In the Twinkling of an Eye

On my way home from class this evening I saw an amazing sight.  It was a full drama that happened in an instant.  Just before a moth smashed into my windshield, a bat, like lightning, shot straight at me, snagged the moth and swooped up with the air current over the top of the car.  Phew.  It was over before I realized what I had just seen.
For one thing that poor moth was doomed.  Either I was going to smash it or better yet for the environment the bat got a meal.  It’s a dangerous world out there.  I instantly remembered I Peter 5:8.  “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”   Without the full armor of God (see Ephesians 6) we are as vulnerable as that moth.  Satan will get us one way or another.
Secondly I remembered I Corinthians 15:52, “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”  How very exciting to realize just how quickly it will happen.  That is because God is so anxious to have us safe and whole again.  Right now He is coping with salvation, right vs. wrong, free will vs. God’s control, philosophical and theological issues.  But we can be sure the instant everything is resolved and the entire universe is safe from ever again being deceived, that twinkling of an eye will happen.  Suffering pains Him so.  Like any loving parent He will do everything possible to bring comfort to His children.  He will not linger.  It will be faster than a bat eating a moth.

You’re Welcome

I’m sure you have noticed by now that the common response to “Thank you” has become “No problem” instead of “You’re welcome.”  It’s an interesting morphing of language indicating that your request did not inconvenience me.  But sometimes it doesn’t work.  When I think about thanking God for my salvation I cannot imagine Him saying, “No problem.”  My sins are a problem.  Mankind’s sins have been, are, and will continue to be a HUGE problem.  It was so big the only solution was the death of the Creator Himself.  Death is the wage for sin.  But if we had had to pay the price for our sins and died then we would have ceased to be forever.  That was a huge problem for God because He loves us.  He made us to be His companions; if we paid for our sins God would eternally miss us.  The problem was immense.
The solution to God’s problem required a huge response.  Someone without sin had to pay the price so we could be resurrected. If the One dying thought He was paying the price of eternal death then justice would be accomplished.  Thus it was that Jesus cried out on the cross, “My God, why have you forsaken me?”   There was a separation of contact.  The Father had to withdraw so Jesus could experience the price for sin – eternal death.  However, if He were sinless then death had no moral right to hold Him.
Talk about a problem.  This was huge. The Godhead figured out a solution for us and themselves and they did it.  “On a hill faraway stood an old rugged cross.”   So the next time you thank God for your salvation listen carefully and you will not hear “No problem” instead you will hear “You’re welcome.”

The Holy Grail of Coloring

It was Friday before Labor Day 1948.  We went to Kresge’s Five and Dime. Tuesday I was going to first grade and I needed a pencil box.  Every scholar needed a pencil box.  We found one with a wooden ruler, an eraser, a little square pencil sharpener and of course, two (not one, but two) pencils. I was so proud because we also got a Roy Roger’s lunch bucket with a picture of Trigger on one side.
It was when we were headed for the cash register that I saw it.  I had never seen anything so wonderful.  At home I had a box of eight crayons but this beauty was beyond all dreams.  It had 48 crayons.  I could never have imagined there were so many different colors in all the world. This was the Holy Grail of coloring. If I could go to school with that box of crayons I would be the king of art.  (Today you can get a box with 150 colors.  What child could have known?)
All the “pleases” in the world were not enough.  My mom told me my box of eight was more than sufficient.  She assured me I would never use the other 40.  She was right because in all my years in elementary school I never did get a picture on the wall.  It was always a picture by some girl who could stay inside the lines.
When I was a pastor I used to beg God for the power to heal people.  I used lots of “pleases” in my prayers.  God was like my mother.  I guess He knew I would never use it properly and safely.  I would never have stayed inside the lines of propriety and humility and unselfishness.  I would have wanted my picture on the cover of Time magazine.

Really Big Shoes

There’s a big shoe ad in the back of the current Popular Science magazine.  We are talking about really big shoes.  One can get size 20 EEE-EEEEEE.   That is really big.  I have never seen anyone with feet that big.  Do you remember the old adage about someone having big shoes to fill?

It made me think about the Gospel Commission found at the close of Matthew.  Jesus was tasking His disciples with the most important mission ever given.  This was bigger than Neil Armstrong’s NASA mission.  “One giant step for mankind.”  The mission the disciples had was so big it divided history into the before years and the after years.
At the beginning of the Gospel of John we find Jesus saying to Andrew and John, “Come and see.”  They had no idea what lay ahead.  Never could they have dreamed what they were about to see let alone then being challenged to walk in His shoes.
Here we are 2000 years later with communication tools they never dreamed possible.  When I am finished writing this devotional I will press the send key and people in Uganda and Australia will, in less than a second, be able to read this.  God is terrifically reasonable.  When He tasks us He also gives us the tools.  I grew up singing a great old hymn, “We’ve a story to tell to the nations that will turn their hearts to the right – a story of truth and sweetness – a story of peace and light. For the darkness will turn to the dawning and the dawning to noonday bright. And Christ’s great kingdom will come on earth a kingdom of love and light.”   I used to wonder how we could do that.  It was such big shoes.  Now I know. 


