Category Archives: Bible teaching

A Higher Calling Than Ourselves

Story of the Day for Thursday June 20, 2013

A Higher Calling Than Ourselves

Then Moses called for Joshua and said to him before all Israel, “Be strong and full of courage.”

Deuteronomy 31:6

During Abraham Lincoln’s presidency, he regularly attended New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, and became well-acquainted with the pastor, Dr. Phineas Gurley. Pastor Gurley was an articulate and popular preacher.

After a midweek service, an aide asked the president his opinion of pastor Gurley’s sermon. Lincoln praised the careful preparation and the eloquence of the message.

“Then you thought it was a great sermon?” the aide asked.

“No,” Lincoln replied, “because he did not ask us to do something great.”

Spiritual leaders often struggle with this. Wouldn’t we attract more followers if we ease up on the requirements? Oddly enough, the opposite is true. George Orwell had it right when he said, “High sentiments always win in the end. The leaders who offer blood, toil, tears and sweat always get more out of their followers than those who offer safety and a good time. What it all comes down to is that human beings are heroic.”

When we no longer have a heroic purpose in life, we will seek a life of ease, safety, and comfort. But we will not be content.

When Moses knew the end of his days were near, he passed on the leadership to Joshua. He called upon him to lead the people with strength and courage.

A century ago, one man demonstrated this deep longing we have to do something courageous. An arctic explorer, Ernest Shackleton ran a London newspaper ad that has now been called one of the greatest advertisements ever written: “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful.”

Who would respond to an ad like that? Shackleton was so overwhelmed with offers to join him that he had to turn away over 5000 requests. Shackleton’s response was, “It seemed as though all the men in Great Britain were determined to accompany us.”

There was a day in America when professing your Christian faith brought admiration. It was socially acceptable to go to church. It was safe. John Maxwell once quoted an Anglican bishop, who wryly asked, “I wonder why it is that everywhere the apostle Paul went they had a revolution, and everywhere I go they serve a cup of tea?”

Those days when our faith is considered socially acceptable are quickly drawing to a close. Today we are being called to a life of courage. We seldom hear the old adage anymore, but we need it now more than ever: “If you don’t have anything in your life worth dying for, you don’t have anything worth living for.” For years evangelists have sought to attract others to Christ by promising prosperity, comfort, good health, and safety. We can no longer live as pampered, self-centered Christians. We need to call each other to a higher calling than ourselves. We need to appeal to the heroic. Ernest Shackleton had it right.

Did Ernest Shackleton have it right? Why do we need to appeal to the heroic in people? Share with us a time when it all came down to being heroic in your life?

(text copyright 2011 by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

The Home Field Advantage

Story of the Day for Saturday March 2, 2013

The Home Field Advantage

Commission Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he will lead this people… he Deuteronomy 3:28

Two writing groups were formed at the University of Wisconsin. Both groups were comprised of bright and talented writers. The men would meet and share their writings with the other guys for evaluation. The critiques were so critical of each others writing that they named their group The Stranglers.
So, some of the gifted women decided to form their own writing group and called themselves The Wranglers. They also read their writings to each other for comment. But with this difference: they didn’t criticize. The comments were positive. No matter how poor or undeveloped the writing was, they found a way to offer encouragement.
Twenty years later, a university alumnus researched the careers of his classmates. The two writing groups were examined. Not one of the talented Stranglers ever became successful. By contrast, a half dozen of the Wranglers became well-known writers. One of them, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings even won a Pulitzer prize in literature in 1939.
If someone tells you the opinions of other people don’t matter at all to them, don’t believe them. We may chafe at the thought but others have an enormous influence on who we believe we are and what we can accomplish. Yet, sports commentators often talk about the “home field advantage”? What is that? Isn’t it simply the fact that the team with a stadium of fans cheering encouragement is more likely to win the game?

