Monthly Archives: January 2017

Channeling Solomon

The tall gaunt man in the black suit wore a weary smile.

A neighbor from back home in Springfield had just asked him what it felt like to be president.

Abraham Lincoln chuckled.

“Well,” he told him, “it reminds me of the story about the man who was once tarred, feathered and ridden out of town on a rail. When asked what that was like, he replied, ‘If it wasn’t for the honor of the thing, I’d just as soon have walked’”.

Lincoln, in his own inimitable way, expressed a sentiment shared by many of his elite colleagues.

“With me,” remarked James Polk, “it is exceptionally true that the presidency is no bed of roses”. His health ruined by its demands, he died three months after leaving the White House. He was 53.

“As to the presidency,” wrote Martin Van Buren, “the two happiest days of my life were those of my entrance upon the office and my surrender of it”.

Lyndon Johnson, who compared being president to “a jackass standing in a hail storm – you’ve just got to stand there and take it,” conceded its impact:

“The presidency has made every man who occupied it, no matter how small, bigger than he was; and no matter how big, not big enough for its demands”

Thomas Jefferson called the presidency “a splendid misery” and observed:

“No man will ever carry out of the presidency the reputation which carried him into it”.

Following the disastrous Bay of Pigs fiasco in the first months of his presidency, JFK acknowledged his responsibility. Invoking an ancient proverb, he ruefully commented, “Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan”.

A week from now, Donald J. Trump of New York, the only man in history to assume the Presidency of the United States without either political or military experience, will officially take the same oath once spoken by Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson.

This “glorious burden” has broken strong men and destroyed without mercy weak ones.

History is an unremitting judge.

Ask Fillmore, Pierce and Buchanan, failed presidents who froze in the face of a moral and political tsunami they neither understood nor could control. Ask Hoover, whose fate is forever inextricably linked to the Great Depression.

LBJ’s Great Society – and reputation – were savaged by Vietnam. Wilson’s League of Nation’s was rejected, crippling the proud man’s health and crushing his spirit. Richard Nixon, who went to China and the Soviet Union in breathtaking strokes of foreign policy genius, will be forever remembered by school children as the one president forced to resign in disgrace amidst historic scandals.

George H.W. Bush, triumphant in Desert Storm, was defeated for re-election by the voters’ perception of an out-of-touch indifference to economic problems.

Even FDR faced rebuke for foolishly and arrogantly trying to pack the Supreme Court. Truman didn’t know about the atomic bomb when he suddenly assumed office in the midst of World War II. He and he alone made the decision to drop it on Japan.

For a new president humble enough to listen, the voices of the past cry out from beyond the grave about the unforeseen challenges and pitfalls awaiting every new leader. A president ignores those lessons at his own peril.

Humility doesn’t appear to be Mr. Trump’s greatest virtue. He’d do well to consider a leadership example from 3,000 years ago.

When his father, Israel’s greatest king, died Solomon knew he had big sandals to fill. The new king conducted his own inauguration. He assembled the nation’s leaders – military, legal and political and led them to God’s holy Tabernacle in Gibeon. There he and the leaders worshiped God, seeking his blessing upon the new reign. Solomon made 1,000 burnt offerings (II Chronicles 1: 2-6).

That night, God appeared to King Solomon.

“Ask what I should give thee,” God told him (II Chronicles 1:7, KJV).

What would the average American politician ask for if he knew God would give him anything?

Power, success, popularity, a great legacy? A landslide re-election? A place on Mount Rushmore?

Solomon asked God for wisdom and knowledge. Correct information and the skill to apply it with discernment. Some leaders may be smart, well-informed and quick witted. But they still can make costly mistakes. Solomon was humble enough to confess his own limitations in the face of his overwhelming challenges.

“Who can judge this thy people, that is so great?” (verse 10, KJV).

The smartest leader can stumble and fall without wisdom. Wisdom – knowledge tempered by judgment – is a God thing and the good leader will have the integrity and character to seek God’s help.

Solomon did and God granted his request – and blessed his reign.

Lincoln plainly conceded that he had not controlled events but events had controlled him.

“I have been driven many times upon my knees,” he told a friend, “by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.”

