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New and Improved…

We’ve all seen it or heard it–NEW AND IMPROVED. Could be on any product, really…breakfast cereal, laundry detergent, deodorant, toothpaste, salsa, cars’ designs, computers and thousands of other products. Seems like we have been targeted by marketing gurus who seem to see us as people obsessed with an insatiable desire for the new and improved.

I’ve always been curious about what ‘new and improved’ actually means. So I decided to ask a friend of mine who worked as an R and D consultant for a national corporation. I asked him to explain to me the regulations regarding the presentation of a product as new and improved.

He said that the ‘new and improved’ label could be used if a company did little more than simply change the box the product was packaged in. I thought for a moment and asked, ‘So new and improved doesn’t mean more and better’. ‘Nope’, he replied. ‘It actually may be less and worse. All the company is required to do is change the package and they are allowed to say the product is new and improved’.

Though these tactics are misleading at best and outright deceptive at worst, there is an area of interest where ‘new’ means something real! I ran across it a few weeks ago while restudying Jeremiah 29:11. This verse is written on a plaque that hangs in my bathroom. Shirley got it for me. She bought it in order to encourage me as we step further into succession.

On this particular day, I decided to look at this verse as recorded in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. There I discovered an interesting insight. Where the English word ‘plan’ or ‘plans’ is used, the translators of the Septuagint used a Greek word from which we get our English word ‘logic’. So, as we see God ‘planning’ on our behalf in order to give us hope, we understand that He is using ‘logic’.

If we use the normal understanding of that word to determine its meaning, it could mean that God is in Heaven sort of sitting on His throne, watching the actions of men, stroking His beard with one hand while His arm is resting on His knee and wondering what He is going to do. It seems, from that perspective, that He is considering His options and attempting to figure out what new thing to do next. He’s using logic.

But, if we believe this way, we will have fallen prey to the false doctrine of ‘open theism’–an error that teaches that God is not omniscient–all knowing. It teaches that He is like us, wondering what will happen next. He then figures out a way to respond lest humanity runs completely off the rails. THIS IS NOT WHAT ‘logic’ means in our text.

THE PLANS GOD HAS FOR US ARE NOT NEW IN ORIGIN, but, THEY ARE NEW IN OPERATION.

God has always known what was going to happen. He always knows and understands what is happening. And, He knows what will happen. He has it all covered from the very beginning. As He says through Isaiah, ‘I am the Lord God. There is none like Me. I make known the end from the beginning!’ Whenever God works the ‘plan’ that He has for us, it is a plan that is simply the next facet of His work. To us it is new. But to Him it is just the next part of His unfolding work in our lives. Everything God does is saturated in omniscience, sustained by omnipotence and secured by omnipresence. WOW!

This is part of the reason that the Christian life is so exciting. Each day is simply an unfolding of the ‘new life that we have in Christ’. For us His plans are plans for good and not for evil. Plans to give us a hope and a future. What a blessed life it is, indeed.


Dead or Alive

Now that we are well into the season of ‘planting and transplanting’, discerning the health of our plants is a vital activity.

I have spent quite a few hours monitoring the health of our garden plants. Battling the insect pests and unwelcome creatures is constant. But, I also frequently check on the condition of two transplanted bushes.

Though I could have chosen better timing than the hottest week of the summer, the time seemed right to move two shrubs from the east side to the west side of our house. Both appeared to be quite healthy when we began the process since both ‘loved’ the heat and sunlight. Confident of success and careful to do all I could to protect the root system of both plants, I watered and watched.

Sadly, each day brought new revelations of a possible miscalculation on my part. Within a few days, both plants, once filled with bright green foliage, showed signs of stress. Actually, they looked like the plants we had pulled up and thrown onto the mulch pile. This was definitely not the goal toward which I was working.

After a few days of anxious watering and weeding, I noticed the first signs of success. On a few of the plants’ stems that, by now, looked a little bit like wiener roasting sticks, a few tiny sprigs of green life began to appear. First one leaf emerged…then another…then another. Now it is apparent that the transplanting work will succeed. WAIT–we still have a Wisconsin winter to endure! Oh, well, we’ll just take one step of victory at a time.

