Monthly Archives: September 2014

The Best Thing

He and his friends had been traveling most of the day.

The little neatly-kept house appeared along the dusty road as an oasis of good cheer and kind hospitality.

They were glad to be there.

He was warmly welcomed – beloved by the two sisters and their older brother. They considered it an honor and joy to host him. They were his followers.

But soon there was trouble in the kitchen.

Martha was banging pots and pans around and it was clear she wasn’t happy. With some people, you can’t tell if they’re upset – they disguise it pretty well. They may be smoldering on the inside but they’re smiling on the outside.

Martha was not that type.

With Martha, it was pretty easy to tell. What you saw in her is what you got: simple, direct, blunt and very compassionate. Martha had a sharp tongue, an energetic spirit – and a big heart.

You and I know folks like Martha.

She was preparing a meal for Jesus and his disciples. It was a large meal and it would be a nice one, Martha would see to that. It would be work but she’d get it done. And she’d get it done right. She knew this is what Jesus wanted. He and the disciples had to be hungry after all that walking.

Martha would fix a lovely dinner they’d all enjoy.

She was doing this out of devotion to the Lord. She was serving him with a full heart of love and generosity. She was sure Jesus knew this too. He’d appreciate it and let her know.

But she was getting a bit ticked that she was in the kitchen alone.

Her younger sister Mary was in the living room, along with the other men. Jesus was teaching them and Mary “also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word” (Luke 10: 39, KJV).

Mary was “hanging on every word he said” (verse 39, The Message).

A woman didn’t join the men for theological discussions in the parlor, especially if her sister was slaving away – alone – in the kitchen.

It was unheard of.

“What in the world is he thinking? Is he blind? I can’t believe this is happening – and he acts like he doesn’t even notice!”

“I’ve had it!”

Martha was “distracted with all her preparations” (Luke 10:40, NASB, emphasis added).

She was “worrying over the big dinner she was preparing” (NLT, emphasis added).

The Message says she “was pulled away by all she had to do in the kitchen” (emphasis added).

Martha had worked herself up into a frenzy of diligent, heartfelt service.

And the poor woman was about to lose it.

Perspiration gathering on her forehead, sleeves rolled up to her elbows and with a look that would have killed her sister had Jesus not been there, Martha came into the living room and interrupted the Savior.

“Lord,” she raised her voice, “doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me” (verse 40, NLT).

“Do you not care?” (NASB)

Jesus remains calm. He doesn’t scowl or appear upset that Martha has stormed into the living room, cut him off in anger, and barked an order at him.

Instead he smiles and gently speaks to her.

“Martha, Martha.”

Jesus knew what was going on in the kitchen. He also knew what was going on inside Martha’s heart and mind. He saw the temperature rising with each slam of the pan and each bang of the pot.

But even here there is love – and a lesson.

“You are worried and bothered about so many things,” Jesus told her, “but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (verse 41-42, NASB).

Jesus told Martha, so hot and bothered, so “distracted”:

“There is really only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it – and it won’t be taken away from her” (NLT, emphasis added).

Have you discovered that one thing – among so many competing things – that one great thing?

Sometimes when we get up in the morning, you and I are, like Martha, distracted, worrying, and we are pulled away. All the “things” we’ve got to do race at us from a hundred different directions.

What we need is a single right priority in our lives. We must recognize and embrace the primacy of the spiritual.

We may commit ourselves to service but first we must commit ourselves to Christ.

We may want to change the world but first we must let God change us.

We are concerned about so many things but the first thing we must do is seek the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.

Paul’s one great ambition was to know Christ and to be changed by him.

You and I must be willing at times to get out of the blaring noise and blistering turmoil of the world’s kitchen and sit serenely at the feet of the Master.

Like Mary, we must first turn our eyes upon Jesus.

Discover this and it will never be taken away from you.

It is the one thing.

It is the best thing.

May God blesss you and your family.

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Bill Smith Calling

Jim Kuhn had quite a career.

From working as a young campaign advance man, Kuhn did some advancing himself.