When he moved into the newly-built White House in 1800, John Adams offered a prayer in a letter to his wife Abigail. FDR had it engraved on the stone fire place in the State Dining Room.

“I pray to heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house and on all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.”

King Solomon would say “Amen”.

Let this be our prayer on the eve of a new administration.

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Axioms

It had to come.

It’s an axiom.

In logic, this means a proposition, not subject to proof or disproof. Its truth is assumed to be self-evident because most people believe it. Once broadly accepted, it becomes a premise from which other conclusions are logically and inescapably drawn.

Nobody has proved it’s true. It may not be true. But enough people believe it’s true. So it’s seen as true and declared as true.

One central axiom of our time is the normalization of a new form of personal morality. The most important and irreversible vanguard of shifting sexual mores in America is the widespread and rapidly growing acceptance of homosexuality.

It must be true.

Once gay marriage was established as a constitutional right, the war was over. Traditional values had lost, tolerance had triumphed. There were all sorts of complex demographic, cultural and political factors leading to this approval but it was undeniable.

It’s an axiom.

Life goes on.

We’re not going back.

We live in a new world and we must be brave.

“Trans”.

That’s the abbreviation for the latest frontier – transgendered people. They are neither “her” nor “him”. They’re somewhere in between, moving in one direction or the other, seeking their true identity; reveling in their happy selves as members of the opposite sex from the one they were trapped in at birth.

They are the new champions of change – literally.

Past generations might have scratched their heads at the mystifying phenomenon. It’s another example of an infinitesimal minority managing to roil the cultural waters of an entire nation.

The Governor of North Carolina backed a new state law restricting public restrooms to those of the same sex at birth. Saying it was discriminatory – a powerful word if ever there was one – the Justice Department, urged on by President Obama, threatened to sue the Governor.

The bathroom law was all washed up. It never stood a chance.

Tolerance is unrelenting in forcing itself on all those who disagree. None dare raise a conscientious objection and be seen as hopelessly out of touch with “the real world”.

That’s ironic. It’s also an axiom of our age. It must be true.

We’ve embraced boundless tolerance – except for dissent.

The other day a news magazine arrived. On its cover were Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. They both were sporting yard-long noses. The Truth Hurts was the headline.

Perhaps this picture is prophetic.

Describing the corruption of an earlier age, Isaiah wrote:

“So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter” (Isaiah 59:14, NIV).

This nation is set to nominate the two least popular and most controversial and morally-challenged candidates for president in American history. It may end up being a contest over who has told the fewest lies – or the biggest.

“Truth has fallen in the streets, honesty cannot enter”.

People get the government – and the leaders – they deserve.

It’s another axiom; true through all ages and in every civilization.

In a society where “justice is driven back and righteousness stands at a distance”; where evil is called good and good evil; in a culture where bitter is substituted for sweet and sweet for bitter; and in a land where leaders more often reflect the dominant values than shape them, the sad and pathetic choice we’ve been given in 2016 is richly deserving.

This is a choice for our times; the emblem of poetic justice.

We are reaping what we have sown (another undeniable axiom).

“When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn” (Proverbs 29:2, KJV).

This is God’s axiom.

It’s his judgment upon a people who have chosen to cast off moral restraint, define their own morality and seek their own way.

Trump and Clinton have been supported by millions to whom truth and integrity are subjective, relative and – in the end – dispensable. It’s rampantly true in people’s personal lives, why not in the lives of their leaders?

For the Christian this is not the time to despair or give up. It is the time to pray, think and vote.

No matter what has happened to get us here, is happening now or will happen in November and beyond, our sovereign God is in control. He knows the end from the beginning, and he will protect his church against even the gates of hell itself.

And a corrupt president – if we should elect one.

God’s still on his throne.

He has a plan.

Take heart.

Yes, you may sometimes feel like a Puritan living in the midst of Babylon but remember God’s people have lived in interesting times before.

Take the first century, for example.

“Be on guard,” Paul told believers then. “Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. And do everything with love” (I Corinthians 16: 13-14, NLT).

Don’t fear the polls. Trust God.

“Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness” (Psalm 37:4, NASB).

Paul closed his second letter to the Corinthians with this consolation:

“Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you” (II Corinthians 13:11, NLT).

