Monthly Archives: February 2018

Test at Grand Central

Looks can be deceiving.

We are easily beguiled.

Told not to judge by appearances, we do it because we can’t help ourselves.

It’s in our nature to look and decide. So often value is determined by the physical and so often we are wrong.

After his older brothers were rejected, Israel’s greatest king was discovered as an afterthought, a teenager tending sheep.

Well, God told the prophet, just remember, “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (I Samuel 16:7).

On television, The Bachelor took the country by storm, struggling mightily to find a suitable wife from among a dozen or more lovely young women. Himself a handsome, athletic, square-jawed charmer, he is surrounded by so much irresistible beauty he seemed overwhelmed to the point of tears.

We were invited to pity him, flirting and flaunting in so many exotic places with so many gorgeous women.

It’s enough to break your heart.

We are besieged with superficiality at every turn. It‘s a defining sign of our times.

Narcissism reigns, from Hollywood to Washington; from the mega-pulpit to the White House.

In the most famous passage of the Bible describing the ideal wife, we find only one reference to physical beauty. We read about integrity, perseverance, honesty, intelligence, dedication, hard work, wisdom, sound judgment, love and loyalty.

Out of 21 verses, we find a single mention of the physical. It’s a negative one:

“Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised” (Proverbs 31:31).

That’s not a condemnation of beauty – which is a wonderful gift – it’s a verse about priorities.

John Preston discovered the book of poetry in a used book store in his hometown in rural North Carolina.

As he perused it, he was impressed not so much by the literature itself but by the delicately – penciled comments in the margins.

Thoughtful and sensitive insights John decided.

Inside the front cover he found a woman’s name and address.

John decided to write her.

It was bad timing.

The next day John was shipped out to Korea. He was still determined to make contact.

Despite the war, John wrote the woman again – and again. There was no reply.

Then, just as he was about to give up, he got a letter. She had written.

Graceful, studied and intelligent, she had a ready wit and a fine sense of humor. They developed an active correspondence.

Soon, John was smitten. He excitedly anticipated her every letter.

He asked the woman to send him a picture. He imagined what she must look like and he was naturally eager to confirm his highest expectations.

She was reluctant. If love was meant to be, she told him, looks wouldn’t matter.

They wrote each other throughout the war.

When John arrived home, he and the woman immediately arranged to meet. She lived in upstate New York and so they agreed to meet at Grand Central Station in New York City.

The meeting was set for 7:00 P.M. John arrived five hours early. He had brought her last letter with him. And the book of poetry he now so treasured.

“You’ll know me by the small red rose I’ll be wearing in my lapel,” she had written.

As the clock moved them closer to their destiny, John could hardly contain his anticipation.

And then he saw her.

Whatever he had imagined she looked like, this woman exceeded it. Tall, perfectly formed, and stylishly attired, she moved with grace and confidence. Her dark auburn hair cascaded around the most beautiful face he had ever seen.

She was simply stunning. As she walked towards him, he noticed her creamy complexion and then her riveting green eyes.

John caught his breath and rose to greet her.

Then his heart suddenly stalled. He quickly searched her lapel.

There was no rose.

John was so stunned he barely noticed her smile as she slid by him and said, “Going my way soldier?”

How desperately he wanted to turn and follow this young and graceful beauty.

He didn’t.

A few yards behind the beautiful woman, John saw another. She stood there expectantly.

She was a bit short and on the slightly stout side. Her face, though unadorned, was kind and friendly. She was wearing a plain sweater and printed dress. She carried a pocketbook.

She was a bit older than John thought she’d be.

This woman was wearing a small red rose in her lapel. John knew this was a test. This is why she didn’t send him a picture. But he knew what was inside and that was more than enough.

He smiled and embraced her.

“Would you like to go to dinner?”

The woman seemed confused.

“Look son,” she told John, “I don’t know what this is all about. But that young woman who just walked by came up to me about ten minutes ago and asked me to put this red rose in my lapel. Then she said that if you asked me out to dinner, I should tell you that she’ll be waiting for you in the restaurant across the street.”

The woman smiled.

“She said it was some kind of test.”

Celebrate the inner beauty first.

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The Beauty and the Power

They came from many.

Simple messages of concern and support.

