Monthly Archives: November 2015

Impressed

There once was an avid duck hunter who was looking for a new bird dog.

He looked everywhere for just the right dog. He finally found him.

“This dog is very special,” said the seller. “Watch this”. With that, the man threw a stick in a nearby pond. The dog marched out to retrieve the stick – walking on the water.

Knowing his friends would never believe him, the hunter bought the dog and planned a hunting trip with an old buddy who was, by nature, a cynical, hard to please pessimist.

On the appointed day, the two men hid in a blind until a flock of ducks flew over. They fired and a duck fell in the water. The dog jumped and headed out to retrieve the bird but instead of sinking, he simply walked out on the water and brought the duck to shore.

Nothing more than his paws were wet.

The man’s friend didn’t say a word and acted as if nothing unusual had happened.

On the drive home, the proud owner was curious.

“Did you notice anything in particular about my new dog?” he asked.

“Yep, sure did,” the friend replied. “He can’t swim”.

To cease to be thankful is to put our heart and mind on automatic pilot.

As Robert Louis Stevenson put it, “not to be thankful is to fall asleep in life”.

Our pressures and problems have blocked out our awareness of the mercy, kindness and grace of God in our lives. In place of gratitude comes a sense of entitlement. We presume upon the mercies he gives us every moment of every day. We may even think subconsciously we are owed this; we come to expect it. We are no longer in wonder and awe of the natural world God has created for us.

We are unimpressed with God.

Our focus is on what we need, what we want and what we must do. It is no longer on what God has done for us and what he has given us.

When we stop and think of God’s blessings; when we consider his mercies and his kindness then we begin to more clearly see all he has done and all he is still doing for us.

It’s then that we begin to count our blessings. And then we thank God.

We get re-impressed with God.

Thinking and thanking are the peas and carrots of the Christians life.

Before we can be grateful we must take stock of our lives. Before we can take stock of our lives we must think. And before we can think we must stop and take time to think. We rush through life too quickly to be thankful as we should. Our thinking is too preoccupied with the burdens of the day and the pressures of the week.

We don’t thank because we don’t think to thank.

Thankfulness is a discipline; it is an attitude that must be cultivated. It is a perspective that must become a habit and to become a habit it must be practiced. That requires a conscious effort.

It takes time well spent.

Gratitude does not come naturally, especially in the 21st-century.

Everything around us conspires to make us less than thankful. The things of this world make us anxious, envious and discouraged; they seldom make us thankful. To be truly thankful is to think beyond ourselves and our circumstances; beyond our wants and ambitions.

Sometimes we just make it too hard for God to impress us with his goodness.

This is not God’s fault, who daily blesses us with benefits. His faithfulness is great and his mercies are new every morning. The problem is with us – with a heart that does not feel toward God as it should and a mind that is not focused on God and his many blessings.

We are not observant of God.

We become too distracted by the things, the worries and the concerns of this world and our living in it. We rush about and never notice the sunrise, the sunset and the stars and the moon that God has painted in the sky.

Maybe we spend too much time indoors and not enough outdoors.

We are too easily impacted by fabrications and not enough by the divine created order. We take too much for granted and contemplate too little.

It took time for the apostle Paul to realize that the very “thorn in the flesh” he pleaded with God to remove was in fact a blessing of God’s grace. From God’s point of view it was not a disadvantage but an advantage. It was not a bane, it was a blessing.

It was not a weakness, it was a strength.

Since Paul prayed to God on three separate occasions for this physical restriction to be removed it took Paul time to think about this and to arrive at the same conclusion. It wasn’t automatic or natural (II Corinthians 12:7-10).

This was God’s will and it ended up ultimately strengthening Paul’s faith, his relationship with God and his gratitude for the blessings of God and God’s grace, which Paul discovered was more than sufficient.

It was Paul who wrote that we must not let the world force us into its mold of entitlement and ingratitude. We must break the mold by letting God transform our minds – to think anew. Only then can we see God, this world and ourselves as we ought to see them – through the eyes of faith.