Our faithfulness, his presence.

It’s logical. It’s true.

It’s a divine axiom.

Today, tomorrow and forever.

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In the Real World

Meghan Vogel may seem just your typical high school student.

What she did was anything but typical.

It was extraordinary.

Meghan, from West Liberty, Ohio, had already won the 1600-meter state track championship. Trailing in the 3200-meter race, Meghan saw another runner collapse ahead of her. She could have seen a rival’s fall as an opportunity to run right by and gain an advantage.

Instead, she stopped.

Meghan helped Arden McMath to her feet. She then placed Arden’s limp arm around her neck and she supported her until together they crossed the finish line.

Meghan was modest in her heroism. “I knew any girl on that field would do that for me,” she said, “so I was going to do that for Arden.”

So simple a faith. So profound an ideal -put into practice when it cost something.

A youth willing to express her idealism in selfless action is always inspiring. One may only hope that Meghan doesn’t become jaded when she enters a sometimes ruthless world where dogs still devour other dogs. After all, it’s newsworthy when we see the Golden Rule practiced. And it’s just another day when we see it trampled.

Self-interest is the norm. We expect it. Self-denial is the exception. We’re amazed by it.

For centuries, theologians and philosophers have argued that Jesus couldn’t possibly have thought that people would actually try and live by his Sermon on the Mount.

How realistic is it to think that people – even Christ’s own followers – would recognize their spiritual poverty and mourn over it, live in humility and meekness; hunger and thirst for justice, seek purity of heart and show mercy to others? Is Jesus really expecting his disciples to control their anger, forgive others, love their enemies and trust God for all their needs?

Today? In the twenty-first century?

That’s great for heaven but it can never work in the here and now. We live in the “real world”.

Even life in the church tells us quite often that Jesus’ most famous sermon is viewed as more pie in the sky than food for the soul. The Sermon on the Mount is certainly beautiful. It’s just not very practical.

The problem with this thinking – especially within the body of believers – is that the entire New Testament commands us, through the inner power of the Holy Spirit, to live out the Sermon on the Mount. The Bible tells us plainly that we must flesh out, in very realistic and practical ways, this whole business.

The teaching and preaching of Jesus is clearly intended to directly impact how we live and how we treat others.

If it doesn’t, then we aren’t his true followers.

Jesus said that himself.

Over and over again we’re told to “love one another”. Jesus said this was his “new commandment” (John 13:34). He went so far to say that this was the single, truest, most visible sign of our faith in him.

“By this will all men know that you are my disciples” (John 13:35, emphasis added).

Paul tells us that we are to be “devoted to one another”, to “honor one another” and to “live in harmony with one another” (Romans 12: 10, 16). The apostle was as absolute about this as Jesus was. “Let no debt remain,” he wrote to the Romans, “except the continuing debt to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law” (Romans 13:8, NLT).

It doesn’t stop with the command to love. The Bible goes on to define what love is and how it is shown.

We’re told to “agree with one another,” “accept one another”, “serve one another”, “be patient with one another” , “carry each other’s burdens”, “support the weak”, “submit to one another”, “encourage one another”, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other…” and to “live in harmony with one another” (I Cor.1:10; Romans 15:7; Galatians 5:13; Ephesians 4:2; Galatians 6:2; I Thessalonians 5:14; Ephesians 5:21; Hebrews 3:13; Ephesians 4:32; Romans 12:16).

The New Testament is the owner’s manual for the Sermon on the Mount.

All this “one-anothering” is what made the church in Jerusalem the exciting, dynamic and vital organism that turned the brutal first century world upside down. It’s what gives flesh and blood to Christianity today.

When an early believer stumbled and fell on the track, someone else cared enough to stop, pick her up, put her arm around her shoulder and help her cross the finish line.

They did it together.

It’s always been true. Nothing about our moral and spiritual obligation to others has changed in two thousand years. Sophistication hasn’t replaced simple duty.

What Meghan Vogel did that day is what you and I need to do – for “one another” – at every opportunity God gives us. In big ways, yes, but also in those simple and unnoticed ways that make God smile and the angels rejoice.

Stop and help someone. Listen. Be kind. Be patient. Pay a compliment. Thank somebody.

This is what we owe each other.