Encouragement gives people strength. In the book, Band of Brothers, Stephen Ambrose relates the story of 101st Airborne Division. Before shipping off for Europe, their commander read that a Japanese Army battalion set an endurance record by marching 100 miles in 72 hours.
Not to be outdone, Colonel Sink declared, “My men can do better than that.” He picked the 2nd Battalion to prove his point. The men had to carry all their gear and weapons – which, for some soldiers, were heavy mortars and machine guns.

100 miles of the 118 mile march was over slippery, muddy roads. The weather could hardly be worse. The biting wind combined with sleet and snow. At night the temperatures dipped into the low twenties, with many boots frozen to the ground. Soldiers would have to completely unlace their boots in order to get their swollen feet back into them. Since the cook stoves wouldn’t work in the cold, the men had to survive on bread with butter and jam.

On the third day, they still had 38 miles to go. One soldier was too exhausted to stand up so he crawled to the chow line.

News of the march spread quickly in Georgia. As the weary soldiers straggled to the final mile of the march, they were met by a huge crowd who lined the road and cheered wildly for them. A band began to play.
And that is when the magic began. Malarkey, the soldier who crawled to chow earlier that day, said, he had “a strange thing happen to me when that band began to play. I straightened up, the pain disappeared, and I finished the march as if we were passing in review at Toccoa [their training camp].”

Encouragement costs us nothing, but the difference it makes for others is beyond counting.

(text copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)
(photo credit: http://s3.amazonaws.com/everystockphoto/fspid22/13/05/35/3/medal-honor-staff-1305353-h.jpg; creative commons license 2.5)

Where They Found Bread

Story of the Day for Friday October 5, 2012

 

Where They Found Bread

 

                                    Jesus said, . . . “Everything they do is done to impress others.” 

                                                                                                       Matthew 23:5

 

 

When I was in seventh grade, our Science and English teachers were both single, and I think they were flirting.

After Science, we tumbled into Miss Polk’s English class. She noticed someone’s assignment given by Mr. Brinkman, our Science teacher.  Snatching the assignment, she copied it on the blackboard (white boards were black in those days) and we spent the class period parsing it for grammatical flaws. We were all sobered to discover that it was a gravely flawed exhibition of the English language.

Miss Polk encouraged us to hand our revised copy of his assignment to him the next day – which we cheerfully did.

People who know a lot about sub-phyla and nematodes are not easily intimidated, and Mr. Brinkman took our chastisement in good humor. You could tell, however, that he was plotting revenge. He asked us to participate in a science experiment for English class next hour, and we all eagerly complied – because we all coveted a well-rounded education.

 

Mr. Brinkman asked us to engage in an act of civil obedience. He told us to walk into Miss Polk’s class without saying a word. He wanted us to be a model of perfect behavior.

The next hour, we quietly walked into class and took our seats. No talking, no laughing, no gum chewing. We all put our hands on our desks and stared attentively at Miss Polk.

At first, Miss Polk look surprised, but we noticed she was becoming unnerved by our attentiveness. As she started her lesson, and stared at a classroom where every face was focused on her every word, she became increasingly agitated. After five minutes, she waved toward the door and said, “Class dismissed.”

 

A classroom of perfect children is so eerie and unnatural that it soon becomes unbearable. Yet, sometimes, Christians get the impression that the world would be impressed if we acted perfect – as if we were unaffected by grief or temptation.

A plastered pious smile, when inwardly our heart is broken, looks phony — because it is phony. And when we try to hide our imperfections we look like a bald man whose toupee is sitting on his head sideways.

 

The world isn’t looking for us to be perfect; they’re looking for us to be honest. They’re not impressed with someone who claims that they’re never hungry, but they are intrigued by anyone who simply tells them where they found bread.

(copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

The Joy of a Two-Stroke Penalty

Story of the Day for Wed. October 3, 2012 

The Joy of a Two-Stroke Penalty

 

                . . . We are certain we have a clear conscience.  We want to behave honorably in all we do.

                                                                            Hebrews 13:18

 

Professional golfers play by strict, unbending rules. The rules state the situations where you must play the ball where it lies, and when you are allowed to move it. They even have rules for playing the ball if you hit it into an alligator’s mouth (I’m not making this up!)

