Monthly Archives: July 2014

Are you sure you’re in?

If you pay attention, at all, to the national press, you would conclude that the biggest donors to political action committees, known as PACs, are the Koch Brothers, Charles and David, of Koch Industries fame.  With revenues of 115 billion dollars, their holdings rank second in terms of businesses in America.  And though as conservatives the Kochs do use their constitutional freedoms to influence political positions, they are NOT the biggest political donors.  That honor is held by three liberals:  Tom Steyer-a California billionaire hedge fund manager, Fred Eychaner-a Chicago media baron and Michael Bloomberg-former mayor of New York City.  Surprising as this tidbit of information may be, it is not the subject of this post.  The topic to consider is a quote offered by Mayor Bloomberg regarding his eventual ‘post-death’ appearance before God for judgment.

Of that inevitable meeting, Bloomberg says, ‘I’m telling you if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed.  I am heading straight in.  I have ‘EARNED’ my place in heaven.  It’s not even close’.  Not to be a nudge here, but Mr. Bloomberg, didn’t God say, ‘Not by works of righteousness that we have done but according to HIS MERCY He saves us’?.  Titus 3:5.

We might all do well to listen to Jesus when He says, ‘I AM the gate; Whoever enters THROUGH ME will be saved.  John 10:9.

Let’s all humbly receive the salvation that comes from God ALONE (not from us or our efforts) and is ‘by grace through faith in Jesus’.  Ephesians 2:8




Those are BIG arms

Moustafa Ismail of Egypt has recently captured the title of ‘World’s Largest Biceps’.   Measuring in with a whopping circumference of 25.5 inches, Moustafa’s arms earned him a 2013 Guinness World Record designation.  This is a size that is somewhat difficult to conceive of even when you see him in a picture.  His arms look a lot like those of the cartoon character, Popeye, the Sailor Man.  Please allow me to put the size of Moustafa’s arms in a bit of personal perspective.  When I was first issued my Army dress uniform, the pant measurements were 29w x 36l.  Yes, I know.  That was a long time and not a few pounds ago.  But, still…His arms are almost as big around as my waist was in 1971.  His arms are huge!   And I bet he’s fairly strong.  🙂  But, I’m having trouble relating to Moustafa.

What I CAN relate to is the size of my dad’s arms.  When I was quite young and of ‘carrying’ age, I remember trips to friend’s houses where the adults would sit around and do something exciting like ‘talk’ and the kids would go outside and find something interesting to do which usually involved trying to ride a hog (not the motorcycle kind), see who could hold on to an electric fence, walk the top rail of barnyard fence, see who could catch a chicken the fastest, chasing the old buck sheep (now that was fun) or any number of other ‘spontaneous expressions of youthful craziness’.  The farm ponds and the roads were off limits, but pretty much everything else was a go if we could get away with it and survived to tell about it.  Remember the old Donkey Kong video games?  That was really videos of us playing outside.  They just changed the identities of my friends and me in order to protect the innocent.  🙂

At the end of the evening, which was usually long past the modern limits of 7:30 bath and bedtimes (didn’t need a bath because we’d already been in the horse tank seeing who could stay under water the longest) and (we didn’t need to go to bed because we would fall asleep on the way home usually by laying in the back window of the car:  this was before seat belts), we would arrive home already in ‘dreamland’.  And the scenario would always be the same.  Dad would park the car in the same spot, get out and ask mom to hold the house door open and flip on the lights while he gathered us up into his arms and carried us up to our beds.  I wish I had a dollar for every time this childhood drama unfolded.

As I look back, now 60 years later, though my memory is still good, I cannot remember even one time that I panicked when Dad picked me up.  I knew he could and would carry me along.  His strength, ability and compassion were never in doubt.  So I just slept on without a care in the world.

In a way, this is like our Heavenly Father.  He once confronted AND comforted Moses by asking, ‘Is My arm too short to save?’!  The answer was obvious.

Remember that God is infinitely stronger than Moustafa and eternally more reliable than my Dad.  And just like He spoke to Moses, God comes and speaks to us through His word and comforts those of us in His family by simply reminding us that, ‘The Eternal God is your refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms’.  Deuteronomy 33:27

Oh, the joy and comfort of knowing that the God Who spoke the world into existence, ordered its arrangement and sustains its life is the God who carries us along.









Three little letters

There are only three little letters in the word.  So what’s the big deal!  Mentioning it only offends, categorizes, stigmatizes and judges people.  It’s a word ‘holier than thou’ types use to produce guilt in others.   It can be used, they say, to control behavior.  All of this, of course, is unwanted and unwarranted.  So…

Let’s call it something else with which we are more comfortable.  After all, there are other words we can use to rename and replace it.  Words like mistake, error, disease, fault, little white lie, indiscretion or lapse in judgement will suffice.  Yet regardless of the most popular and palatable description of it, it remains the same.