It’s what we owe the stranger in our midst.

It’s what we owe God.

In an age of pain, narcissism and rage nothing so becomes the Gospel as our civility and decency.

This is the love of Christ – in the real world.

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Epiphany in a Pig Pen

The day dawned gray.

His stomach groaned with the now familiar pain.

Loneliness riveted his soul.

On the crowded city streets he wandered as a solitary vagabond desperate and despondent.

In just a fortnight his fortunes had reversed. He had then played with an abundance of easy money and a house full of happy friends and hangers on who knew where the action was.

The parties lasted until the wee hours.

Now it was all gone. The final faint sounds of laughter and clanging bottles echoed through the house and then vanished into the haunting stillness.

Severe famine had spread depression to the countryside and swept away hope.

“And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want” (Luke 15:14, KJV).

That’s how Jesus put it in his story.

Suddenly the happy and confident young man who had it all had nothing.

No money. No friends. No food.

He came across a pig farm and pleaded with the owner to give him a job. He must have looked pretty pathetic because the gruff guy relented and sent him into the fields to feed the swine.

The kid who had lived high off the hog was now slopping them.

Engulfed in stench and muck, he was so desperately hungry he would have eaten the pods he was feeding the pigs but those belonged to them and this was business. He dared not touch the farmer’s supply.

Jesus goes out of his way to emphasize the often selfish cruelty of a disinterested world. As destitute as this young man was, Jesus says that “no one gave him anything” (Luke 15: 16, NLT).

He looked hopefully into the faces of passersby but found not a glance of compassion or sympathy.

The world can be a cold place; a fickle friend.

“Reproach hath broken my heart,” cried the psalmist, “and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none” (Psalm 69:20, KJV).

Once valued for what he had and could give, he was of no consequence in a famine-riven land.

“Look and see, there is no one at my right hand; no one is concerned for me. I have no refuge; no one cares for my life” (Psalm 142:4, NIV, emphasis added).

Yet hope is not quite gone. Jesus turns a page in his story.

He tells us that this young man has what many might call an epiphany. Triggered by some memory of happier days and a sudden longing for home, “he came to himself” (verse 17, KJV).

He returns to his senses. He is touched by logic. He is enlightened by sound reason.

Paul writes in Ephesians that the unsaved mind is “hopelessly confused” and its “understanding darkened” (Ephesians 4:17, 18, NLT, KJV). When the mind is touched by the Spirit of God, the life is transformed because the mind is spiritually renewed (Romans 12:1).

So it is with us. So it is with this young man. He comes to himself when he has come to the end of himself.

It suddenly dawns on him that back home the hired hands and servants he once ridiculed and dismissed are living far better than he is.

“And here I am dying of hunger!” (Luke 15: 17, NLT).

There is an irony in this.

After all, these hired workers are “my father’s” (verse 17, KJV).

He turns his heart toward home. But what will he do? What will he say to the one he hurt and offended so profoundly?

“I will go home to my father and say, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant” (verse 19, NLT).

Assuming the young man’s sincerity, which Jesus implies, this is the meaning of repentance. It is the model of repentance.

Since returning to his senses, the son has thought about this. It hasn’t been easy.

He remembers that day he asked for his share from a startled father. He remembers the day he left a grieving father. He remembers his self-will and arrogance. He remembers the good times and the parties – and when it all went away.

He looks at himself now in the pig pen. He knows one thing for certain – above all else.

He’s been wrong. Undeniably wrong.

He’s made a mess of his life worse than the one he’s standing in. He weeps softly the bitter tears of remorse. His heart is broken. So is his proud spirit.

We find here no excuses or justifications; no rationalizations.

We find no pride or defiance.

We find no plans for bargaining or negotiation.

Instead we find plain and open confession. We find contriteness. We find candor.

This is a different young man.

He has recited to himself the simple but profound facts of his life as he knows them to be. He knows what he’ll tell his father.

“Father, I have sinned…”

“…against heaven and against you …”

“I am no longer worthy…”

The young man has taken stock of his life. His is an honest introspection.

This is our need.

This is our prayer.

This is our story.

We know this.

When we come to our senses.

When we come to our God.