 

In 1994, Davis Love III was playing in the Western Open near Chicago. He chipped a shot close to the hole and put a marker where his ball lay, but then moved his marker so it would be out of the putting line of the next golfer.

Later, as they continued play, Love couldn’t remember if he moved his marker back to the original spot. Whether he did or not, it made no difference to his “gimme” putt.  He probably moved his marker according to the rules, but he just couldn’t remember.

The rule book states that, if you think it’s possible you committed an infraction, and no one else was present to judge the case, then you have committed an infraction.

So, Love penalized himself with a two-stroke penalty.

That penalty he called on himself knocked him out of the tournament. Without that penalty, he would have automatically qualified for the Masters.

In the end, it all worked out well for Love. He did qualify for the Masters by winning a PGA tournament in 1995. And he came in second in the Masters – winning over a quarter million dollars.  But he did not know this at the time he gave himself the penalty that disqualified him from the tournament.

 

In his book, Every Shot I Take, Love does not consider what he did that day to be worthy of praise, and quotes Bobby Jones, “Don’t praise me for calling a penalty on myself. You might as well praise a man for not robbing a bank.”  Yet, most ignore Love’s self-effacing comments and praise him anyway.

 

But, some think he is a fool. Why penalize yourself two strokes when you’re not even sure you committed a penalty? Why penalize yourself when, even if you did make a mental error, it was not intentional? And it did not affect your score?  And, after asking everyone present, no one saw you commit a penalty?

 

Love’s defends the inflexible rules of his golf: “This may sound harsh to the non-golfer, but it’s not. Adhered to strictly, it eliminates the possibility of a golfer playing with a guilty conscience.”

Did you get that?  Love believes the money and fame is not worth it, if he does not have a clear conscience.

Yes, absolutely yes – Jesus can and will cleanse us when we have a guilty conscience. But we also need the wisdom to see that living an honorable life is more satisfying than all the money and fame this world can offer.

(copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

The One Who Sang a Perfect Song

Story of the Day for Tuesday October 2, 2012 

The One Who Sang a Perfect Song

 

                   Amaziah did what was right in the eyes of the Lord – but not like his father David. Instead, he followed the example of his father Joash.

                                                                                                    2 Kings 14:3

 

A woman from Asheville, Alabama, bought a mynah bird, but as soon as she brought it home she discovered it was sick. The bird started wheezing and coughing and hacking as if it trying to clear its throat. The vet said the bird looked healthy, but maybe it had a rare aviary virus, so he gave antibiotics to clear up its respiration.

After treatment with antibiotics, however, the bird continued to cough and wheeze. But, finally, the bird’s problem was solved.

Can you guess the problem? Like parrots, mynah birds mimic sound. When they tracked down the previous owner, they discovered it was recently owned by a woman who had emphysema.

 

All of us influence each other. The good news is that we can become a positive influence in the lives of others. The bad news is that our faults are a bad influence on others. Unfortunately, we don’t get to pick which of our traits will affect the lives of others.

A man owned a lovely Chinese plaque with raised figures on it. He hung it on his wall, but one day it fell and broke it half. He wanted the valuable handmade plaque replaced, so he glued the plate together as best he could and mailed it to China so that they could make a copy of it.

A half a year later, his new plaque was finished and mailed to him. The copy was exquisitely made – just like the original . . . including a crack across the center.

 

As the king of Judah, Amaziah got off to a good start. But, while he could’ve been a great king if he sought to model his rule after king David, he instead followed the example of king Joash, and needlessly bungled things up.

 

The village of Andreasberg, Germany, became famous for raising canaries. The birds, although not native to the Harz Mountain region, nevertheless, were known worldwide for the quality of their beautiful songs.

The secret to the superior song of these canaries was no great mystery. The Germans of Andreasberg understood that a bird learns to sing from others around it. So, they wouldn’t sell their best songbirds – they kept them so that the other canaries would be influenced by their song.

