Do You Know Who You Are?

Story of the Day for Wednesday February 29, 2012

Do You Know Who You Are?

                Be subject to God, but resist the devil, and he will run away from you. 

                                      James 4:7

Back in 1914, when the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn, rookie Ed Appleton was pitching against the St. Louis Cardinals. The score was tied, 4-4, in the seventh inning, with a man on third base.

The Cardinals manager, Miller Huggins, was coaching at third base. “Hey!” he shouted to Appleton, “let me see that ball.”

Appleton was, apparently, raised to be polite and respectful. He turned to the Cardinals manager and tossed him the ball. But Huggins sidestepped the ball and watched it roll into foul territory.

The ball was in play!

The runner scored and the Cardinals went on to win the game.

 

Do you ever read your horoscope? Yeah, sometimes – but just out of idle curiosity, right? But when we allow superstition or bogus astrological forecasts to taint our behavior, we’re bowing to a false authority. The devil has pulled a “Miller Huggins” on us.

The same goes for doing what we know is flat-out wrong. Sometimes we feel powerless before temptation. We’re victims – powerless before the authority of evil. Prison convicts commonly describe, say, a stabbing as if the knife was the active agent and they just had the misfortune to be holding onto it.

 

The devil is sly. But here’s the point: he has no power or authority over you. When you resist him, the Bible says, he will flee. Don’t toss him the ball.

It’s vital to know that when we cave in to the false authority of the deceiver, we can always find forgiveness in the Lord. But it’s also essential to know who we are. The devil has no authority over us; we have authority over him.

 

A former governor of Massachusetts, Christian Herter, arrived late for a barbeque. As the story goes, he’d had no breakfast or lunch, and was famished. As he moved down the serving line, he held out his plate and was given one piece of chicken.

The governor asked the serving lady, “Excuse me, do you mind if I have another piece? I’m very hungry.”

“Sorry. I’m only supposed to give one piece to each person.”

Governor Herter again explained that he was starving.

“Only one to a customer.”

The governor was a modest man, but was so hungry he decided to put the weight of his office behind his plea. “Ma’am, do you know who I am? I’m the state governor.”

The woman shot back, “And do you know who I am? I’m the lady in charge of the chicken. Now move along!”

Don’t you love a person who knows who they are?

                                                    (copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

Understanding Paradox with Rufus the June Beetle

Story of the Day for Tuesday February 28, 2012

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)

Laughter Giving Way to a Growing Tummy

Story of the Day for Friday February 24, 2012

Laughter Giving Way to a Growing Tummy

                 Sarah was listening at the tent entrance . . .and Sarah laughed . . .

                          Genesis 18:10, 12

In August 1975, three men attempted to rob the Royal Bank of Scotland at Rothesay, but, trying to push the revolving doors the wrong way, got stuck. The bank staff kindly extricated them, and, after mumbling their thanks, the robbers sheepishly left.

They returned shortly afterward to announce they were robbing the bank, and demanded five thousand pounds. The staff, still tickled by the revolving door incident, thought the robbers were pulling another practical joke, so they started laughing.

Disheartened by their laughter, the gang leader reduced his demand to five hundred pounds – and this brought a fresh roar of laughter. Nervous and confused, he reduced the demand to fifty pounds, and by this time the cashier was laughing hysterically.

Apparently to demonstrate the seriousness of their demand, one of them jumped over the counter, but fell and hurt his ankle. The other two panicked and ran . . . and got stuck in the revolving doors again.

It took a moment for the bank tellers to realize that the robbery was real.

 

At the beginning of the Revolutionary War, the British occupied Boston. On January 8, 1776, officers and their ladies packed Faneuil Hall to watch a musical farce entitled The Blockade.  The comedy mocked the ragtag American army. An actor, impersonating George Washington, stumbled onto the stage with an oversized wig and rusty sword.

As the comedy got off to a rollicking start, Major Thomas Knowlton and his Connecticut soldiers launched a surprise attack. Everyone in the theater, however, thought the roar of the cannon barrage outside was part of the play.

A farmer ran on stage to announce that the rebels were attacking, and the audience roared and clapped their approval. The moment became confused as it slowly dawned on everyone that the announcement of the surprise attack was genuine and not part of the farce.