He really liked Ronald Reagan and worked for him when Reagan challenged Gerald Ford for the 1976 Republican presidential nomination. Then the Ohio native worked for Reagan again four years later when the former California governor was elected President.

The new president – and more importantly perhaps, the new president’s wife Nancy – really liked Jim Kuhn. And before you could say “win one for the Gipper”, Kuhn found himself working in the White House as Ronald Reagan’s executive assistant.

I came across Kuhn’s personal memoir this summer. Entitled Ronald Reagan in Private, it is a fun read filled with fascinating and often humorous stories about what presidential life was like behind the scenes.

Kuhn writes of the day he was at Camp David with the Reagans and screened a call through the Camp David telephone operator. Kuhn screened all incoming calls – it was an important part of his job.

“We have Bill Smith calling the president,” the operator told Kuhn.

Kuhn knew that this was William French Smith, Reagan’s long-time friend, close advisor and his first Attorney General. The Reagans, of course, called him Bill.

Kuhn put the call through to the president.

That evening, Kuhn was invited to join the president and first lady in their cabin to watch a movie. When the movie ended, President Reagan smiled and said, “I want to tell you about an interesting call I got this afternoon, from a man in North Carolina who wanted to talk to me about education.”

So the president talked with the man about education policy and explained what his administration was doing to encourage excellence in the classroom.

“He liked my ideas,” Reagan said cheerfully. “He gave me some of his thoughts. We talked for a long time.”

Jim Kuhn, however, was less than happy. His feeling was of the suddenly sinking variety.

He asked the president how long he had spoken with this man and Reagan told him about 45 minutes.

“Mr. President,” Kuhn asked somewhat hesitantly, “do you remember his name?”

“Ah …yes,” Reagan answered. “I believe his name was Smith … Bill Smith, it was.”

Bill Smith!

No, not that one, obviously.

Within minutes, Kuhn had privately confirmed the call with both the Camp David and White House switchboards. The man had the public number for the White House, called it, was put through to Camp David and, courtesy of Jim Kuhn, right through to President Ronald Reagan himself.

If Reagan suspected a mix-up, he never let on and professed no regret about having a very pleasant and lengthy conversation with Bill Smith from North Carolina.

Kuhn marveled at Reagan’s grace and also Mr. Smith who, as Kuhn put it, “probably thought it was perfectly normal to pick up the phone, call the White House, and have a 45-minute conversation with the president!”

We know that never happens so it makes for a clever story.

No ordinary American gets that kind of access to the most powerful man on the planet. Truth be told, some of us struggle to gain access to those far less powerful and important than the president. But then I speak as a professional fundraiser, who is just below the IRS on the call-back list.

Why do you suppose it is that we don’t avail ourselves more often of a far greater access?

The One who made this planet – and all the others too – is freely available to speak with us: 24-7.

The Creator and Ruler of the universe awaits your call.

God’s never too busy to speak with you. In fact God wants to hear from you!

You don’t need to leave a message on his voice mail.

You don’t need to schedule an appointment to meet with him.

The sovereign almighty God doesn’t employ some angelic “gatekeeper” to guard his precious time. He has no celestial executive assistant to keep you away from him.

You won’t need to get back to God in another month or two or three. He’ll never answer your prayer by telling you, “You know, this is a pretty busy time for me right now. Middle East is a mess. Why don’t you try praying in February?”

God would never think to ignore your personal email or fail to return your call – even if you had to leave one.

God cares about us – that’s why Peter tells us to cast all our care on him.

He loves you.

God knows how important your need – your request, your fear, your hope, your desire, your question – is to you.

God knows because you’re important to him!

 Abraham, Moses, Elijah and David talked with God – often. To God, you’re not one bit less important than they were. Nor has he changed in any way.

Prayer is a miracle of access.

We should use it more.

“So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most” (Hebrews 4: 16, NLT).

Whether we’re President of the United States or Bill Smith from North Carolina.

May God bless you and your family.


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Victoria’s (Not So) Secret

We laugh because we know that humor can sometimes be serious.