“We are praying for Finley.”

Our four-year old grandson was back in the hospital, running a slight fever.

For most kids, this might mean aspirin, liquids and a good night’s rest.

Finley has leukemia.

His immune system is very vulnerable to the slightest provocation of fever or viral infection.

Finley has a number which represents his A.N.C.( “absolute neutrophil count”). This number is derived from his white blood cells. Since this represents his body’s ability to fight bacteria, when the number goes down, it’s serious.

Most of us have a count of about of 1,500 up to 8,000.

So when Finley goes below 500, he heads for the hospital. When he arrived at Children’s, his A.N.C. was 40. The next morning it dropped to 10. What’s interesting in all this is that Finley continues to act normally, though he may be in grave danger.

It’s been an interesting journey for the past two years, a rollercoaster of concern and relief. Beth and I have joined Fin’s parents, our daughter Suzanne and her husband Casey, in all the ups and downs.

In their faithful prayers, many others have also come alongside.

I was reminded of this amazing support when I asked colleagues at our ministry, Haggai International, and our church small group to remember Finley in their prayers.

Prayer is one of the most incredible gifts you and I have been given. It’s a miracle of access to the Creator of the universe, in all his glory, power and majesty.

Prayer not only connects us directly and immediately to God, without any human or angelic intermediary to screen our calls. Prayer also, in a very profound way, brings us to one another. It unites us. In all our variegated diversity of personality and demographic, prayer is something we share.

We may decide, act, think, debate and vote as many.

We pray as one.

Christians have a common understanding of the power and efficacy of prayer. The Bible promises us the difference it makes. James tells us the fervent, effective prayer of the righteous “availeth much” (James 5:16). Elijah’s prayers affected the rainfall, James writes, though the great prophet was only human.

Prayer is not some strange superstitious litany without meaning. It is laying hold of all the omnipotence of our almighty God.

Neither is prayer a magic key we turn to get the results we want. God is not a celestial genie in a lamp we rub for wishes. He is no heavenly bellhop.

Though there are examples of God changing his mind as the result of prayerful intercessions in the Old Testament, more often prayer is what God uses to change us than what we use to influence God.

There are times when I don’t know how to pray – or what to pray for. I’m weak when I should be strong. The Holy Spirit helps us. He takes the inarticulate anxieties and longings of our hearts and interprets them to our Father in heaven. The Holy Spirit prays on our behalf; pleads our case before the throne of God (Romans 8:26-27).

Before we ever speak – or try to – God knows.

Better we come to God with a right heart without words than to come with words and a heart not right.

There are times when silence is the best prayer.

We come to a quiet place to commune with God. He listens to us. We listen to him. Prayer must never be a time-constrained void we feel obliged to fill with words. In the silence he speaks in a still, small voice. We must listen carefully to hear it.

This is meditation – “when deep calls to deep”(Psalm 42:7).

We can’t know God unless we talk to him. And neither can we know him fully unless we listen to him. In silence. In contemplation of his holiness. In the quietness of our hearts.

Prayer is a discipline – and like any discipline, it improves and is strengthened through use – through practice. We must take time to pray. We must make space in our lives to pray.

Admittedly, that’s a struggle, at least for me. I’ve resolved to pray more, to make this a non-negotiable priority in my daily life. We can – and often do – pray too little. We can never pray too much.

In his wonderful book on prayer, Before Amen, Max Lucado points out that two things keep us from going to God – our independence or our feeling of insignificance.

It is futile and naïve to want to manage our lives apart from God – or to think we really can.

It is equally wrong to think God doesn’t want to hear us. That he doesn’t care. He delights in us when we come to him. He wants to hear all about it – even if he already knows. He is infinitely patient. He never talks over us.

We must come boldly before the throne of our gracious God. That’s how he wants us to come. God’s loving invitation is a standing one. When we come, we will discover God’s mercy and grace – his strength to help us when we need it most (Hebrews 4:16).

Knowing that others pray for us is a great blessing and encouragement. It gives us hope. It gives us comfort. That’s why we’re told to pray for one another.

Finley’s back home.

Someday he will be cured of his cancer. Someday he will know that many prayed for his healing.

I pray Finley will then rejoice in the beauty and power of prayer.

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