 

Whenever God shatters our assumptions, our reactions follow a predictable process. We laugh at the incongruity of it all. Then everything grows fuzzy and confused. And finally we begin to realize God is up to something.

 

When God’s messengers told Abraham that Sarah was going to have a baby, she laughed. At the age of ninety, this news was way too funny. But skepticism gave way to confusion, which gave way to a growing tummy with something kicking in there.

They named the child Isaac, which means “Laughter.”

 

When skeptics laugh at you and mock your faith, take it as a reassuring compliment. They are acknowledging you believe something so wild, so unthinkable, that only God could pull it off.

 

 

 

 

Even a Bug Can Teach

Story of the Day for Wednesday February 22, 2012

Even A Bug Can Teach

                  When pride comes, disgrace with follow. With humility comes wisdom. 

                                                      Proverbs 11:2

The 19th century was the golden age of British conquest. The sun never set on the British Empire, and the cultured English bathed in their glory.

Having conquered and colonized vast uncivilized cultures of the world, in the spring of 1845, they set out to conquer Nature.

Sir John Franklin led the best-funded expedition in history to find the fabled Northwest Passage to the Orient. Two 350-ton vessels were equipped with steel reinforced hulls, a 1000 book library, and heated cabins.

Confident of their invincibility, they defied the arctic seas . . . and lost.  The massive ice flows slammed into their ships and wedged them fast.  For two years they waited for the ice to release its grip, but the ice refused to budge, and all of Franklin’s men perished.

 

Oddly enough, Franklin’s men met the native Inuit of the area. A decade later, Francis Hall spent time with the Inuit, who told him of their encounters with Franklin’s crew. The Inuit gave seal to the starving men, but the British sailors never asked for help in survival. Though the Inuit could travel long distances on their dog sleds, they never asked for help in sending out a rescue party.

The Victorians of this age were intent upon asserting their superiority over all other cultures. They saw the arctic natives as ignorant savages, and refused to swallow their dignity by begging them for assistance.

 

Years later, twenty-eight-year old Roald Amundsen, slipped out of the harbor at Oslo with six others in a small, second-hand fishing boat. They sailed until the arctic winter set in and found themselves in the same vicinity as Franklin’s stranded expedition.

But Amundsen sought out the Inuit. He befriended them and learned their secrets of survival in the arctic. They taught him how to hunt seals and build igloos. He was amazed to find their reindeer clothing far better than his own. He lived on their diet.

When he borrowed their sled dogs for an exploratory trip, he bogged down and had to dump half his supplies to make it back to the Inuit village. They were amused, but showed him how to reduce the friction of the sled runners.

 

When the spring ice thawed and allowed the Norwegians to continue their journey, Amundsen dismayed the crew by refusing to sail. He claimed they still hadn’t learned enough from the Inuit in how to survive in the Arctic.

Amundsen would not only sail on to discover the Northwest Passage, but would later outrace the British to plant the first flag on the South Pole.

 

God tells us in the Bible to observe the behavior of ants and learn from them. Even a bug can teach us spiritual truth, but only the humble have the ears to listen.

                                                     (copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

What Comes From the Heart

Story of the Day for Tuesday February 21, 2012

What Comes From the Heart

              With their mouths these people honor me. But their hearts are far from me. 

                                       Isaiah 29:13

 If you resist treating a rich friend better than a poor friend,

If you can eat the same food every day and yet be grateful for it,

If you can bear your aches and pains without boring others with your troubles,

If you patiently wait when others are too busy to give you their time,

If you can take criticism without blaming others,

If you can honestly claim no prejudice against another’s creed, color, or religion,

If you can conquer stress without relying on alcohol, drugs, or nicotine,

If you can ignore another’s rudeness without lashing back,

If you can defend those close to you without first having to justify their actions,

then, my friend, you are almost as well-adjusted as my dog.

 

When I assess my behavior, sometimes I’m quite satisfied with myself, but only because my standards are too low. For example, being faithful in worship attendance is a good thing, yet, it can easily degenerate into the notion that we’ve done something spiritual just by showing up.