 

I’m not trying to make you feel guilty for those times you’ve been a bad influence on others. That’s why forgiveness is so refreshing.

But, if we want to grow in becoming a helpful influence on those around us, the best place to begin is by placing our lives under the influence of the One who sang a perfect song.

(copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

Take the Whole Mess to Jesus

Story of the Day for Monday October 1, 2012

Take the Whole Mess to Jesus

 

                Wash me thoroughly from all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always staring me in the face.   

                                                                                                           Psalms 51:2-3

 

 In 1987, Ron Harper Mills told a story to the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. The story wasn’t true (although the internet gossip machine claimed it was). Mills said he made it up to entertain the audience and “to illustrate how, if you alter a few small facts, you greatly alter the legal consequences.”

 

The story goes like this: Ronald Opus left a suicide note and then jumped from a ten-story building. As he fell, a shotgun blast tore through a window and killed him. But, Mr. Opus’s suicide attempt would have failed because construction workers had set up a safety net and he would have fallen harmlessly into it.

When a person attempts suicide and succeeds, even if the mechanism of death is not the one intended, it is still considered a suicide. Yet, because the suicide would have failed, and he was killed by the shotgun blast, homicide now had to be considered.

The shotgun blast came from the apartment of an elderly couple. They had been arguing and the husband had threatened her with the gun. The man pulled the trigger, missed his wife, and the blast pierced the window. When you intend to kill subject A, and instead kill subject B, you’re guilty of the murder of subject B.

When confronted with the murder charge, both the husband and wife insisted that the shotgun was unloaded. The old man said he often threatened his wife with the unloaded gun, but had no intention of killing her.

The killing of Mr. Opus, therefore, would appear to be an accident.

As the investigation proceeded, a witness claimed he saw the elderly couple’s son secretly load the shotgun. He was angry because his mother had cut off his financial support, and the son, knowing his father’s habit of threatening his wife with the shotgun, loaded the gun in the hope that his father would shoot and kill his mother.

The case now becomes one of murder on the part of the son. But here is the exquisite twist: Mr. Ronald Opus, who jumped from the building in a suicide attempt, it turns out, was the son of the arguing elderly couple. He loaded the shotgun and had, therefore, murdered himself.

 

We tend to judge the depth of our sin by the seriousness of the consequences. That can only send us, as Ron Harper aptly points out, into endless speculation of “what ifs” and “yes, buts.”  The emotional torment of doing this will never end. Even if you try to convince yourself you weren’t really at fault, your heart will give you no peace.

There’s a better way. Take the whole mess to Jesus, lay it at his feet, and ask him if he would cleanse you.  Ask him to wash you clean, and make you feel like you just stepped out of a bubble bath.

If you ask him to do this, I know what Jesus will do. I’m not going to tell you, though, because I want it to be a surprise.

(copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

Could You Do It Again?

Story of the Day for Saturday September 29, 2012 

Could You Do It Again?

 

                The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” And the Lord replied, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you could tell this mulberry tree to be uprooted and planted in the sea, and it would obey you.”

                                                                                             Luke 9:23

 

 Bob Teague, the live correspondent for WNBC-TV was assigned to report on an archery demonstration in Central Park. In his book, Live and Off-Color: News Biz, Teague describes what happened that day.

TV reporters from various networks gathered to watch the archer Darrell Pace. He put on quite a show – shooting steel-tipped hunting arrows with flawless accuracy.

Then Pace asked for a volunteer. “All you have to do,” he explained, “is hold this apple in your hand, waist-high.” Josh Howell, the ABC correspondent stepped forward.

Pace walked 90 feet away, and turned to face Howell. Everyone held their breath as Pace took aim, and . . . THWACK! – a perfect hit exploded the apple in his hand.

As the crowd applauded, Howell, greatly relieved, was all smiles. Then his cameraman came up to him and said, “I’m sorry, Josh, I didn’t get it. Had a problem with my viewfinder. Could you do it again?”

 

You don’t need a lot of faith to hold an apple and let an archer blast it out of your hand. What you need is a very good archer.