Service to a purposeful truth may be humor’s most eloquent contribution.

And often its most devastating.

So it seemed when someone recently sent me a YouTube video of Victoria Osteen. She’s the wife of Joel Osteen, pastor of America’s biggest congregation, Lakewood Church in Houston. Mrs. Osteen serves as the co-pastor of Lakewood.

On this particular Sunday morning, Mrs. Osteen, standing next to her husband, told the thousands gathered in rapt attention:

“I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God – I mean that’s one way of looking at it – we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we’re happy. That’s the thing that gives Him the greatest joy. So I want you to know this morning: just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. When you come to church, when you worship Him, you’re not doing it for God really, you’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy. Amen?”

As the crowd begins to thunder its glowing approval, there is a cutaway to Bill Cosby, undoubtedly a clip from an episode of The Cosby Show, in which he is likely reacting to a child’s explanation of wrongdoing.

America’s favorite dad stands up, shakes his head, and proclaims in disgusted disbelief:

“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard in my life!”

Surprise always aids good humor, so I immediately laughed out loud. I couldn’t help it and meant no disrespect. It was just a spontaneous reaction.

Someone thought Victoria Osteen’s comments might have been that, and attached the surprise ending, but who would have picked Bill Cosby to make such a succinct theological reply?

I thought it was very funny and quite clever.

I must confess to having made my share of embarrassing comments in the presence of my long-suffering spouse – and even a church congregation. In this I sympathize with Mrs. Osteen.

She’s conceded “I could have been more articulate”, though that may not be the chief objection to her remarks.

And it’s true – and must be said – that Joel and Victoria Osteen, for all any of us know, are utterly sincere in their beliefs and their words. Their books, tapes and televised sermons have encouraged millions around the world. They believe, preach and practice a gospel of hope to those who are discouraged.

Who among us doesn’t subscribe to the amazing positive power of Christianity to heal the sick, comfort the afflicted, cheer the disheartened and otherwise miraculously transform desperate lives?

In all this there is truth – and important truth.

Insofar as what Mrs. Osteen said to her church that Sunday morning is what she believes – and even if it’s not – it deserves a response, in addition to Bill Cosby’s.

“Good philosophy must exist,” wrote C.S. Lewis, “if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.”

God’s job is not to make us happy.

If the holiness God desires in us leads also to our happiness, it is a blessed result of our faith, but hardly the reason for it. Happiness may be an effect of our confidence in Jesus Christ; it is not the cause of it.

God does not exist to give us what we want. We exist to bring him glory.

God owes us nothing, least of all personal happiness – he will be a debtor to no man. You and I, as God’s children and as his creation, owe him everything. This includes our obedience and our worship.

We obey God and worship him not because it brings us happiness – though it should give us joy, even in the most difficult of circumstances. We obey and worship God because this is God’s command and because it brings him pleasure.

This isn’t about us – none of it – it’s about him.

Going to the cross didn’t make Jesus happy – though the Bible tells us he endured it for the joy that was set before him even while “despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:2, KJV). The immeasurable love God showed us by denying his own Son’s desperate prayer for escape from the indescribable suffering of Calvary “demands my soul, my life, my all.”

When you and I look to the cross – when we realize – or try to – the great sacrifice of the Atonement, we don’t come to church figuring that God’s fortunate to have us there, or owes us anything. Instead we bow our heads, fall on our knees and seek not happiness but his forgiveness. With the songwriter, we count our richest gain but loss and pour contempt on all our pride.

In this we discover true joy.

Understanding God, Jesus and the Christian faith is to know that there is woven into the colorful fabric of every life the dark threads of pain and suffering that are needed for our growth and maturity. This is not intended by God as a curse but a blessing.

Throughout the scriptures, it’s discipleship that defines the Christian faith, not happiness. God’s people have always known that heaven awaits and this is hardly Your Best Life Now.

Sincerity never justifies error nor does hope alone define sound doctrine.

In speaking to her church that Sunday morning, Victoria Osteen wasn’t inarticulate. She was crystal clear. And therein lies the danger and the warning.