But even my dog used to be faithful in worship attendance. When I was young I served a rural church out in the country. In the summertime they would open the windows and entrance doors to create a cooling breeze in the sanctuary.

I was embarrassed one day when I looked at the back of the church to discover that my golden retriever, Fred, had sauntered in and joined us for worship.

Afterward, one of the members who always sat in the back pew, sheepishly approached me.  He said that this wasn’t the first visit by my dog; he had been attending all summer. When Fred would walk in to join the faithful they would quietly invite him into the back pew where he would lie down and enjoy the service.

My dog had been attending church all summer and yet I noticed no growth in his spiritual life.

 

Jesus told the religious people of his day that they worshipped God with their lips — they attended synagogue and said all the right things — but their hearts were far away.  Yet, the life that God is looking for is something deeper than outward actions.

 

Suppose a child runs into the house and leaves the door open. If his dad tells him to shut the door and his son refuses, that’s not good.

But suppose the child stomped back to the door, slammed it shut as hard as he could, and huffed off to his room. Would that action now please the father? Not really.

 

Outward actions may be commendable, but, in themselves, may be no more praiseworthy than the behavior of my pet dog. God is looking for more than the outward action; he’s looking for what comes from the heart.

                            (copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

Sometimes Dreams Do Come True

Story of the Day for Monday February 20, 2012

Sometimes Dreams Do Come True

                     “Blessed are the peacemakers, because they will be called sons of God.”

                                                                 Matthew 5:9

Are you dismayed by the hostile political climate in our day? Don’t you wish we could return to the spirit of our Founding Fathers and cooperate in mutual trust?

We picture the Founding Fathers gathered in the convention hall in Philadelphia – patiently waiting their turn to stand in the midst of the assembly and stretch out their arm in a noble pose and say something famous, like, “Give me liberty or give me death.”

Then everyone would repair to the nearest tavern for a tankard of ale and a plate of apple pan dowdy, and spend an agreeable afternoon deciding who got to speak the next famous saying on the morrow.

 

Unfortunately, it was never like that. The Founding Fathers were certainly courageous; they knew their decisions placed their lives in jeopardy. And they were unbelievably intelligent, because back then, they elected you to office on the basis of ability, not your good looks.

But, despite their common vision of a nation governed by the consent of the people, as men of great passion, they squabbled and fought like alley cats. Two of them, Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, grew so incensed with each other that they fought a duel to the death.

But the bitterest feud was between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Though the two had been friends for many years, their differing political viewpoints boiled over in mutual accusations. After exchanging pungent letters, they refused to communicate with each other for years.

 

Benjamin Rush was a mutual friend of Adams and Jefferson, a fellow signer of the Declaration of Independence, and a devout Christian.

Rush sought to reconcile the two. He wrote to Adams about a dream he had. He dreamed that Adams had written a kind letter to Jefferson, and that Jefferson returned an equally gracious letter. In his dream, the two men reconciled their differences and renewed their friendship. Then both of them “sunk into the grave nearly at the same time, full of years . . .”

 

Adams did write a conciliatory letter to Jefferson. Benjamin Rush immediately wrote to Adams, “I rejoice in the correspondence which has taken place between you and your old friend, Mr. Jefferson.” Jefferson wrote a gracious letter back. Rush wrote to Jefferson to rejoice in “this reunion of two souls destined to be dear to each other . . .”

Through a peacemaker, these two giants of our nation’s founding were reconciled.

In the 50th year of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, full of years, died. Hours later on the same day, John Adams passed away . . . on the 4th of July.

Sometimes dreams do come true.

(copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

The Best Encourager in the World

Story of the Day for Saturday February 18, 2012

The Best Encourager in the World

                                                     We never flattered you. 

                                                               1 Thessalonians 2:5

When I browse through a sporting goods store and find a new gizmo that I simply can’t live without, I quickly track down my wife, sweep her in my arms and whisper, “Honey, have I ever told you that your eyes sparkle like shimmering pools of moonlight on a warm summer’s night?”

She sighs, rolls her shimmering pools of moonlight, and asks, “So, what do you want to buy this time?”

My wife, to my great misfortune, can shrewdly distinguish between praise and flattery. Even though both sentiments glow with admiration, she knows that praise and flattery differ greatly in their sincerity.

