March 29-April 6, 2011 Stories

Story of the Day for Wednesday April 6, 2011

Understanding Paradox with Rufus the June Beetle

God determined . . . the exact times and boundaries where people should live, so they would seek him and, consequently, in their searching would find him . . . For in him we live and move and have our being.

Acts 17:26-28

Today, I want to pick a fight, and argue that we should stop fighting and arguing so much in the church.

When the stakes are high – and they don’t get any higher than when we’re defending the truths about God – we easily confuse unwavering loyalty to God with stubbornness. Listening thoughtfully and openly to another’s point of view sounds far too much like compromising the truth. And so, we entrench, and prepare for battle.

One of the greatest points of doctrinal contention is whether God is totally sovereign, or whether we have free will. As Christians, we have gotten into more food fights over this issue than any other I can name.

But what if both sides are right?

The apostle Paul was comfortable with paradox. When he was speaking to the tweedy philosopher types in Athens, he affirmed both sides of the argument. He talked about God wanting everyone to seek him, and, in their searching, to find him. Sounds like free will. But he also emphasized God’s complete sovereignty. God determines what happens when, and we can’t live or move or exist apart from his decision.

Paul assumes both sides of the matter are true.

Now, many claim that, when I went to seminary to drink from the fountains of knowledge, I only gargled. And I’m certainly not helping my cause by telling you my position on sovereignty and free will has been influenced by Rufus the June beetle.

Once upon a time, a June beetle named Rufus woke to a sunny morning and decided to fly around, and do buggy things. He flew through the open window of a Chevy pickup. No particular reason. He was a bug.

Soon, a human got in, rolled up the windows, and drove down the road.

Is Rufus still free? Obviously not. His movements are totally dictated by the will of the driver. Rufus is going wherever the driver chooses to go.

Is Rufus now under the total control of the driver? Well, no, actually. He’s still free to do beetle stuff, like landing in people’s hair or getting stuck on his back.

Now look at the mess we’ve made. Rufus has free will but doesn’t have free will. The driver is totally controlling Rufus’ movements, but doesn’t totally control Rufus’ movements. We’ve got ourselves a paradox: two truths are true at the same time.

Thinking any deeper than this makes my brain hurt. But I do know that seeing life from both angles allows me to bow before the God who is Lord of all, and still rejoice in the glorious freedom he has given the children of men.

(copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

Story of the Day for Tuesday April 5, 2011

The Snob

And to those who tried to assure themselves they were righteous and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this story . . .

Luke 18:9

When I was in third grade we learned a song called “Little Robin Redbreast.” It’s a chirpy number that recounts the epic conflict of wills between a robin and a pussycat.

After we learned the song our teacher gave everyone a sheet a paper with a robin on it and we got our crayons out to color it in.

This was my favorite time of the day. I loved art. Whenever my mind wandered during other classes, which was just about all the time, I would draw dinosaurs or football players or soldiers blowing things up.

But, as we colored in our robins, events took a disturbing turn.

Kids are busybodies and like to check up on each other’s progress, and as I looked at my classmates, I was horrified. Oblivious to reality, they were actually coloring the robin’s breast red! A robin’s breast isn’t red – it’s burnt-orange. Granted, we didn’t have burnt-orange in our arsenal of crayons back then, but at the very least, orange would be the better choice. And, if you take a brown crayon, you can lightly feather it over top of the orange for a pleasing effect.

I knew, however, exactly why they were coloring their robin’s breast red. They had been manipulated by a stupid song. And why? Because some two-bit poet lacked the literary skill to compose a song called, “Little Robin Burnt-Orange Breast.”

Nevertheless, the song, didn’t account for why Ronnie chose to color the rest of his robin’s body black. It didn’t even look like a robin; it looked like a raven hugging the top of a traffic light.

My classmates had no idea they were under covert investigation by the Color Police. They just colored away and were happy to be alive while I glumly brooded over their lack of aesthetic rigor.

As I look back on those days, I realize I was an art snob before I even knew what an art snob was. Snobbery has nothing to do with striving for excellence, nor even with thinking you can do something better than others. Snobbery is a dark smugness that enjoys feeling superior to others.

Spiritual snobbery is especially distasteful and dangerous. The Pharisees validated their lives by feeling holier than the common rabble. By seeking to be superior, they were silently acknowledging their secret insecurity in their relationship with God.

Once we know the mercy of Jesus, we enter into a secure relationship with God. He frees us from the desperate need to be holier or “righter” than others . . . or better able to draw robins.