“We’re doing it for ourselves.”


May God bless you and your family.

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Coming Around

I saw Abigail the other day.

She’s beautiful.

This lovely young lady is my sister’s daughter. I’ve tracked Abby’s older sister Mary through high school, college and Baylor Medical School. She’s on her way to becoming a doctor.

Somehow, quite incredulously I suppose, I left Abby behind – in elementary school carrying a lunch box.

So when I asked her what grade she was in and Abby said “a senior” I was a bit surprised.

How’d she get this far this fast?

I had been ambushed by time once again.

Now here I was discussing college with my younger niece!

A lot of you know the feeling.

Maybe it’s your son or your daughter – maybe it’s your grandson you used to take fishing.

Now he’s off to college and you can’t believe it.

 Another academic year has started. Young people from all over the country have headed back to school. Many are going there for the first time.

Some of us still remember what it was like to be in college. In many ways, it was the very best time of our lives. We had few responsibilities, limitless opportunities, and a lot of exciting choices. For many of us, it was the first extended time away from home, away from our parents, and away from our church.

College is an adventure. It’s time for intellectual and philosophical exploration, for broadening horizons and new ideas. For all of its excitement, this is also a time of particular vulnerability for young people who claim to follow Jesus Christ.


A recent study says that over 70% of young adults in America abandon the church between the ages of 18 and 22. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they turn their backs on God. However, this statistic reflects the fact that the college years have traditionally been a time of increasing doubt and questioning when it comes to religious faith.

If you’re the parent of a college student – or a college student yourself – here are some thoughts.

Doubt is not to be feared.

It’s natural, especially for the young who are transitioning into independent adulthood. Better the freedom of honest doubt than the forced coercion of belief. Inherited, second-hand faith, passed on by loving parents, is often brittle and cannot withstand the winds of skepticism. You may even discover that doubt is a comfort and a guide on your journey to a faith you can actually embrace.

Parents ask, “Why can’t you just believe like we do?” The child asks, “Why should I? What if I don’t?”

“Let truth and falsehood grapple openly in the arena,” wrote John Milton. “Who ever knew truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter.”

In the end, no one else can believe for you. You must choose to believe for yourself. Personal, intimate faith is the only authentic faith. It’s the only faith that will stand the test of time and the trials ahead. It’s the only faith worth having.

It’s the difference between the abstract and the real; between theory and life.

And this is true whether you’re 65 or 19.

It’s OK to take the time to sort it all out.

Contrary to popular myth, your professor does not have all the answers.

Take his or her opinions for what they are: personal opinions. Add a few grains of skeptical salt. They may be smarter than those who taught you before you arrived at college, but don’t count on it. Question the questioners. Respect, but don’t be intimidated by, the title of “Doctor”.

The excellent film God’s Not Dead revealed the inner pain and fragility that often masquerades as scholastic smugness.

I learned a lot from my university professors. But I never blindly accepted their biases because of their academic status. In the end, they’re all just mortals, struggling with faith as we all are. Be on guard against their certainty.

In another context, the Apostle John wrote that we should “test the spirits” (I John 4:1). This same principle of objective inquiry and critical thinking applies as equally to unbelief as it does to belief. And it works as well in the classroom as it does in the church.

Make friends with fellow student travelers. Find ways to meet other Christians. They are facing the same experience, the same challenges, and the same doubts as you are. Draw strength from your shared – and perhaps different – perspectives. You may feel it sometimes, but you are not alone. Seek out fellowship. It will be a source of great encouragement. And perhaps some lasting friendships.

Mom and Dad:

Don’t worry, pray.

Don’t argue, listen.

Don’t judge, hope.

Don’t condemn, love – and give a hug.

One of the wisest men who ever lived offered some advice that we should consider before we cast our vote on faith at the age of 21:

“Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor him in your youth before you grow old…” (Ecclesiastes 12:1, NLT).

Parents and students: test your faith. It can stand it – and so can you.

And the God Who dealt with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – and with Peter and Paul – will understand.

They came around. So will you.

May God bless you and your family.

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