Only then can we be impressed with what should impress us.

And only then can we learn what it means to be truly thankful. Every attitude is a formed and disciplined habit. This includes the attitude of gratitude.

God, help us to cultivate thankfulness in the garden of our souls; in the fields of our heart and mind.

Help us to be impressed with you.

Help us to be in awe.

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Weapons of War

Fear and anger are powerful emotions.

So is sadness.

So is hate.

Paris triggered them all.

The bloody carnage in the City of Love was the latest assault in a new world war unique in its methodology, its aims and its stakes.

ISIS claimed responsibility for more than 129 dead and hundreds injured. The radical Islamic terrorist group had carefully planned six separate attacks across the city – all of them successful.

President Obama found himself at the G-20 summit in Turkey repeatedly defending a piecemeal policy that once vowed to stop ISIS but many insist has only emboldened it. The President has refused to consider any military options beyond air strikes and sending advisors.

People are fearful.

When a Syrian passport was discovered near a dead militant, many immediately suspected the stream of refugees coming to Europe and the United States from Syria and other countries in the Middle East – ironically fleeing the very turmoil and ruthless violence represented by the Paris attack.

Were terrorists sneaking in with the refugees? American compassion was now confronted by our need to be protected.

A majority of the nation’s governors vowed to stop the immigration. The President implied that was un-American.

Evangelical pastors joined the chorus of controversy from their pulpits the next Sunday. They condemned the Paris massacre and demanded stronger action from the government. One well-known Baptist minister told his church that “as Christians” we must love, forgive, pray and share the gospel with those who oppose us.

Then he exclaimed that he agreed with Donald Trump “that it’s time to start bombing the you know what out of ISIS!”

He received a standing ovation.

Bombing or sending troops – these are military responses. Christians, as good citizens, acknowledge the biblical role of the state in securing justice and protecting the nation. In a fallen world, government “beareth not the sword in vain” (Romans 13:5, KJV).

This war against ISIS will not end with a negotiated settlement. No surrender instruments will be agreed to or signed on the deck of a battleship. No arms will be laid down. The enemy will only be stopped when it is destroyed.

This is the sad but undeniable truth of the matter. No political correctness can change it. Reality is a very stubborn thing. Millions of Americans don’t believe we are being adequately protected in this global crisis or that our government has always acted wisely or courageously on the world stage.

But there is more to this – and there must be more to our response as believers. No matter what may be happening in this world – no matter what the danger or the threat – we must never forsake the primacy of the spiritual.

If we don’t see all of life and its events through the lens of our Christian faith, we either don’t understand it or we don’t believe it.

The Church of Jesus Christ is not the state – it stands above the state. And Christians are more than patriotic citizens. Our thinking must be informed by more than fervor, flag-waving and vengeance.

We must begin by giving our fears and anxieties to God. He knows we’re only human but to dwell in fear is to dishonor the Sovereign who is over all the nations and forces of this world.

This includes ISIS.

The world may panic and Jesus tells tell us that in the cataclysms of these last days men’s hearts will fail them for fear (Luke 21:26). But he tells us to “be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, KJV).

We must also understand and keep in mind the nature of this present conflict.

There is no greater example of the spiritual warfare being waged against Christians than the rise of international terrorism sponsored by radical Islam.

This is part of the cosmic struggle being fought between good and evil; against Jesus by Satan.

To understand this is to respond wisely and confidently.

As Paul exhorts us to take on God’s spiritual armor, he reminds us that “we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12, NLT).

That is the nature of it. Those are the stakes.

Just as it is a mistake for our government not to acknowledge the true nature of the political and cultural conflict, so it would be equally short-sighted for believers to misunderstand its spiritual dimensions.

ISIS is not our enemy. Satan is.

And because he takes on the Son of God – who rules forever in majesty and power – the devil’s doom is sure.

In this we may rejoice.

Like the conflict itself, so too our weapons are spiritual.

Paul tells the Corinthians:

“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds” (II Corinthians 10:3-4, NIV).