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What Tom Knew

Tom Chisholm was born in a log cabin in Franklin, Kentucky.

He worked on the family farm and didn’t finish high school. But Tom was a smart boy and by 16 was hired to teach at his school.

He discovered that he loved to write and practiced his talent by composing poetry. Some of his poems he submitted to the local paper. The ambitious young man was associate editor of The Franklin Favorite by the time he was 21.

He had his mind set on a career in journalism.

When he gave his life to Jesus Christ at a revival service Tom ended up attending seminary and entered the pastoral ministry. But poor health forced him to resign his church. He moved to New Jersey with his family and became an insurance salesman.

It wasn’t easy. Tom Chisholm had answered God’s call. Now circumstances beyond his control had changed the direction of his life entirely. What was God doing?

Tom was heartbroken but trusted God and carried on.

This wasn’t the end of Tom Chisholm’s story – it was just the beginning.

Still determined to serve God in some kind of ministry, Tom now turned back to his true passion – writing. He submitted religious poetry to Christian publications such as the Sunday School Times, Moody Monthly and Alliance Weekly.

One day he was reading a passage in the Old Testament book of Lamentations. He was struck by its beauty and power. Tom reflected on his own life, the ups and downs; the moments of exhilaration and seasons of deep despair; times that were good and those that were tough.

Like a mighty river, one grand theme coursed through all the experiences he’d had. Whether it ran through tears of joy or sadness, achievement or disappointment; on the mountains or through the valleys, it ran strong and crystal clear in his life.

Tom Chisholm knew it. It could not be denied.

He wrote a letter to his friend Bill Runyon in Kansas. Bill was a music composer. Tom told Bill that God “has given me many wonderful displays of His providing care, for which I am filled with astonishing gratefulness”.

It was 1923 and Tom Chisholm was 57.

“Please see what you may be able to do with this,” he wrote his friend.

Bill Runyon carefully unfolded the enclosed paper and slowly read the lines.

“Great is Thy faithfulness, O God, my Father, there is no shadow of turning with Thee; Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not; as Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be”.

In the midst of his sorrow, “remembering my affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall” – the unmitigated bitterness of his suffering – the prophet Jeremiah was humbled by a reality that transcended it all (Lamentations 3:19-20, KJV).

Crying out from the very epicenter of his lamentations, this weeping prophet grasped the truth that could not be denied.

“I will never forget this awful time … Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this” (verses 20 -21, NLT).

What was it you remembered, Jeremiah? What was it that, for all his disappointments and trials in life, gripped Thomas O Chisholm so profoundly that he penned immortal words of beauty in its praise?

What is it that we should never forget?

“It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3: 22-23, KJV).

In spite of everything that may sometimes assail us, you and I may “still dare to hope” when we remember this:

God’s compassions fail not – great is his faithfulness!

Whatever else you and I may face at the dawn of a new and uncertain day, of this we may be sure:

God bestows upon each of us fresh mercy and abundant grace.

“They are new every morning”.

His creation itself proclaims God’s faithfulness. Chisholm wrote:

“Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest; sun, moon and stars in their courses above; join with all nature in manifold witness to Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love”.

The Bible proclaims the joyful glory of God’s awesome handiwork. Nature is the divine witness.

Listen to the voices.

“Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and the fullness thereof. Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein: then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice … the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands” (Psalm 96: 11-12; Isaiah 55: 12, KJV).

It’s no wonder we love the outdoors. That’s where God and the angels laugh and dance.

Tom Chisholm also wrote of God’s intimate faithfulness. He wrote as one who knew.

“Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth; Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide; strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow; blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!”

Is this not the shared experience of every follower of Jesus? Is this not the beautiful rejoicing testimony at every Thanksgiving table?

What was that mighty river that ran through Tom Chisholm’s life for 94 years?

“Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see; all I have needed Thy hand hath provided; great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!”

Amen Tom! And pass the pie!

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Party Crasher

She wanted to go.

She was compelled – both drawn and driven.

She was also afraid.

She knew what they would think. She knew what they might say.

They might turn her away, order her out. Perhaps they would publicly humiliate and ridicule her.

Once again, she would be scorned. It would hurt.

The opportunity, she finally decided, would be worth the risk.

She must see him again. He must somehow know her true heart. She must thank him.

