaning in pain.  Finding a place to sit, he leaned up against the wall of the plane.

 

In the sizzling tropical heat, John was wearing shorts and a T-shirt. However, once the plane gained in altitude he began to shiver from the cold. The sweat from his back froze and nailed him to the wall of the plane.

John was acquainted with flying and knew the pilot did not need to fly at such a high altitude. Upset, he demanded that someone come and bring him an explanation.

Soon, a doctor returned.

“This is my fault,” he said. “Many of these soldiers are badly wounded and I have no more medicine to ease their pain. I asked the pilot to increase the altitude of the plane, so that the cold might numb their agony just a little.”

The doctor was apologetic. “I’m sorry for any discomfort this is causing you.”

 

Well. That changed everything. For the rest of the flight John gladly offered up his suffering for the sake of the injured soldiers.

The cold did not change.  But John’s heart did.

 

(Copyright 2010 by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

Story of the Day for Tuesday November 9, 2010

“So, How’s My Little Miss America?”

 

 

Let us consider how we can spur each other on in love and good works – not neglecting to meet together, as some are in the habit, but encouraging each other. . .

Hebrews 10:24-25

 

 

One of the greatest moments in a grade school teacher’s career happened by mistake.

In his first year of teaching, Jaime Escalante had two students who shared the same first name, Johnny.  But they were so different.   One was an excellent student – happy and well-behaved.  The other was a goof-off and did not take his studies seriously.

At the first PTA meeting of the year, a parent asked how her son was doing. The teacher raved about her son Johnny and what a delight he was to have in the classroom.   But he was mistaken.  He was actually talking to “bad” Johnny’s mom.

The next day, the problem child approached the teacher.  “My mom told me what you said about me last night.  I haven’t ever had a teacher who wanted me in his class.”

From that day on “Problem Johnny” completed his assignments and became a model student.

 

Even though the teacher’s praise was unintentional, it demonstrates how powerful our encouragement of others can be.   People are capable of doing so much if we can make them believe they can.

Tom Peters and Robert Waterman, in their best-selling book, In Search of Excellence, describe a psychological experiment where every adult is given the same ten puzzles to solve.   Half of the exam takers were told they did well, getting seven out of ten correct.   The other half was informed they did poorly, getting seven out of ten problems wrong.

But, in fact, the psychologists made the test scores up.   And when they gave each group another round of puzzles, they discovered that those who were told they did well the first round did better on the second, while those who were told they did poorly did worse on the second test.

 

Encouragement is urging others to believe – to believe in what the Lord has done for them, to believe in what God has made them capable of, to believe they are loved.

But here is the important point: encouragement is what we do for another person.  We need each other.   That is why the Bible urges us to get together – not only for the purpose of corporate worship – but to encourage each other in love and good deeds.

 

Encouraging others is not always our first impulse.   We are avid fans of employing criticism to improve behavior.  And don’t get me wrong – criticism has its place.   There are times when we must point out someone else’s faults.   Yet, if we are not sensitive in our criticism, we can decrease rather than improve another person’s behavior.   The test takers who were told they did poorly are proof of that.

There is more power in encouragement than we often imagine. Every since Cheryl Pruitt was four or five she would hang around her dad’s country stores.  Every day the milkman would arrive to stock the store.  And every day he would greet little Cheryl and say, “So, how’s my little Miss America?”

In 1980, guess who became the new Miss America?

 

(Copyright 2010 by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

 


Story of the Day for Monday November 8, 2010

Who Cares About the Back of Her Head?

 

There is nothing better a man can do than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work.  This too, I see, is from the hand of God.

Ecclesiastes 2:24

 

 

Have you ever seen a picture of the Statue of Liberty taken from above her?  Her coiffure is as beautifully sculpted as the rest of the statue.

“Yeah?” you might ask, “What’s so odd about that?”

What is “so odd about that” is that, when Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, completed the Statue of Liberty in 1886 – the only people capable of seeing that part of the statue would have been someone who attempted to soar above her in a hot air balloon. Bartholdi had no way of predicting the invention of helicopters and air planes so others could observe the quality of his work. Whether others could see his artistry made no difference to the pride he took in his workmanship.

 

Supposedly, there is a tag on every vehicle which also identifies the day it was built.  A friend told me never to buy a car built on a Monday. “On Mondays,” he explained, “assembly line workers are hung over or tired from the weekend.  They are usually crabby about returning to the drudgery of their job, and they are apathetic about the quality of their work.” I have even talked to auto workers who confessed they would never buy a car from the company they work for because they know how shoddily they are built.

I’m not mad at auto workers for doing shoddy work; I’m sad that they work at jobs with no purpose other than a paycheck. Work is a tough slog when we can’t take pride in the quality of what we do.

 

A while back, I had been unemployed, so I was delighted to find minimum-wage work doing landscaping. The work was hard – mostly raking and hauling endless wheelbarrow loads of rock and dirt. The contractor who was building the house was passionate about quality; he wanted everything to be beautiful. He never talked about the money he was making or how long it was until quitting time. But he kept repeating, “I can’t wait to see the look on the Davis’s faces when they see. . .”

His enthusiasm was so infectious that I, too, wanted to create the most beautiful lawn for them that I could. I discovered that the harder I worked, the more pleasure I experienced. I couldn’t wait to see the look on the Davis’s faces when. . .

 

My wife doesn’t cook meals for our family; she creates delight for others to enjoy.  She sprinkles little green things on the potatoes – not so much because you can notice the flavor but because it adds color and balance to the plate. She finds great satisfaction in serving others.

 

God has made us to find meaning in our work, because we are meant to create and serve others. We are, after all, made in the image of Him who creates and gives His Son to serve us and bring us salvation.

(Copyright 2010 by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)