 

When Darrell Pace was old enough to get his driver’s license, he was already competing on the U.S. Archery team in the world championships. By the age of 18, he became the world champion archer and held 16 of the 20 archery records.

From 60 feet away, Pace can group fifteen consecutive arrows into a bulls-eye no bigger than a quarter. He has won six national archery championships – along with two world titles and two Olympic gold medals.

 

Our relationship with Jesus should not be centered around the size of our faith. Instead, it should be focused on the size of our God.

Look at it this way: I own a bow. At 90 feet I can often hit the target, and occasionally hit the bulls-eye. But I am erratic.

So, tell me, who is more likely to have his hand shattered by an arrow: a volunteer with an enormous faith in me, or a volunteer with a tentative faith in Darrell Pace?

The life of discipleship is not primarily about inventing gimmicks to boost our faith; it is about looking to the faithfulness of the One we place our faith in.

 

I admire Josh Howell’s courage to hold that apple. But, I’ll tell you this: if Howell was not already acutely aware of Pace’s awesome ability, he’s not a model of faith; he’s an idiot.

(copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

Learning to Dream Big

Story of the Day for Friday September 28, 2012

Learning to Dream Big

 

                               The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he saves those crushed in spirit.  

                                                                                                Psalm 34:18

 

 

If you’ve never heard speakers urge their audience to dream big, to shoot for the stars or sail beyond the horizon, then you don’t listen to many high school commencement speeches.

I vibrate to Commencement Day speeches because I know that, among those bored seniors with sore butts, there is an attentive student who will invent the perpetual motion machine or a grad who will someday win first prize with their strawberry jam at the county fair.

Nevertheless, despite these inspiring themes, I still have the urge to interrupt commencement speeches by making rude noises during their presentations.

Graduation speeches don’t tell us the full truth. They lack the courage to talk about failure and shipwrecked dreams. They don’t even mention the percentage of graduating seniors who will someday wind up with hemorrhoids.

 

Lately, I’ve been reading about high school graduates who have been told to shoot for the stars.

More than a half million males play high school basketball in the United States. Many of them dream of entering the NBA. Yet, only one in thirty five of them will ever play for a college team, and less than one percent of high school players will ever play basketball in competitive Division One colleges.

But even NCAA Division One basketball is a long way from the pros.  One out of every seventy-five NCAA college players will advance to the pros.

The NCAA, whom I commend for their frankness, says that for every ten thousand high school basketball players, only three of them will ever be drafted by an NBA team.

 

That only a few high school players will play in the NBA is not surprising news. But here’s what breaks my heart: Forty-three percent of black high school basketball players believe they will make it into the NBA. Out of every 10,000 black basketball players, 4300 of them think they’ll hit the big time, and 4297 of them will find that their dreams have been crushed.

It gets even sadder: nearly half of those black players believed it’s easier to become a professional basketball player than to become a doctor or lawyer.

 

When you follow your dreams and sail for the horizon – only to find your ship marooned on a hidden reef, don’t expect your high school commencement speaker to paddle out to you to hold your hand.

But I do know someone who will be there for you. The Lord stays close to the brokenhearted.  Admiration attaches itself to achievement, but love is attracted to need.

You will have learned to dream big, when your dreams include the One who will catch you when you fall.

(copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

Knowing Where Belly Rubs Come From

Story of the Day for Wed. September 26, 2012

Knowing Where Belly Rubs Come From

A woman who had lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was dining at the Pharisee’s house. She brought an alabaster jar of perfume and stood weeping behind Jesus’ feet. Her tears wet Jesus’ feet, and she wiped them with her hair. Then she kissed his feet and put the perfume on them.

Luke 7:37-38

We used to have two puppies, Garibaldi and Ivan the Terrible. After they were housebroken, one of them started to backslide and returned to a life of sin.

One day, we found the evidence of wrongdoing in my son’s bedroom. The situation needed to be addressed, but unless you catch them in the act, how do you know which puppy to admonish?