We flatter when we have an ulterior motive. The goal of flattery is not to give to others but to get something out of the one on whom we lavish insincere praise.

 

When the apostle Paul writes to the newly formed congregation at Thessalonika, he assures them he never seeks to flatter. He had no hidden agenda.

Yet, before disavowing flattery, he has been showering them with praise. He tells them they are a shining model for the other believers in the area. He writes of their joy in the face of severe suffering, their responsiveness in imitating Paul’s example, their faith, their love, their endurance. Paul could hardly be more effusive in his praise.

 

Unlike flattery, praise is sincere. Yet, even though the intention of praise is to encourage others, sometimes praise can inadvertently harm them.

Carol Dweck, a Ph.D from Stanford University, oversaw an experiment with hundreds of fifth graders. A student was given blocks with different colors on each side and asked to form the blocks into the pattern shown on a card.

The first card showed an easy pattern. When a student completed the puzzle, half were told: “Wow, you did really well; you must be really smart.” When the other group finished the easy puzzle they were told: “Wow, you did really well; you must’ve worked really hard.”

Dr. Dweck then had all the students tackle a far more challenging puzzle — one which forced every student to struggle.

When each student finished the two puzzles, they were asked: “Which problems do you want to work on some more: the easier ones or those harder ones?” Those kids who were praised for their intelligence usually wanted to do the easier ones. But the students who were praised for working hard preferred the challenging puzzles.

Dr. Dweck maintains that praising inherent talent motivates kids to not want to grow. New challenges are welcomed by kids praised as hard workers, but are a threat to those who must maintain their reputation for being intelligent.

True praise should always seek to encourage and make others better. And if you learn to praise others wisely, I’m sure you can become the best encourager in the world!

Or is that flattery?

                                                     (copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)


It’s Not Too Late, You Know

Story of the Day for Friday February 17, 2012

It’s Not Too Late, You Know

                                  For I am the least of the apostles and am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. . . and his grace to me was not in vain – I worked harder than all of them. . . 

                                                               1 Corinthians 15:9-10

How do you handle regret?  Many are haunted by ugly sins from their past, and their guilt clings to them like a bad smell.  Others choose to punish themselves by drowning their regret with booze or engaging in other self-destructive behavior.   And then their response to their regret only fills them with more regret.

Regret can cripple you.  But if you will let God bring his grace into your life, your past failures can become the platform for a reinvigorated life.

 

In 1821, a brilliant lawyer defended a Maryland slaveholder.  One of the owner’s slaves, Charity Butler, escaped to freedom.  But the slave owner’s attorney, Thaddeus Stevens, convinced the court to have her returned to bondage.

Afterward, Stevens was disgusted with himself.  He could have wallowed in regret, but instead, chose a better way.  He became transformed into a passionate defender of slaves.

Thaddeus Stevens authored the 14th amendment to the Constitution, which granted all citizens (meaning former slaves) equal protection under the law.  He also fathered the 15th amendment, which gave freed slaves the right to vote.   Even many northern abolitionists still segregated blacks – banning them from public schools, colleges, libraries, theaters, and restaurants.  Stevens addressed black friends as equals, and brought them into social occasions as equals.

Although Stevens died in 1868, it wasn’t until 2002 that archeologists discovered that his house in Lancaster, Pennsylvania housed secret hiding places for fugitive slaves.

Thaddeus Stevens, the man who once condemned a runaway slave to a life of misery, used his past mistake to transform his future.  He used his shameful act as a springboard to a courageous life given to defending those he once suppressed.

Once, a fanatical Jew zealously worked to imprison and murder followers of Jesus of Nazareth.  How would you expect the Lord to handle such a violent persecutor of his people?  Easy – he made him a leader of the very people he once oppressed.  Paul could openly discuss his past, but he did not drown in regret.  He was inundated by the cleansing grace of Jesus.   Now, he could passionately work for the growth of the church he once tried to destroy.

 

It’s not too late, you know.

                                                          (copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

The Main Thing

Story of the Day for Thursday February 16, 2012

The Main Thing

                            David’s conscience pierced him after he numbered the people. So David told the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in doing this.”  