But RED, for Pete’s sake! I still can’t believe it.

(copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)


Story of the Day for Monday April 4, 2011

Love and Truth Have Kissed

The Lord will be the stable foundation for your times, a wealthy storehouse of salvation and wisdom and knowledge.

Isaiah 33:6

Tim Stafford wrote an article in Christianity Today about a pastor he knew, Dr. Stephen Bilynskyj. He fills a jar with beans and asks his class to guess how many beans are in the jar. On a big pad of paper he writes down their estimates. Then, next to their estimates he asks them to name their favorite song.

After the two lists are completed, he tells them how many beans are in the jar, and the class checks the list to see whose estimate was the closest. Then Pastor Bilynskyj looks at the list of favorite songs and asks them which song is closest to being right.

The students protest that there isn’t a right answer.

Bilynskj asks them, “When you decide what to believe in terms of your faith, is that more like guessing the number of beans, or more like choosing your favorite song?”

The answer is disturbing – invariably they say that their religious faith is like choosing a favorite song.  They see their faith, in other words, not as something that is actually true, but as their personal preference.

If God truly exists, we should expect to find his fingerprints. As we examine the fundamental components of life, we should see evidence of an Intelligent Designer – systems that can’t be constructed by a mindless combination of chemicals. And we do.

When we read the story of God’s working among his people, we would expect to find archeological evidence for the places and buildings spoken about. And we do.

If God doesn’t really exist, then life is meaningless, and we must have the courage to admit it.  But, isn’t it odd that those who claim there is no God, and no purpose in life,  have a dickens of a time practicing their belief?

AsRavi Zacharias was being driven to a lecture he was giving at Ohio State University, his host drove him past the Wexner Center for the Performing Arts, hailed as the first postmodern building. The outer scaffolding gives a sense of incompleteness. Inside, stairways go nowhere and pillars hang from the ceiling without purpose.

The host told Zacharias that the building was designed to reflect life itself – senseless and incoherent – and the “capriciousness of the rules that organize the built world.”

Ravi asked, “So his argument was that if life has no purpose and design, why should the building have any design?”

His host said, “That is correct.”

“Did he do the same thing with the foundation?”

God is not an illusion – something you believe in just to make you feel good. He is the foundation of reality. He makes the things we long for: love and a restored life, real.

In the God who is really there, Love and Truth have kissed.

(copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

Story of the Day for Saturday April 2, 2011

But Truth Won’t Break

Because of rebellion . . . truth was flung to the ground.

Daniel 8:12

When Stephen Covey speaks to audiences, he will sometimes ask everyone to close their eyes and point north. Telling them not to move their arms, he asks everyone to open their eyes. The audience discovers it is pointing every which way.

Are they all correct? Is north whatever direction you think it is? Or, is there one direction that points to true north?

Before you answer that, let’s ratchet things up a notch. Suppose you’re driving in an unfamiliar city when your child in the back seat suddenly becomes ill. You shout out your car window at a passing pedestrian, “Where is the nearest hospital?”

“Three blocks north of here.”

If you are unsure of your directions would you ask which way is north? Or, would you conclude it didn’t matter – north is whatever direction you believe it to be?

Now, if it was up to me, I would never discuss mathematics because I’m so bad at it. But, our present circumstances compel me to bring up the topic of pi.

Pi is the ratio of the circumference of the circle to its diameter. And, while most of us can live happy lives without ever learning this fact, I’m told that correctly calculating pi is critical in some areas of life.

The number for pi is often identified as 3.14, but that isn’t true. Pi is an irrational number that keeps going until it disappears over the horizon. (In November, 2005, Chao Lu recited the first 67,890 decimal places of pi from memory.)

All this was not going down well with Edward J. Goodwin. As an amateur mathematician, he offered to the world three ways of calculating pi. The first formula calculated pi as 3.2, while other formulas yielded the numbers 3.23 and 4.

T.I. Record knew a good thing when he saw one. In 1897, as a member of the Indiana House of Representatives, he introduced Bill #246, which changed the number of pi to Goodwin’s suggestions. The bill was sent to the House, where everyone was delighted to make pi a simpler number. Bill #246 was unanimously approved, 67 to 0.

The bill was passed on the Senate. But then a mathematics professor from Purdue, C.A. Waldo, convinced them they were a bunch of loons, and the bill died in committee.

We can fling the truth to the ground, but truth won’t break. If we ignore it, it will break us.

God doesn’t exist because we believe in him. He’s True North, and our opinions about him won’t alter who he is. What matters is that we find, and hold on to, what is true about God, and life in general, rather than trying to invent it.