Recently, while reading and meditating on Revelation 3, I noted a similar, though not exact, process conducted by Jesus, The Master Caretaker. He was assessing the health of two churches: Sardis and Philadelphia. During His examination, Jesus concluded that Sardis, though appearing to be quite alive, was actually dead. And He noted that Philadelphia, though quite weak, was actually very much alive.

This made me think: Is our church dead or alive. It’s a critical question to answer.

In Sardis, the cultural conclusion had been drawn–here is a church alive! This church is relevant, affirming, active, responsive and popular. And yet Jesus concluded that it was dead because it was spiritually asleep, decaying and incomplete. How could a church that seemed to be so ‘alive’ be so ‘dead’?

On the other hand, Philadelphia appeared to be so insignificant. As a matter of fact, Jesus said that the church had ‘little strength’. And yet, the church was actually very much alive, because it ‘kept Jesus word’ and ‘refused to deny His name’. To this church, Christ was much more important than anything. This church did not curry favor with culture. It cultivated faith in Christ Jesus.

We all want to make a positive impact on culture. But, it might be true that exalting Christ may just exasperate culture. It could happen that as we revel in Christ culture may just revile us.

So let’s be cautious. Find out what pleases the Lord, walk in His ways and let Him decide if we are alive or dead regardless of what culture concludes.

Promoting love and harmony

If the earliest moments of human history have taught us anything it is that developing and defending love and harmony in our relationships is not an simple task. Reading through the first four chapters of Genesis we find Adam blaming Eve for their sin, Cain killing Abel out of jealousy and Lamach both murdering and practicing polygamy. To say the least, none of these encounters did anything to advance the virtues of love and harmony in those relationships.

If these examples affirm anything, it is this–that in our earliest record of interactions with each other, humans appear to have a well developed disposition of self-advancement that ignores others needs at best and injures others at worst. Rarely do we see ourselves as possessing such self-centered qualities. And though we would imagine that Christian marriages are immune to this base expression of selfishness, honesty requires that we acknowledge that all of our marriages are occasionally marked by these destructive behaviors.

For example, haven’t we all made a request of a spouse imagining that our request would be met with a sense of obligation on their part? Or haven’t we all received a request from a spouse that led to our imagining that their request was open to negotiation, discussion or correction?

Dear ones, humans in general and spouses in particular are not our possessions. And they are not projects. They are in the strictest sense people who have been made in the image of God. As such, they possess intrinsic value that should engender our respect. And they possess a need for human help and kindness that should encourage our sacrificial service.

Perhaps following the example that Jesus left us would help us develop and defend love and harmony in our relationships. He said, ‘I did not come to be served, but to serve.’ Beloved let us then serve one another in love.

Does Perception Matter?

This morning I had an interesting encounter with two very large trucks while biking my normal route into Portage, Wisconsin on State Highway 51.

Usually, road noise does not bother me.  I’ve biked from the Mississippi River to Lake Michigan across the middle of the state.  And I have traveled from Michigan to Minnesota across the top of the state.  Rarely have I ever felt intimidated or threatened.  But, this morning I felt both.

There actually was no real reason to feel that way as I was biking on a lane used only as a shoulder along a four lane section of 51 south of Portage that borders a 3 mile stretch of levee that protects the southern part of the city from flooding by the Wisconsin River.  Drivers use the four lanes, two north bound and two southbound, and leave the 10 foot paved shoulder on either side for temporary stops.  I was riding the furthest possible line from traffic lanes.

As I approached town, I could hear the familiar sound of large tires signaling that a big truck was lumbering toward me.  Semi-trucks normally move over to use the inmost lanes when passing me leaving me an entire lane empty between us for a traffic buffer.  I appreciate that.  And experience has taught me to distinguish the sounds so I often can tell how fast a truck is approaching, whether or not it is moving over and whether of not I need to turn and look.