When asked at the age of 92 if he might summarize the lessons of history in a single sentence, renowned historian Will Durant replied:

“Love one another. My final lesson from history is the same as that of Jesus … Love is the most practical thing in the world.”

The only force powerful enough to overcome hate is love.

Let us pray for our enemies. Let us ask God for the strength to love them.

In the end, it is our greatest weapon.

May God bless you and your family.

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Until the Last Dog Dies

A teacher held an essay contest for her students.

Define friendship.

There were many good definitions offered. The student who won the contest wrote:

“A friend is the one who comes in when the whole world has gone out.”

It’s a difficult definition to improve on.

We all put a premium on loyalty when it comes to defining friendship. None of us wants to be considered a “fair-weather friend” and none of us would consider convenient friends true friends. We know who our friends are, not when things are easy but when they are hard. That’s always been the ultimate test of friendship.

Faithful friends are the very best friends. That’s the friend we want – it’s the friend we want to be.

There’s an old Ozark saying about being with someone – being a true friend – standing right there with him “until the last dog dies.” It’s quaint, it’s simple and it’s Southern. I’ve always liked it. It colorfully expresses the most valued attribute of true friendship: loyalty.

God understands this. He knows we need the assurance that he will always be there for us – no matter what and no matter when. And so God has made this much clear to us: “I’m not going anywhere.”

All the other divine qualities are enriched by God’s faithfulness.

His love, his mercy and his grace, for example, are often described in scripture as “everlasting.” We need to remember this – and to stake our daily lives upon it – especially when the boat of our faith is riding on stormy seas.

The writer of Hebrews invokes the Old Testament to drive home the abiding presence and faithfulness of God.  The One who hung the solar system in space says clearly and simply: “I will never leave you. I will never forsake you.”(Hebrews 13:5). Those are the same words God spoke to Joshua when God called him to the humanly impossible task of leading Israel after the death of Moses (Deuteronomy 31: 6, 8).

The promise he made to the new leader of his chosen people is the same promise he makes to you and me.

“I will never leave you”.

 Others may turn their backs and walk away. They may abandon; they may forsake, they may leave. And they may forget. They might even accuse and condemn.

God never will.

God tells us that no matter what happens – and no matter what we do – he will never abandon us. He will never withdraw his presence from us and he will never forsake us. We may sin, we may doubt and we may stray, but through it all he remains faithful to us. Through all our stupidity, arrogance and dumb decisions, he remains our friend and our God. He will mercifully and patiently bring us back to where we belong – by his side, holding his hand, following his steps.

He loves you that much. He cares about you that deeply.

God’s faithfulness is not dependent on us and we can all thank God for that. It’s rooted in his very nature as God. Paul tells Timothy:

“If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is.” (II Timothy 2:13, NLT). In my times of doubt and distance, I’ve drawn great consolation from the blessed fact that my destiny is not determined by what I do but by “who he is.”

“He cannot deny himself” (KJV).

God cannot contradict his divine nature.

This is not tit for tat – it’s for keeps.This is not predicated – it’s unconditional. It’s neither earned nor deserved. It’s grace.

After the author of Hebrews reminds us of the promise of God’s faithful presence, he adds this:

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8, NLT). Here is a simple and glorious confirmation of the immutability of our sovereign God. It is the anchor of our faith – and the unfailing bulwark of his faithfulness.

“Be still my soul…in every change He faithful will remain.”

If God were fickle he couldn’t be faithful.

Alliances shift, loyalties wane, and friendships cool. Time, circumstance and choices are continually upsetting the applecart of our relationships. Those that endure mean the most. And the most enduring relationship we can have – the one that takes us through time and into eternity – is our relationship with God.

He is the “friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24, NKJV).

John wrote of our Savior:

“Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1, KJV, emphasis added).

Nothing changed that. Nothing could. The cross proved it.

Even when it seems as if “the whole world has gone out”, he stays.

As he told Jacob, so God promises you:

“I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go…I will not leave you.” (Genesis 28:15, NLT).

God’s going to be there for you…“until the last dog dies.”