By now you’ve guessed the word:  SIN.  SSSSHHHHHH, don’t say that.  It just drives wedges between people and pushes them away.  Perhaps…but, let’s be honest.  Does calling a skunk a halitosis kitty cat change the odor?

So what do we do with sin?  As Marv Rosenthal quipped on the cover of the July-August 2005 issue of ‘Zion’s Fire’, sin is universal in scope, deadly in effect and beyond the cure of any man-made antidote.  William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, was said to have lamented while looking down on a bustling crowd of passersby:  ‘What will be done with the people’s sin?’.

Well, the Lord has given us several steps to take.  By placing faith in  the finished work of Jesus, trusting in His strength alone and relying on the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, we are to repent of it, rid ourselves of it, receive His help to overcome it and rejoice in the victory that will be won over it.  In the words of God through the Apostle Paul to the Thessalonian church, ‘…you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit…turning to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead–Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath’.  I Thessalonians 1:6-10.

As we gather for worship this weekend, let’s not look for clever ways to change the topic of sin.  Let’s come to Jesus and find cleansing from sin.

‘I Walk the Line…’?

This phrase popularized by country music legend Johnny Cash has an interesting history.  Written to his new bride Vivian, Cash wanted to pledge his devotion.  Looking back, we note that the song was composed in 20 minutes, was recorded on April 2, 1956 and released on May 1, spent 43 weeks on the Billboard charts, sold 2 million copies and is noted as being #30 on the list of top 500 songs of all time.

Interesting as these facts are, they point to a current phenomenon among Christians.  Allow me to pose it in the form of a question.  Modern believers seem to be asking, ‘How close can I walk the line between darkness and light and still consider myself to be holy?’.

Here is an example.  Candice Cameron-Bure garnered publicity lately as a result of her appearance on the reality show ‘Dancing with the Stars’ wherein she attempted to dress and move in a way ‘more fitting for a believer’.  She wanted to show the world that Christians can have fun and still not join the world in all of its ‘fallenness’.   Controversy has now erupted around her because of the choices she makes about her fashion style.  Many are watching her choices and wondering about her attempt to ‘walk the line’ between darkness and light.

Some believers, it seems, are trying to imitate her efforts: attempting to find a ‘modest’ way of dressing immodestly, attempting to live together before marriage with ‘chastity’, attempting to drink responsibly without being a ‘wine bibber’, attempting to use revenge as an expression of ‘righteous anger’, attempting to use pornography and call it ‘art’ or attempting to gossip by calling it ‘sharing a concern’.  The list goes on.  But I have a question.

Has Jesus called us to ‘walk the line’ between darkness and light OR ‘walk in the straight and narrow road of righteousness?’.  He says in I Thessalonians 5:22, ‘Avoid everything that has the external appearance of evil’.

Let’s be a people who realize that being righteous does not make us arrogant or intolerant  just as being worldly does not make us relevant or in touch.

American Bandstand

Somebody HAD to know someone!  Our little class only had 27 students in it.  The entire school had 150.  (And I think they  counted a couple of dogs and a cat or two)  🙂  But here we were at a ‘sock hop’ after a ball game.  I was just there for the food.  The disc jockey was a representative from the popular American Bandstand TV show.

At one point during the evening, he announced that they would be conducting a drawing to find a boy and girl to represent our school at a regional taping of the show.  Now I’m about as coordinated on the dance floor as a hog on ice, so I had no intention of putting MY name in the drawing.  Yet, to my astonishment, my name was called as the winning boy.  I whirled around to look at one of my friends only to realize by seeing the expressing on his face that he had entered my name.  ‘Just a joke’, he said apologetically, with a shrug and a grin.  Terror gripped me.  I stood in a daze of disbelief as the name of the girl was announced.  She was an area farmer’s daughter.  Her brother played basketball with me sometimes.  ‘At least’, I thought, ‘I won’t be teamed up with the prom queen or something.’

When I got home, the reality of what had happened began to set in.  Mother began to go through a litany of choices that must be made if I was to represent our school and family with honor on the TV show.  After all, ‘tens of thousands’ of people would be watching on television.  ‘Television’, I thought.  We hadn’t even had ours long enough to have developed a habit of watching it.  We only purchased it so we could watch the Illinois State High School Basketball tournament that our little High School was playing in.  Now I was going to be on it?  Wow!  My head was swimming.