This morning the ‘rumble’ of the tires was especially loud, alerting me that the truck was approaching very quickly and sounded as if the vehicle that they were attached to was in my lane.   I got an uneasy feeling, the hair on my neck stood up and the blur of a huge vehicle raced past me.  In an instant, thoughts began to race through my mind at warp speed:  was the driver sending me a message, a brush back, if you will, was the driver on a cell phone, where were the cops when you need one, can I get a plate number and other nice thoughts.  The confusion of my thoughts and the sound of the truck tires caused me to completely miss an identical second truck right on the bumper of the first.  Now, I was beginning to get a little steamed.  I was ready to stop, pull out my cell phone which my wife asks me to carry ‘just in case’ and call in the dangerous encounter.  Wouldn’t someone want to know what happened and be moved to action by my discomfort?

A few seconds elapsed and I had time to reflect on the incident a little more rationally.  And I began to objectively notice some details.  First, the tires of the vehicles were no closer that the white boundary line on the pavement.  I was at least 11 feet from them.  Second, although the trucks were large, they probably were not moving much over the speed limit if at all.  They were just big and somewhat scary.  Third, they were both painted in a desert ‘camo’ pattern.  Finally, I noticed that both trucks were pulling large open trailers filled with sand bags.   Ah.  Ok.

Now, I got it.   I knew what was going on.  The National Guard unit that these trucks were attached to were responsible for shoring up Interstate 39 to keep it from being washed out by flood waters caused by the recent record rains in the Madison area and up river.  I felt just a bit sheepish as I realized that something far bigger and more important than my comfort was occurring.  PROPER PERSPECTIVE CHANGED ME.   That’s not to say that I was ready for a prayer meeting, but my feelings changed.   And in a good way.

Proper perspective is not only essential in everyday life, it is especially necessary for our spiritual lives.  Perspective matters!  And how!  When God decides to ‘touch’ a troubled spot in our lives, we often feel that He is treating us unfairly or too harshly.  Our perspective is…God’s hand is against me.  But that is never true.  God is always for us, regardless of how the circumstances might cause us to believe.  And that perspective is very important.

Proper perspective helps us focus more on what God is doing IN us and focus less on what’s happening TO us.  And that perspective can make all the difference.  Let’s let it.

A New Recliner…’Preference or Conviction’?

Most men I know have, at one time or another, considered purchasing a recliner.  The thought of coming home after work to sit down and roll back the recliner to take a cat nap or just take it easy after a tough day is quite appealing.  And it seems to be more alluring as the years of work pile up.  Recently, during an 8 pm call to my accountability partner, he remarked that he frequently naps around 8:30 pm in order to get ready for bed.  Granted, he meant that ‘tongue in cheek’ (sort of).  But, as the years mosey on, I am resembling his sentiment more often.  Therefore, Shirley and I have talked about and looked at recliners.

Now anyone who knows me very well would acknowledge that I need very little help getting to sleep.  Wherever I’m at, if I have 30 minutes, I can sleep 29 of them.  Like my dad, I have been known to ‘nod off’ at a stop light.  For me, then, a recliner is just an ‘apparatus’ to use.  It neither helps nor hinders rest.  It just serves as a convenient reminder for me that it’s time to relax.

As Shirley and I began to explore possibilities, we found a significant range of options.  There were recliners for large men.  There were recliners for small men.  There were recliners to help you stay warm and ones to help vibrate tensions away.  There were recliners to roll away from the wall as well as ones to rock and swivel.  There were power activated ones as well as the old reliable lever activated ones (arm strong power ones).  Yet, whatever the variety, they all had one thing in common:  a price tag to match their specialty.  Sometimes those price tags made us go ‘hummm, that’s not too bad’.  Other ones made us say, ‘you’ve got to be kidding’.

Now that our search has begun to draw to a close, we’re learning something ‘new’ about ourselves…THE COST REQUIRES THAT WE DECIDE IF WE JUST PREFER A RECLINER or IF WE ARE CONVINCED THAT WE NEED ONE. For me, as the cost escalates, the level of preference also escalates.

This tendency is not only true when we are shopping for a rather costly household item.  It can be true when we consider our true spiritual condition.  Almost all of us are convinced that our fallen, sinful condition requires a ‘costly salvation’.  But, sometimes we prefer not to think about a corresponding ‘costly service’.