In Indiana, preserving the true number of pi saved all the architects in the state from banging their heads against walls and mumbling incoherently.

(copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

Story of the Day for Friday April 1, 2011

They Can See Right Through Us

When you fast, don’t be like the gloomy-looking hypocrites. They contort their faces so it becomes obvious to everyone that they’re fasting.

Matthew 6:16

Have you ever noticed that people who are trying to look cool don’t really look cool; they look like they’re trying to look cool?

When I order sub sandwiches they have a tip jar at the end of the counter. I like to tip workers, but sometimes they’re attention is turned elsewhere and they don’t see me giving my generous tip. So, I like to wait until they see me – but here’s the trick: I try to make it look like I’m furtively sneaking a tip in their jar yet hoping they’ll notice. That way, they’ll see me as both humble and generous at the same time.

Jesus thinks I’m a poser when I do that, and, of course, he’s right. Posing is a big deal to him because our vanity destroys the most critical attitude of a believer: humility. Only humble hearts receive undeserved gifts. And that’s what Jesus came to give us.

Becoming proud of our humility is an oxymoron. It doesn’t impress God, and, if you must know the dismal truth, it doesn’t impress other people.

Daniel M. Oppenheimer is a cognitive psychologist at Princeton. He published a study about the benefit of using simple language, and entitled it: “Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity.”  (I found his title a little ironic until I realized this was meant to be humorous; his subtitle says: “Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly”)

Oppenheimer wanted to know if people think we’re more intelligent when we use complicated language rather than using simple words. He found that 86 percent of university students admitted that they deliberately use complicated words in their essays to make their papers sound more valid or intelligent.

His study revealed that, contrary to prevailing wisdom, people do not think you’re more intelligent when you write obscurely – they think you’re less intelligent. In other words, whenever we try to impress others with our intelligence, our attempts backfire.  They can see right through us.

Jesus watched the “religious” people as they prayed and gave alms to the poor, and fasted. All of those things are good. But he observed that these people wanted other people to notice and admire their spirituality. Yet, craving attention is not spiritual, so he called it for what it was and warned us not to imitate that kind of hypocrisy.

But, if you still insist on trying to impress people with your spirituality, let me give you a tip: the key is subtlety. And, if you need any help, come with me some day and watch me pay for a sub sandwich.

(copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

Story of the Day for Thursday March 31, 2011

Willing to Take the Full Brunt

By this we know what love is: Jesus laid down his life in place of ours.

1 John 3:16

Imagine a happy little kindergarten girl walking to school when another bigger kid runs up behind her and deliberately shoves her to the ground?

We instantly become angry, and if we could talk to that bully, the first word out of our mouth is apt to be “Why?” “Why did you have to do that? She wasn’t doing anything to you!”

If you read through the Psalms, that question is frequently on their lips when life doesn’t make sense to them, “Why? O Lord . . .”

Dan Miller writes about the Clark family in Scotland. The husband and wife worked hard to save up money so they could take their nine children on vacation to the United States. After years of scrimping, they bought their passports and made their reservations on an ocean liner.

You can imagine their excitement as the trip of their dreams was only a week away.

But then their youngest son was bitten by a dog, and the doctor said he would have to remain home under quarantine for two weeks because of the possibility of rabies.

The entire family was crushed by the news, but the father took it the worse – cursing both God and his son for this huge disappointment.

Mr. Clark’s anger melted away five days later. He had just learned that the ocean liner, for which they had reservations, the Titanic, had sunk.

Anaiah Tucker is a nine-year-old who lives in Madison, Georgia. It was raining as she walked hand-in-hand with her five-year-old sister, Camry, to catch the school bus.

As they crossed the road, suddenly, they saw a pickup truck was bearing down on them. In an act of selfless love, Anaiah pushed her sister out of the way to safety, but was hit by the pickup herself.

The mother of the two girls ran to the scene, and found that Anaiah had no pulse. The school bus soon arrived, and the driver, Loretta Berryman, administered CPR until she began to breathe again.

Anaiah broke her neck, lost a kidney, damaged her spleen, broke both legs, and had to eventually have one leg amputated.

We’re angry with kids who would senselessly push another child to the ground . . . as long as we see no purpose in their doing so.

If you’re angry with God and find yourself shouting “Why?” at him a lot, I think you should know that he has a purpose for things – even if we can’t see it at the moment.

And, it’s also good to remember that the same God who may push you to the ground, is the one who was willing to take the full brunt of the truck in order to save you.

(copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)


Story of the Day for Wednesday March 30, 2011

What You’ve Got Left

The gift is acceptable according to what one has, not what he doesn’t have.

2 Corinthians 8:12

Noel Paul Stookey (from the folk-rock group Peter, Paul, and Mary) gave a solo concert in River Forest, Illinois back in the 70s.

As a live performer, Stookey is incomparable. But, on one of his final songs, he broke a guitar string. He never missed a beat, but kept on singing and playing. And then, a second string snapped . . . and still he continued his song.

With two strings dangling wildly, his guitar work didn’t sound quite as full, so we gave him a tepid applause for that song, right?

Are you kidding? The auditorium went wild! We weren’t applauding the quality of his guitar sound; we were applauding his courage to do his best with the four strings he had left.

God doesn’t appraise our efforts by what we wish we could do, but by what we can do.

That’s how you treat other people too, isn’t it? That’s why you’re so delighted with a hand-drawn birthday card from a five-year-old. Even if half the words are misspelled and the drawing of you is less than flattering.

So, why do you judge your own situation so differently?  Have you noticed how easily we fall into the habit of comparing our present efforts to what we used to be able to accomplish when we were younger, or what we could do before the accident?

I live up in the mountains of Montana and look out my window at Still Peak. I love to hike to the summit, but, with age, and a massive blood clot, and nerve damage to both my calves, and arthritis in my knees, I can no longer dance up the trail to the summit like I used to.

That’s when I need to remember that God doesn’t care so much about what my body can accomplish; he cares about my heart – what I do with what I’ve got.

My sister once took me and my family to worship at a stately Episcopal church near Detroit.  During the celebration of the Eucharist, the people would walk forward to the altar rail to receive Communion.

As we were singing the Communion hymn, we noticed one man as he made his way to the front. He was in an advanced stage of muscular dystrophy and the spastic movement of his limbs made it virtually impossible for him to lurch toward the front.

It took him a long time to make his way to the front, but he was determined, and we would’ve have waited for him until Tuesday. My wife and I weren’t able to continue with the hymn. While he communed I wanted to applaud.

Don’t be sad about what you don’t have. The only gift that God, and the world, wants from you is to give what you’ve got left.

(copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)


Story of the Day for Tuesday March 29, 2011

Pad Our Stats or Nurse Our Toes?

After they stoned Paul, they dragged him outside the city, assuming he was dead. But . . . he got up and went back into the city.

Acts 14:19-20

When Henry “Zeke” Bonura was sixteen, he entered the javelin competition at a National Track and Field Championship in 1925, and threw it seven feet farther than the “Chariots of Fire” Olympic gold medalist did in Paris the year before. He still remains the youngest male athlete to win an event at an AAU Track and Field Championship.

At Loyola University, he starred in football, basketball, and track. Notre Dame’s famous football coach, Knute Rockne, called him “The South’s Wonder Athlete.”  When he played major league baseball for the Chicago White Sox he twice led American League first basemen with the lowest percentage of errors.

I won’t tell you that Zeke Bonura was an excellent fielder – not to avoid boring you with the obvious, but to avoid lying.

Bonura was LOUSY at first base.  Sports editor, Otis Harris wrote in 1946: “It was never established beyond a shadow of a doubt that Bonura was the worst fielding first basemen in the majors, but the consensus was that he would do until another one came along.”

So, how could Bonura win the title of best defensive first basemen in both 1934 and 1938 and yet be considered such a bad defensive player?

Simple. He didn’t try.

Zeke made the brilliant discovery that you can’t be charged with an error if you don’t touch the ball. So, he let easy grounders roll into left field and waved at them with his “Mussolini salute.”

I would love to take this opportunity to heap scorn on the lethargic ambitions of Zeke Bonura, but I can’t. I find myself doing the same thing. Sometimes I become so afraid of failing that I never try.

On the apostle Paul’s missionary trips, he often failed to win over the people he met. Once, (against the wishes of the town’s Chamber of Commerce) they stoned Paul and left him for dead. But he picked himself up, dusted himself off, and continued to carry the Good News on his lips.

And good things happened because he wasn’t afraid to fail.

One of the greatest inventors of his time, Charles Kettering, said, “You will never stub your toe standing still. The faster you go, the more chance there is of stubbing your toe.” “But,” Kettering adds, “the more chance you have of getting somewhere.”

When we get our purpose figured out, we won’t waste time trying to pad our stats. We’ll be too busy nursing our toes.

(copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)