The next few days were a blur of activity.  I had to find a suit, talk with Gloria (how do I tell her I don’t know how to dance), dancing lessons :), travel arrangements and the remedial work of learning how to properly sit, walk, talk and dance on television.

Alrighty then!  Can we just find somebody else to go? I just want to take care of the cows, pigs, sheep, geese, corn and beans and put up hay.  I don’t want to go on TV.  ‘But how would Gloria feel’ and ‘Wouldn’t she think that you didn’t want to go with her’, Mom gently chided.  ‘Fine, I’ll go’, I finally relented.

When we arrived at the taping studio, it was hard to take it all in.  There were seating arrangements, lessons on appearance, timing of the dance numbers, when to go out on the floor, when to sit down, when we would be taking a restroom break, etc.  Those types of instructions seemed so exhaustive, I was afraid to even go into the studio.  Yet, here we were.

Needless to say, I survived and was none the worse for wear from the whole experience.  And several impressions stuck with me.  First, all the people there seemed to be so ‘old’.  (They sure look young to me now)  Second, everyone was so nice.  (Even the ‘important’ people)  Next, it was sort of fun even though I did have a moment or two of embarrassment.  When we got up to do the ‘twist’, though I was moving, my suit seemed to be standing still.  (It was borrowed and a little big)  Finally, looking back on the event, it seems like such an insignificant moment in my life, compared to an event that is forthcoming.

God has said that ‘eye has not seen nor ear heard and it has not entered the mind of man– all that God has prepared for those who love Him’.  I Corinthians 2:9.  As one of our songs share, ‘What a day that will be when my Jesus I shall see.  When I look upon the face of the One who saved me by His grace.  When He takes me by the hand and leads me through the promise land.  What a day, glorious day that will be’!  INDEED!

Let’s be a people who love and long for His appearing.  II Timothy 4:8.

Just a Gift?

May 14, 1976 was a special day.  My brother Mike and I were celebrating the completion (almost for me) of our Bible College/seminary work and were being ‘ordained into the Christian ministry’.  Dad was our Presiding Elder, my favorite professor was Officiant and a long time family pastor friend was the Administrating Secretary.

You might think that someone graduating from Bible College with a ministry degree would have been familiar with ordinations, but honestly, this was the first one I had ever attended.  I knew there would be singing, scripture reading, prayer, pastoral charge, the ‘laying on of elders hands’ and the receiving of well wishes, but I didn’t even consider the thought that there would be gifts.  Neither Mike or I expected any.  It never crossed our minds.  And to be sincere, it felt a little bit awkward receiving them.

During the greeting time, first one family/friend would offer ‘well wishes’ then another.  And with each greeting came a token of love and affirmation.  All of them were humbling and memorable:  A beloved book passed on for us to cherish, a commentary to use for studying, a note of congratulations with a small gift.  But one gift stood out among them all.  It came from Grandmother Neighbors.  I’m somewhat uncertain of all the background details, but she simply kissed me on the cheek and put some money in my hand.  There wasn’t a card or anything else that led me to believe she has thought of this in advance.  Actually, it seemed like she had just thought of it.  When I looked, the amount totaled $9.68.  Interesting.  Not $5 or $10, but $9.68.

With the knowledge of the gift amount and the history I had with Grandma, I knew what had happened.  She hadn’t thought of a gift until the moment she saw others greeting us.  And without even noticing or caring, it seemed, she reached into her purse and gave me ‘ALL SHE HAD’.  Later as I reflected on her gift, my eyes welled with tears.  Grandma was not a woman of means.  Widowed three times after having cared for those physically frail husbands.  Quilting to pay bills.  And eventually moving in with her son and his family to finish out her allotted days.  She knew hard times, but she always loved to cook for ‘Little Chuckie’ and his family.  (Not a lot of people call me ‘Little Chuckie’)  🙂  Our stops to see her as we passed though to home from Mom and Dad’s were always filled with love, chicken, mashed potatoes and perfectly hand cut thin noodles.  Wow!  Oh how she loved me.  To this day, I am still moved by her loving gift.

As I look back on that day in May, I remember that all the people gave some, but Grandma gave all she had.  And in a way, her gift reminds me of the loving gift God gave us in His Son, Jesus.  In the words of a favorite hymn, ‘Jesus paid it all.  All to Him I owe.  Sin had left a crimson stain.  He washed it white as snow’.  Jesus gave all.

Let’s not hesitate to give Him our all.  As the Psalmist says in Psalm 116:12, ‘How can I repay the Lord for His goodness to me?  I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.  I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all His people’!