She would go.

How she got into the house is anyone’s guess. The invitation list to this dinner party was a long and impressive Who’s Who of the city. It’s leading lights – lawyers, doctors, city officials, educators – would be assembled in Simon’s home.

They would come to see him, The Teacher. He was a celebrity – everyone was talking about him. They said he worked miracles, healing the sick, raising the dead, calming storms at sea and feeding thousands with nothing but a boy’s sparse lunch.

They were curious – they wanted to get a look at him.

Simon, a leader among the Pharisees, was surprised Jesus immediately accepted his dinner invitation. After all, Simon was a harsh critic of this strange rabbi and Simon’s colleagues shared his skepticism.

Jesus was popular among the “common people” – the checkered heathen class – the publicans loved him. This alone would have been enough for the religious establishment to rail at him. His unorthodox religious claims and teachings only deepened their hostility.

Jesus reclined at the dinner table, talking with the other guests. Reclining at meals was the customary posture of the time and place. His bare feet extended slightly beyond the end of the couch.

Suddenly she appeared.

She’d been there, in the back, silently waiting. Now she mustered the courage to quietly step up behind Jesus. She was an attractive woman, in her 40s. Her long dark hair framed a worn and sad face. Yet her eyes shone with a mix of anticipation and anxiety.

There was an immediate murmur among the guests. They instantly recognized her, this infamous woman of the streets. How did she get in? What is she doing here? We know Simon didn’t invite her!

Why is she standing behind Jesus? What is she doing?

This is an embarrassment! Simon, do something!

But no one said a word. No one moved. Shock had stilled the room.

The woman held a “beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume” (Luke 7: 37, NLT).

Luke tells us that she knelt behind Jesus at his feet. She began to cry. She noticed that her tears fell on Jesus’ feet so she took her long tresses and began to wipe his feet with her hair.

Not saying a word, this notorious woman simply knelt and wept at Jesus’ feet. She then began kissing his feet and gently putting perfume on them.

In fact, the woman remains both silent and unnamed throughout Luke’s story.

As he observed the gentle silence of the offensive scene before him, Simon thought about it. If this Jesus were truly the prophet people say he is, “he would know what kind of woman is touching him.

She is a sinner!” (Luke 7:39, NLT).

“A sinner! And an especially despicable one at that! And she’s touching him!”

Obviously, he’s not a prophet but an impostor. A true man of God would not let this harlot anywhere near him.

We’ve nothing to fear from Jesus, Simon thought.

Jesus, the reader of all thoughts and intentions, answered Simon’s mind.

He told Simon a brief story about two debtors who couldn’t pay their lender. One owed the man 500 pieces of silver, the other 50. The lender kindly forgave both debts.

“Who do you suppose loved him more after that?” Jesus asked Simon (Luke 7:42, NLT).

Simon, irritated and impatient, answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt” (verse 43, NLT).

“That’s right”, Jesus said.

Jesus looked into the woman’s tear-filled eyes and gently smiled.

“Look at this woman kneeling here” (verse 44, NLT). Jesus spoke to Simon but also to the other guests.

He speaks to us too.

He invites you and me to see this woman – to truly see her in a way Simon didn’t – and to learn from her something of the Christmas story.

Reminding Simon of his failure to offer him even the customary courtesies upon his arrival that night, Jesus contrasted Simon’s disregard with this woman’s extravagant devotion.

What Simon dismissed as trivial Jesus underscored as central.

Jesus looked again at the woman.

“I tell you, her sins – and they are many – have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love” (verse 47, NLT).

Forgiveness is the cause, love the effect.

The woman knew this, Simon not at all.

Love and forgiveness, Jesus pointed out, are directly proportional.

“A person who is forgiven little shows only little love” (verse 47, NLT).

Despite the Pharisees’ objections, Jesus forgave this woman – fully and forever.

She had the courage to crash a party and she met her Savior. He gave her extraordinary gifts – forgiveness, joy, peace and a new life.

This woman remains nameless because she’s universal.

She’s everyone who has ever been profoundly moved and joyously transformed by the embracing grace of Jesus. She’s everyone who has ever stood in need of God’s forgiveness and the assurance of his love.