May God bless you and your family.

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Rankin’s Reward

 Rankin Paynter is a businessman. He lives in Winchester, Kentucky.

Mr. Paynter is shrewd, practical and wise. He’d been successful and he knew a good business venture when he saw one. He had taken advantage of plenty of great opportunities over his 77 years. So when a local Kmart closed its doors, Paynter bought up the store’s entire inventory faster than you could say “smart move.”

As an investment, it represented a small gold mine of merchandise he could market and re-sell.

But something happened to Rankin Paynter on the way to the bank.

Paynter caught a vision – and it wouldn’t let him go.

The more he thought, the more he felt – and the more he felt, the more he thought. His mind and his heart were having a conversation and his heart was making a persuasive argument.

In the end, Rankin Paynter’s heart won out.

Paynter decided he would donate the entire Kmart inventory – worth $200,000 – to local charity. One of the community agencies estimated that his donation would help to clothe every struggling family in the area through next winter.

Mr. Paynter reflected on his gift. “We’ve all been put on this earth to help each other through,” he observed. “If I can help people through, I’m happy.”

So is God. Giving matters to him.

Of the 36 parables Jesus told, 17 of them were about property and stewardship. They were about giving and receiving. They were also about investing.

In his story of the talents, Jesus spoke of the man who before he went away on a long trip “called together his servants and entrusted his money to them while he was gone” (Matthew 25: 14, NLT). Two of the servants made sound investments with multiplied lasting results. They were men of vision and commitment.

This the owner commended.

The third servant thought he’d done the prudent and wise thing when he buried his money in the ground for safe keeping.  This is the man who never caught a vision, never took a risk, never showed faith and never invested in the kingdom of God. It turns out that what this man thought made sense was not what the owner had wanted or expected of him. Instead of being commended for his supposed prudence, this servant was condemned for his lack of faith.

Philanthropy has changed this nation – and the world – in some impressive ways.

Every year billions of private dollars are invested in trying to make this nation and the world a better place. Vote seekers who find the rich a convenient punching bag never seem to grasp or appreciate this central fact of the American economy. Men and women of wealth, along with those of more moderate income, have generously tackled social problems in ways the government can’t.

It’s worth noting too that politicians who are the most generous with other people’s money are often the least generous with their own.

Before he died in 1919, Andrew Carnegie gave away 330 million dollars of his wealth. Today, that would be in the billions. “A man who dies rich,” Carnegie once said, “dies disgraced.”  Men like Carnegie – men who worked hard to build – and profit from – America’s free enterprise system also built hospitals, schools, libraries and churches. Their generosity and vision made an indelible mark upon the quality of life in this country long after their own lives ended.

They knew it would – that’s why they gave.

Godly men of wealth understand this better than many. Their faith gives motive and meaning to their generosity.

G. Le Tourneau, a devout Christian who made a fortune manufacturing earth-moving equipment, was once asked how it was possible that he could give away 90% of his income to Christian ministry and still become amazingly rich. ‘”Well,” LeTourneau mused, “I guess I had a shovel – but God had a bigger one”.

“Give,” Jesus tells us, “and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full …” (Luke 6: 38, NLT).

It’s   true – you cannot out-give God.

“For we brought nothing into this world,” Paul writes to Timothy, “and it is certain we can carry nothing out” (I Timothy 6:7, KJV). This may rank as one of the most self-evident truths ever neglected.

In God’s divine economy, wealth is not a reward; it’s a test. It’s not an end in itself – it’s an exciting means to a far greater and more glorious end. The accumulation of money does not buy our security – that comes only from God. Instead, wealth is our opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others.

When you and I give we express our gratitude for what we’ve been given.

To be able to give a “transformational gift” – one that changes the equation for all time – is one of God’s greatest gifts. To have the opportunity to leave a lasting legacy – to give a gift that outlives the giver – is one of life’s greatest blessings and a rare privilege afforded to very few.

It really is more blessed to give than to receive.

Rankin Paynter could tell you.

May God bless you and your family.

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