Reading about that service in Luke’s inspired description, Luke 14:26, 27, 33, I am struck by the stark reality of it.  His words make me blink and swallow hard.  And I’m tempted to drain some of the solemnity out of them.  But, when I compare Matthew’s inspired consensus of Jesus’ own words , Matthew 16:24-27, I am faced with a decision:  when looking at the cost of discipleship, do I just PREFER to be a disciple or am I CONVINCED that I must be one.

The cost of discipleship is one measurement of my decision.  But, the constraint of discipleship and call to real discipleship is another.  So…I want to be honest.

DO I JUST PREFER TO BE A DISCIPLE or AM I CONVINCED TO BE ONE?  DO I JUST WANT THE DELIGHT OF SALVATION and NOT THE DUTY OF IT?

I must decide!

 

A Couple of Questions…

While I was paying for a couple of items at a neighborhood gas station yesterday, the clerk asked if she could ask me a couple of questions.  It was a bit uncomfortable because two other customers were waiting in line behind me.

Without even looking at the other guests, she asked, ‘What does the word ‘evangelical’ on your church sign mean?’  ‘It means that we believe that all people have sinned and are in need of a Savior and that that salvation is found only in Jesus’, I replied.   Studying me a bit more closely, she asked, ‘Are you open and affirming?’

Taking a moment to collect my thoughts and considering the two people waiting in line and a kitchen worker listening in, I said that ‘we are open to what Jesus is open to and affirming of what He affirms.’  She began to turn away toward the other customers and then turned back to face me as if she wanted clarification.  I took the opportunity to add, ‘We affirm that Jesus is the only Savior and that we are open to all who want to be saved through Him.’

Her response of ‘okay’ ended our conversation.

Looking back, I have made several mental notes:

  1.  It is very uncomfortable to be asked these types of questions ‘cold turkey’, as they say.  There’s always the discomfort of wishing you had said more or said something differently.  And there’s always the discomfort of wondering how badly you ‘blew it’.
  2.  The exchange may not have been for the clerk.  It may have been for one or two of the other observers.  Only God knows.
  3. The Lord determines if and what results from moments like these.  As the scriptures say, ‘…for from Him and through Him and to Him are all things’.  We leave it with Him.
  4. Be ready always to give an account of what we believe and have been taught about Jesus.

Thank you, Lord, for any and every opportunity to serve as a witness to point others to You.

 

 

Pathetic or Profound…?

Rounding the corner of the house, as usual, to get into the truck and leave for work,  I encountered a couple of pesky robins who were reacting to my presence near their nest. Snuggled securely in a lilac bush near the corner of our garage, the nest was neatly cradled between two branches about five feet above ground.

The robin nest had often attracted my attention.  And every morning when I walked past it, the scolding robins would harass me with ‘squawking and swooping down at my head’.   I hated to disturb them, but there seemed to be little that I could do to remedy the encounters.  Earlier observations had revealed that four eggs had been laid and that two had already hatched.

Last week, as I passed by the nest, the same scenario began to play out with this caveat.  Stopping to peek into the nest, I checked on the ‘hatching’ progress.  The two robins were perched nearby…one sitting a few feet away on the tee bar of our clothes line and the other sitting on the corner of the peak of the gable of the neighbor’s roof holding a worm in its beak.     I gently pulled a couple of branches out of the way so I could see.  All I found was an empty nest.

No nearby debris or signs of struggle gave any clue as to the reason the nest was empty.  And judging from the reaction of the robins, they appeared to be as bewildered as I was.

It was a scenario that was both pathetic and profound.  Pathetic in the sense that the little birds were continuing to bring food to an empty nest.  It was sad.  But it was also profound as I considered the fact that during my lifetime I, too, had often exerted a great deal of energy and expended a great deal of resources on an activity that God would evaluate as ‘dead, empty stuff’.

The words of the angels to the women at Jesus’ tomb,  ‘WHY DO YOU SEEK THE LIVING AMONG THE DEAD?’ kept ringing in my ears.   Good question.  Profound reality.

Why do I spend so much on so little and then wonder why my life is so empty?

Lord, please grant me Your grace.  Please help me discern the difference between what is holy and what is unholy, between what is righteous and what is unrighteous and between what is ‘dead’ and what is ‘alive’.   And, please help me walk in the ways that You would consider eternally good and alive.  Amen.