She’s you and she’s me.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem to take away our sins – “far as the curse is found”.

He was born “to raise the sons of earth” -and the daughters too – “born to give them second birth”.

Christmas reminds us that God’s grace is greater by far than all our sins.

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How Far?

My Uncle George hunted bobcats.

He also hunted bear, deer, rabbits and most anything else that lived in the woods and had four legs.

Uncle George loved the outdoors and was more at home there than in his own living room.

George was also a Maine hunting guide. He was well-known and respected for his skill in navigating the backwoods of Northern Maine – no small area.

Once, when a hunter was lost deep in the woods and game wardens had just about given up, George was summoned. He found the hunter, who told him he was on the verge of taking his own life, despaired of ever being rescued.

If you’re hunting or fishing in the wilderness, having a reliable and experienced guide is pretty important. You could take the wrong turn, become disoriented, wander to exhaustion; you might panic which would only make things worse.

With a guide you can trust – so long as you listen and follow – you’re safe. No matter how deep in the woods you may be.

You can’t get lost. Your guide knows the way. Follow him (I know, I’m making this analogy way too easy).

If you think this past year was an unpredictable Nantucket Sleigh Ride (a whaler’s term for what happened immediately after you harpooned a whale in the middle of the Atlantic in the 1850s), you haven’t seen anything yet.

We have a new president who will be unlike any in history. The world is a fiery cauldron of instability and danger. Natural catastrophes and weather-related events will rock the earth. Terrorism will continue to pose a constant threat. The economy is always anyone’s guess.

None of this includes the panoply of things that may happen to you, me and those we love in the coming year – or the personal decisions we may have to make.

Yes, we need a Guide.

Fortunately, we have One. He’s experienced. He’s knowledgeable. He sees the road ahead. He understands the terrain – he made it. He cares about you and me and wants to lead us through whatever the future holds.

He knows that too – the future – very handy when you’re the guide.

God not only knows the future – he thought it, planned it, choreographed it, ordered it and completed it before he created a single star.

We’re continually surprised by the course of human events. God never raises an eyebrow.

God’s a lot more than a very lucky fortuneteller gazing into his crystal ball.

The problem is not that we don’t know what God can do. The problem is we refuse to trust him to do it. That’s always the issue isn’t it? It’s not that we don’t know – it’s that we don’t believe.

The poet T.S. Eliot summarized the Christian dilemma this way:

“The greatest proof of Christianity for others [and for ourselves] is not how far a man can logically analyze his reasons for believing, but how far in practice he will stake his life on his belief”.

It may be the difference between faith and trust.

Faith is often abstract and safely theological. Good to embrace in calm weather. Trust, as the late Brennan Manning put it, is a “ruthless” practical choice you and I make every day of our lives.

Faith interprets circumstances – trust takes them by storm – and in the storm.

Have you ever wondered why the Twenty-Third Psalm is the best-known and most loved?

Because it speaks of an unforeseen and very personal journey and a faithful loving Guide. It’s the shepherd’s song about the ultimate Good Shepherd Who leads his sheep through all manner of circumstance – the divine Guide Who never leaves, never forsakes, is always very present.

In the green pastures and beside the still waters, but especially in those dark valleys.

No wonder it’s the psalm the dying saints turn to most.

Isaiah tells us that “the Lord shall guide thee continually” (Isaiah 58:11, KJV).

“The Lord”. Not an angel but the Lord God omnipotent Who reigns over all. God himself shall be our intimate Guide. When the Lord told Moses he would send an angel to lead the people of Israel through the wilderness because he’d had it up to his royal diadem with their stubborn and faithless rebellion, Moses balked.

“If you don’t personally go with us, don’t make us leave this place,” Moses pleaded with Jehovah (Exodus 33:15, NLT).

Without God, Moses wouldn’t go across the street. With God, he’d cross the earth.

“The Lord shall guide thee …” God’s promises are sure, his covenant certain. We can count on him. He will never go back on his word to you and me. People’s wisdom, predictions and advice fail us. But the God Who loves us is the God Who shall surely guide us. He’ll never fail – and he’ll never fail us.

“The Lord shall guide thee continually”. God’s guidance is not a sometime thing. In every situation, at every time on every day of our lives God directs our steps and guides our choices.