I stood outside Randy’s bedroom and called the dogs. Garibaldi bounded toward me in a wiggling mass of puppy joy. Ivan the Terrible hung his head, and, taking the coward’s way out, started slinking off to a remote corner of the house.

I caught Ivan by the scruff and escorted him to the scene of the crime. We gazed at the evidence before us, and then Ivan and I had a private moment together.

It’s possible, and maybe sometimes desirable, to use fear to correct the behavior of dogs. And people. But fear and the threat of punishment has little value if your primary desire is a relationship. You can’t frighten a puppy into wagging its tail and licking your face.

Have you noticed how those with sinful reputations flocked to Jesus? You would expect that, in the presence of a holy man, they would avoid him and slink into the dark shadows.

Instead, they’re drawn to him like a magnet. A woman with a sinful past comes up behind Jesus as he reclines at a meal. Women in Jesus’ day always wore their hair up in public (except on their wedding day). If a woman let her hair down in public, it meant she was a whore. This woman wets Jesus’ feet with her hot tears, and, with her hair let down, wipes his feet.

We get it.

This woman cried and kissed his feet and poured out her expensive perfume – not because she was hoping, pleading, for mercy – but because she had found mercy.

Jesus attracted people with broken lives, because they knew he loved them a lot. They knew he would forgive them, and give them a new start.

If the world isn’t breaking down church doors to get in, it’s not because they’ve lost interest in being loved by God. It’s because they fear we’re going to sniff out their sin, grab them by the scruff, and rub their noses in it. Trust me on this: they’ve been burned already.

Thirteen years later, I carried Ivan the Terrible up on a hillside and buried him. He was an awesome dog – always glad to see me. He knew where belly rubs came from.

(copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

Have You Seen the Gorilla Lately?

Story of the Day for Monday September 24, 2012 

Have You Seen the Gorilla Lately?

 

                And while he was going. . . a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years . . .came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment.

                                                   Luke 8:42-44

 

When I was growing up I didn’t have Attention Deficit Disorder, because it hadn’t been invented yet. In high school I was called “The Gaper” because my mouth, apparently, would hang open while I daydreamed in class. In my freshman year of college I won the “Neil Armstrong Spacey Award” because I was so . . . spacey.

When they finally got around to inventing ADD, I took a test from a licensed psychologist, and it turned out I had come down with a bad case of it.

 

Learning to focus your thoughts and goals is challenging for anyone.  But it is especially difficult when your mind wants to wander down any side street it sees.

I have spent my adult life learning how to focus.  But lately I have come to realize it is equally important to learn how not to be too focused, because when you get too focused you can’t see gorillas.

 

Psychologists from Harvard conducted an experiment in which they played a video of basketball players. Participants were told to count the number of times the ball was passed by the team wearing a certain color uniform. In the middle of the video, however, strange things happened. A woman with an umbrella or a man in a gorilla costume would walk through the center of the court and would be clearly visible for about five seconds.

A control group, who were not asked to count the number of times the basketball was passed, all saw the woman and the gorilla. But, for those asked to focus on the task of counting passes, only a third saw the woman. And, amazingly, the majority (56 percent), failed to notice the gorilla.

 

Jesus was a master at being focused and unfocused at the same time. When he “set his face” to go to Jerusalem to die, nothing could deter him. Yet, at the same time, he was open to notice the needs of people around him.

Jairus, a synagogue ruler, pleads with Jesus to come with him because his only daughter is dying.  Jesus has a clear focus – he wants to help. In doing that, he ignores the crowds pressing in on him.

But, at the same time, he is open to one person who touches his tassel. “Who touched me?” he asks. Peter is dumbfounded by Jesus’ question, and helpfully points out that many people are touching him. They are, in fact, mobbing him. Yet, Jesus is aware that one person in the crowd was different.

That day, Jesus did two miracles. One, because he focused on a goal; the other, because he was sensitive to the unexpected.

How do you do both at the same time?  I don’t know. But I know it’s worth learning.

(copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)