The Big Mac

The timing couldn’t have been more perfect!  It was 1968.  I was now an adult at the ripe old age of 18.  I had some money in my pocket.  And if I wanted to eat out I could and could eat at any restaurant I preferred.  So when I saw the sign, I knew that that was what I was eating:  McDonald’s NEW Big Mac.  You know the one–two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.  🙂  Yes, I memorized the jingle.

With that one decision, McDonald’s became my default restaurant setting and has stayed with me since.  During my tour in the Army, because funds and freedom were somewhat limited, I would take the bus to the nearest McDonald’s and order the same meal, always.  The order would include 2 fish, 2 fries and 2 milk for 2 dollars.  (Now the time line makes a little more sense as you look at the cost of what now is TWO MEALS and twelve bucks more).

Through the years, though some other choices have been sprinkled in, (Culvers or Arbys will do but…) the fish sandwich and especially the Big Mac have been staples for me.  In those early years, I didn’t calorie count, think about carbs, factor in protein or even think about what bread does to your diet, I just ordered and ate.  Simple…satisfying…standard operating procedure.  But lately, since what goes into my belly is beginning to stick around and show up under my belt, I have begun to ask myself ‘why’, ‘where’ and ‘what’ am I eating.  This is new territory for me.  But, it is an area that must be explored and brought under the Spirit’s control:  the self-controlled part of the Spirit’s gifts (Galatians 5:22-23).

So ‘why’ do I eat?  Sometimes I eat because it’s a habit.  When the clock chimes 7 or noon or 6, I’m supposed to be putting food in my mouth aren’t I?  And what about 10am and 2pm snacks at break time?  Then there’s the 9pm bowl of cereal.  And I don’t want to get tired while driving so I munch.  Then there’s those pesky ‘munchy’ times when I just want something to eat.  That pretty much packs out the day and packs in the food.  Should I really be eating by habit?  Am I living to eat or eating to live?  Now, there’s a good question.

So what about ‘what’ I eat?  Surely, I have freedom of choice here don’t I?  Everyone loves the three fruits: dark chocolate, white chocolate and milk chocolate.  It really doesn’t matter if they are served on candy bars, peanuts or peanut butter.  They are good.  And it’s okay to eat them–even healthy to eat them, some doctors encourage.  After all, God made chocolate didn’t He?

So, ‘where’ do I eat?  That’s easy:  any place there’s food.  As my taste buds reproduce and contain a wider variety of tolerances to spices and flavors, a whole new world has opened up, presenting me with a full array of new restaurant possibilities.  Now I can just about go anywhere and ‘forage’.  But should I?

This leads me back to my first question:  ‘why’, ‘what’ and ‘where’ should I eat?  Well, if I look to God’s Word for insight, these two messages offer counsel.  First, ‘whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God’ (I Corinthians 10:31).  Second, ‘And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him’ (Colossians 3:17).

There’s my answer.  The next time I reach for that candy bar, diet soda, donut or swing in for my favorite sandwich and fries, I’ll just ask myself honestly, if this is being done in order to give God my ‘THANKFUL HONOR’.


It Stinks!

The pile was the winter’s accumulation of bovine refuse left there for spring removal.  It had grown larger with each post milking deposit.  The parlor ‘must’ be kept clean!  So there I stood with Dad, surveying the 7-8 thousand pounds of potential ‘fertilizer’ and receiving instructions as to how I should prepare for planting by spreading it in a nearby field.

Everything was prepared:  tractor/manure spreader ready, the know-how to accomplish the task (well kind of: I had driven the tractor and spreader through the garden fence last year this time trying to learn how to drive the model 60 John Deere tractor) and a pitch fork specially designed to fit my youthful hands.  And oh, yes, the gloves.

‘But, Dad’, I protested.  ‘That’s a BIG pile’!  ‘I know son’, he acknowledged as matter-of-fact as possible. ‘But you can do it’, he encouraged.  ‘Remember, JUST KEEP CHIPPING AWAY at it and you’ll soon be done’.

With that, he turned on his heel and disappeared into the barn to sanitize the milking equipment.  I wasn’t much into Eeyore yet.  We didn’t have a television.  His ‘cartoonish’  tactics would be learned in a couple of years, so my protest was both short lived and ineffective.   Now the work.

I began by ‘pitching’ one forkful into the spreader.  Then another.  Before long I began to notice that the edges of the pile were getting smaller and the first load was almost ready to go.  Once I got back from unloading it, I paid more attention to the way the pile was decreasing in size than I did about how big it was.  With each field delivered load, my encouragement grew.  ‘I will get this done’ I reasoned.  Soon, I could tell Dad that I was finished.  His approval was an exciting prospect.  I was thrilled when it came.  And to think, my sense of relieved accomplishment occurred because I just kept ‘CHIPPING AWAY’.  How much I enjoyed putting the pitch fork back in its place.