                                                2 Samuel 24:10

Rory Sutherland, a British advertising guru, likes to cite the maxim: Any metric that becomes a target loses its value as a metric.

Much to our relief he explains what he means. Businesses seek ways to measure their progress toward their company’s goals. But once the focus becomes improving any certain statistic, the measurement is no longer reliable.

And, since my explanation is even more confusing than Sutherland’s maxim, let me give some examples.

 

A good goal for a shipping company would be to make a profit by providing timely deliveries of packages. So far so good. But suppose the company looks at their delivery times and focuses on improving this statistic? Once quicker delivery time becomes the goal, the best way to reach this objective is to cancel delivery to more remote areas. The result: the company’s statistics improve. But profits and service to the customer declines.

 

Sutherland gives a similar example with airline companies. How can an airline measure improved service? One way is by an increase in on-time departures. Departure times are measured from pushback — when the jet begins to move from the terminal. Once companies make it their goal to increase on-time departures, passengers often find themselves sitting on the runway for longer periods. But now latecomers are unable to board the flight. Again, by shifting the focus from the true goal of the company to improving the “numbers,” the statistics become a false indicator of progress.

Seeking to measure success, in other words, can sometimes make us less successful.

 

David should’ve known better. He had witnessed how God took a young shepherd boy and used him to defeat a fearsome warrior named Goliath. David saw how God blessed a valiant warrior — even though his followers were few and he was always on the run.

Now that David was anointed king, he should’ve learned that God had chosen him for his purposes, and that he would prosper as long as he trusted in the strength of the Lord.

Instead, David wanted to measure his strength. He focused, not on the power of God, but on the strength of his fighting force. David ordered Joab, his army commander, to number the people. Only afterward did he realize he was relying on the wrong measurement for success and asked for God’s forgiveness.

 

The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.

(copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

No Excuses

Story of the Day for Wednesday February 15, 2012

No Excuses

                     Moses said to the Lord, “Look, the Israelites will not listen to me. Why would Pharaoh listen, since I speak with a stammering tongue?” 

                                                                   Exodus 6:12

While the people of Israel moaned under the crushing weight of slavery in Egypt, God sent Moses on a mission. He was to tell the people a word from God: “I am the Lord and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.”

Moses told his fellow Israelites the good news. Yet, instead of exuberant shouts of joy, the Israelites ignored him. They were far too discouraged to believe in good news.

 

Great. You say exactly what the Lord wants, and no one listens. The next time, the Lord wants Moses to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. This time Moses is ready . . . with excuses. “Tried it already.” “Didn’t work.” And, just for good measure, Moses adds, “I’m a lousy public speaker.”

 

We can’t brag up Moses too much, (because he’s not walking away as the winner of this argument), but these are really good excuses. And, Moses was absolutely right. He did go to Pharaoh, and Pharaoh scoffed at him – just as Moses said he would.

 

Excuses are wonderful things because they absolve us from responsibility.  They defend us against embarrassment and failure.

But, in the process we become “victimized” by life. Listen to these actual insurance claims and see if you notice a pattern:

  • “A pedestrian hit me and went under my car.”

  • “. . . as I reached an intersection, a hedge sprang up obscuring my vision.”

  • “As I approached the intersection, a stop sign suddenly appeared. . . “

  • “The telephone pole was approaching fast. I attempted to swerve out of its path when it struck my front end.”

Did you notice it? When those filing insurance claims try to avoid responsibility, their  passivity becomes comical. They are poor, passive victims living in a hostile world where stop signs and telephone poles dart in front of their cars and attack them.

 

Moses had good excuses for not becoming God’s messenger. But God told Moses to speak; he didn’t tell him to make Pharaoh respond. That’s God’s department.

Moses did end up doing what God said (with Aaron’s help), and, in the end, everything turned out all right.

Do you have excuses for not doing what the Lord wants you to do? I hope they’re good ones (and don’t forget that “I already tried it; doesn’t work” is a solid performer). But, at the end of the day, are we trying to persuade God, or just ourselves?

God’s ways often don’t make sense – to us anyway. But once we know His will, it’s always best to trust him. No excuses.

(copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)