No matter how difficult or complex things may become for us – no matter how desperate or alone we may feel, God is with us. He will be a light unto our path and a lamp unto our feet.

Always.

Do you trust him – really?

In 2017, how far in practice will you stake your life on your belief?

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Try This

It was a cold, blustery night.

They sat in the living room in front of a vigorous fire.

The two old maids, each in her 80s, said little.

Finally, one of them began to quietly sob.

“What’s the matter?” asked the other.

“Well,” she said, “I was just thinking that if I had a little baby and he got too close to that fire and got burned, how sad I’d feel”.

My dad turned to me with a big grin. He loved stories, especially ones with humor and a point.

“You see, Jack, that old maid was worrying over nothing. It hadn’t happened, it wasn’t going to happen and it couldn’t happen. Yet there she sat, worrying”. Then he leaned in toward me and chuckled. “We spend too much time worrying, and it’s usually over nothing.”

My dad, who had survived Iwo Jima, didn’t worry over much. He always did what he could and for the rest he relied on God. Of all the emotions I saw him display, I don’t ever recall my dad in a panic. In fact, during a crisis is when his calm and clear-headed steadiness took over.

He was a man of courage, which means, as Hemingway put it, he showed “grace under pressure”.

Christians sometimes forget that worrying is a sin.

We don’t often think of it that way. It’s not obvious or blatant like adultery, murder or lust. If worry were a creature, it wouldn’t be a serpent; it would be a little fox. And King Solomon warned us about “little foxes” running through the vineyard of our lives.

We either confuse worrying with concern, we cover it up or we excuse it. I suppose of all the sins I commit, worrying is the easiest and most subtle. It happens sometimes so naturally I don’t even realize it. Situations come up and there I am, wondering and worrying about what’s next.

I wish I was more like Dad.

We’ve got a whole year ahead of us in which we can choose to worry or to trust God.

Worry is one of the biggest joy-robbers in our lives. It impacts our whole disposition, our attitude toward life, and our relationships with others, including and especially our relationship with God.

The respected Greek scholar W. E. Vine said of worry:

“Anxiety harasses the soul; it enfeebles, irritates, ruffles the temper, is a sign of mistrust and failing obedience and distracts the mind from communion with God”.

A day of worry, it has been pointed out, is more exhausting than a week of work.

The Apostle Paul offers you and me a categorical antidote to worry. It’s a tested and true prescription. All we need to do is fill it out in obedience and take it by faith.

This could change my year – and my life! Perhaps it could change yours.

“Don’t worry about anything”, Paul tells the Philippians, “instead, pray about everything” (Philippians 4:6, NLT).

Notice how mutually exclusive these two commands are. To worry is not to pray, Paul says, and to pray is not to worry. You really can’t do both.

Paul is mutually exclusive. He’s also comprehensive.

“Be careful [anxious] for nothing” the King James renders it (emphasis added), “but in everything by prayer …” (emphasis added). There are no exceptions, no conditions and no limitations. There’s not a single issue, problem, situation or circumstance in your life or mine in which it’s OK to worry and not to pray.

There’s no crisis too big or complicated or involved for this prescription not to apply or not to work.

Not one.

It’s nothing – and it’s everything.

The prayer which Paul tells us to pray is one of “supplication with thanksgiving” in which we confidently let our “requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6, KJV).

This is the meaning of true worship.

We come before God in praise and thanksgiving and we pour out our heart to him.

“Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done” (verse 6, NLT).

In essence, Paul tells us to stop worrying and start worshiping. When we do this – when we decide not to worry but to pray instead – what happens? What is the result?

“And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, KJV).

What a promise!

We’ll have peace. It’s the by-product of trust and prayer.

We’ll have peace in our hearts and peace in our minds. And we’ll have peace in our storms. In a world where one crisis after another keeps us perched upon a precarious precipice of uncertainty and division; in a year in which God only knows what will happen; you and I can enjoy peace of heart and peace of mind.

We won’t fully understand it but we will fully know it.

This peace of God will keep us – guard us and protect us – every day and in every circumstance.

When we stop worrying and start worshiping – when we stop fretting and start praying:

“Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, NLT).

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to try this.

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