Generally speaking, what was true then in my farming days is also true in life, now.    Pick the activity and consider the potential thrill of finishing it by just chipping away at it.  A stubborn habit can be conquered with God’s help by just chipping away at it.  You can read through the Bible in a year by just chipping away at it.  You can memorize that favorite set of verses by just chipping away at it.  Lesser or greater feats are accomplished in just that manner, whether it’s riding your bike across Wisconsin (123 miles behind us with 69 ahead of us), mowing the yard, painting that room or the house, treating the deck, seal coating the drive, succeeding in an exercise program or a myriad of other tasks.

Remember what the Lord inspired the Apostle Paul to write in Philippians 3:12ff, ‘Not that I have already obtained all this…but I PRESS ON…toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus’.    In other words, in your spiritual life ‘just keep chipping away’.

We Gather Together…

As we assemble for worship tomorrow, let’s call to mind some important realities.

Our goal must be God ALONE.  It is His honor that is primarily at stake.  It is His Son that is ignored.  It is His laws that have been broken.  It is His Name that is profaned.  It is His book that is forgotten.  And it is His house that can become little more than a collection of social and human efforts.

As we worship today, let’s seek to follow His lead through His Spirit to offer worship that is ‘full of SPIRIT and TRUTH, for this is the kind of worshipers that the Father seeks’.  John 4:23-24

The Voice…

The ever popular ‘The Voice’ reality TV program that aired on NBC April 26, 2011 is an adaptation of the original ‘The Voice of Holland’ which began broadcasting in 2010.  The show features contestants vying for the title of ‘The Voice’ by competing against others chosen for competition through mass auditions.  Coaches critique the singers who hope to improve their performances and be the viewer’s choice as the next ‘Voice’.

Compelling as this competition appears to be, one ‘VOICE’ surpasses them all in terms of scope, consequence and personal appeal:  the VOICE OF GOD.  The Lord remarks through Isaiah, ‘Whether you turn to the right or the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, THIS IS THE WAY, WALK IN IT’.  This word was given to the Jews to encourage them as they considered turning back to the Lord from their sin.  The Lord was promising that they would hear Him and would benefit by obeying the command of His voice.

Not isolated to an audible sound or a Jewish audience, the Lord says to each of us to listen for His voice.   He says through the Revelation prophet, ‘He who has ears, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches’.  As believers, we can expect the Lord to use His ‘voice’ to get our attention, to instruct us in His way and to direct our path.  Are you hearing His voice?  I’m talking about that ‘still small voice’ that compels our hearts to pay attention, learn and walk on in His ways.

We don’t hear that voice shake us to our core every day.  That shouldn’t be our expectation.  But, as we look into His word, as we pray to Him for insight, as we seek counsel from those ahead of us in His journey and as we meditate on His ways, we will hear Him impress His will on our hearts.  So, you ask, what should I be listening for?  How, when or where will He talk to my heart?  That, dear ones, is not easily predictable.  He’s not illusive, coy, pretentious or arrogant.  But, He is intentionally and eternally committed to our spiritual maturity.  So, if maturing is our goal, we can and should expect Him to speak to us.  Here are just a few examples.

Expect the Lord to make His voice heard if our lives are marked by, in the words of Leonard Ravenhill, 1) ‘deeper knowledge but shallower hearts, 2) greater standing with men but less standing with God, 3) religious piety but soul carnality/worldliness, 4) physical strength/body tone but spiritual weakness, 5) worldly wealth but spiritual poverty and 6) social popularity but remain unknown to the forces of darkness because we never engage them in prayer drenched spiritual battle.  (As the demons said in Acts 19, ‘Jesus we know and Paul we know but who are you?)

Now a personal illustration.  About a year ago, in a brief moment of spiritual awakening for me, the Lord impressed me with a need to deepen my prayer life.  His ‘inaudible yet quiet voice’ simply spoke to my heart with this word, ‘I’d like to deepen our prayer life’.  That’s all.   No lightening bolts and no thunder, but His voice was unmistakeably clear and profoundly moving.  It is in that pursuit that I am now engaged.

One of the lyrics in a beloved hymn says that ‘this is my Father’s world…He speaks to me everywhere…’!  He is speaking.  Are we listening for His VOICE?

For further insight, read through all the concordance references to the ‘voice’ of the Lord.  Happy studying.