Why Anger?

Sunday, January 21, just past, I stood as a ‘silent witness’ on behalf of pre-born children.  Following the advice King Lemuel’s mother gave him,  Proverbs 31:8, I held up a poster that pictured a cute baby sitting among a host of lovely flowers.  The inscription encouraged observers to “Joyfully welcome all priceless little ones with the careful enthusiasm with which we might welcome a garden full of brightly colored, verdantly fragrant and captivatingly beautiful flowers.”

Without expectation, I stood at an intersection of two main roads circuiting through a city near where I live.  A slow day for traffic–probably due to NFL games being played that day–I counted 150 cars whose drivers/passengers gave only a cursory glance in my direction.  Another 22 caught my attention:

12 gave a hearty ‘thumbs up’…

6 honked their horns and smiled in support…

…then…

1 driver turned the corner toward me vigorously shaking their head from side to side in disapproval.

…finally…

3 drivers slowed down, honked, rolled down a window and expressed their consternation toward me with a rude hand gesture.

As I thought about the last three, I wondered why they were so angry.  It had already occurred to me  that some people might be offended by my attempt to awaken their consciences to the reality of what abortion was really all about, but I was a little ‘taken a-back’ by the vigor with which the last three had expressed their frustrations toward me.

“Why so angry?”

Now two weeks later, I think I understand the answer…an answer already alluded to by the Lord in Romans 1:18.  These people were angry because their hearts had already realized the truth about what abortion really was.  They just wanted to suppress that truth.  In reality, their anger was not really aimed at me at all.  It was simply the result of their ‘heartfelt knowledge of the truth colliding with their unwillingness to embrace that truth’.  Their anger was simply the expression of the results of that truth collision.

Next time I stand and ‘speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves’, I’ll be prepared to use the dissenter’s reactions as a reminder to pray the inspired thoughts of 2 Timothy 2:25-26…

“Those who oppose you, you must gently instruct with the hope that God would grant them repentance, leading them to a knowledge of the truth, that they might come to their senses and escape the trap of the enemy who has taken them captive to do his will.”

And I’ll remember God’s counsel to me…

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”   Colossians 3:17

 

Here Are the Answers

In our last post, I asked readers to try their hand at recognizing famous athletes by their nick names.  Then I offered 12 names of God.  The challenge was to figure out what each of those twelve names meant as it regards our relationship to God through Jesus.

Here are the translations of the names of God that I listed.

God is…

…my Creator…

…my Lord God…

…my Supplier…

…my Master…

…my Provider…

…my Banner…

…my Sanctifier…

…my Righteousness…

…my Shepherd…

…my Peace…

We rejoice that our God is this and infinitely more.  Through Jesus we have as our Heavenly Father the One Who spoke and the world was.

This Advent Season let’s come humbly to Him offering gifts of praise, thanksgiving and love.

Have a blessed Christmas celebration.

A Change of Pace

In this post, for a change of pace, I thought it might be fun to play a name recognition game.  From the following list of nick names, how many famous athletes can you name.  Some became famous because of baseball, basketball, hockey or car racing.  See how many you can correctly identify.

The Big Unit, the Admiral, the Great One, the Dream, the Bus, Sweetness, the Big O, Hondo, Gunslinger, the Fridge, the Intimidator, the King, the Beast, the Deacon, the Minister of Defense, the Cheeseheads, the Steel Curtain…

How did you do?  If there was one nick name that you didn’t recognize, simply Google the famous nick name and the real name of the athlete will come up.

Now, for the next round of name recognition–one of greater importance:  see how many of these twelve names of God you recognize.  I’ll give the Hebrew name in English.  See how many of the twelve you can correctly identify and translate.  Here goes…

Elohim

Jehovah

El Shaddai

Adonai

Jehovah Jireh

Jehovah Nissi

Jehovah Mikkadesh

Jehovah Tsidkenu

Jehovah Rohi

Jehovah Shalom

Jehovah Shammah

O.k.  Work on it and I’ll give the answers in an upcoming blog.

Advent blessings to all as you seek the Lord in order to worship Him  like the Wise Men described in Matthew’s Gospel chapter 2 did.