There is an amazing similarity between Whac-A-Mole and life in general.  Just when I think I have everything fixed in my house something breaks and needs attention.  Often my wife will point it out and I know I should fix it right away but subconsciously I put it off.  (This is not deliberate.  If it were it would be amazingly immature.)   The delay is so I am doing it because I want to do it and not because my wife told me to do it. I am told by psychologists this behavior is quite common.  It is a man-thing.   Then women think the man has forgotten and she asks again.  He thinks she is nagging and thus the job is pushed even further into the future. 
Let’s go back to Whac-A-Mole.  I digressed into a bit of pop-psychology.  This thinking that all is well and then another mole pops us is like trying to get my character where it should be.  I am so glad that we are not alone with this issue.  Paul speaks of it in Romans 7.  Just when he thought he had things under control, BAM, he saw something new that wasn’t Christ-like. “I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?”
It is not easy.  The world continually squeezes us into its patterns of thought and behavior.  Our challenge is to keep whacking the mole and knocking this stuff down where it belongs.  Be of good cheer.  Paul assures us in I Corinthians 15 that someday we will win.  “This corruption will put on incorruption.”

The World’s Best Friend

Facebook has 1.71 billion users and it is only 12 years old.  It seems like it has been with us forever.  Mark Zuckerberg’s goal is to friend all of humanity.  I almost want to start singing “What a friend with have in Mark.”  I wonder if when in the shower he sings the song from Toy Story “You have a friend in me.” 
Friends are one of the most precious things on earth.  Your bank account can’t hug you when you are down.  Traditionally we close wedding ceremonies with the celebrant introducing the couple.  In recent years I have taken to adding after the “Mr. and Mrs.” introduction the following.  “And may they always be the best friends.” 
One of my favorite texts is when Jesus said, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”  John 15:15.  Friends talk.  And yet real friends are comfortable not talking when silence feels good.  They know how the other is feeling without having to ask.  In a restaurant you can tell which couples are not married.  They are the ones talking.  The married ones are playing with their cell phones checking the weather or their email. (That’s not so good.)  But the point can be well made that just being together is wonderful because they are friends.
Even if Mr. Zuckerberg friends everyone in the world that will not make him the world’s best friend.  The best friend is and always shall be Jesus.  “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”  John 3:17 

The Incredible Prize

Did you watch the Olympics?  I watched them with mixed emotions.  I admire those finely honed athletes.  At the same time I am jealous, not merely for their skills, but jealous of the incredible self-discipline needed to be what they are. 
I heard one of the divers say he started working on a new dive 18 months ago and that was a mistake because it wasn’t enough time to have it honed to perfection.  I found that overwhelming.  
In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul speaks of the discipline needed both by athletes and Christians.  “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.  No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
This is a wonderful passage but has sometimes been misread and used to harass us into doubting our salvation because we are not trying hard enough.  Jesus is very clear in John 3 and 5 regarding our salvation.  When we accept it is a done deal.   Paul calls it a gift. What Paul is talking about here in I Corinthians is the development of a Christ-like character – that is the prize of which he speaks.  I strive as hard as I can – not to be saved – but because I am saved.  Once saved we go into serious training and the prize is incredible.

Being Like Jesus

Forty years ago we returned from teaching in Uganda and moved to a glorious piece of leftover Eden called Calhoun, Ga.  In the very first month of our ministry there I officiated at a funeral.  After the service on the way to the cemetery I was riding in the hearse with the local funeral director.  As we drove out onto the street on the way to the cemetery the oncoming traffic stopped. People got out of their cars and stood at attention as we passed by.  I was amazed and received a marvelous education in respect and dignity.  This was the south.  This was good people who knew the value of human decency.   To them this was basic human values.  This was treating others as we would be treated. 
Romans 12 is one of the most powerful treatises on how we should treat both friends and enemies.  What follows is a sample of ideas copied from the paraphrase The Message by Eugene Petersen.  Jesus would be so proud if we could be like this.
1. “Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”
2. “Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.”
3. “Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.”
4. “Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone.”
5. “Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.”
To be like this in every aspect of our lives is to be like Jesus.

The Elderly Lady

Yesterday my wife attended a CPR training course.  As she was getting up from the floor, after practicing CPR, the instructor, younger than our sons, rushed over to help her get up.  She saw him coming and quickly got up on her own.  When she told me about it I told her she denied him the opportunity to be a gentleman.  “Well,” she said, “if he was going to help me up because I was a lady that would have been okay.  I resisted his helping me get up because he thought I was an elderly lady.  He didn’t offer to help the younger ladies.” 
And there it is.  Motive is everything.  If I do something nice and kind because it is the right thing to do that is great.  If I do something nice and kind because I want to rack up points with others or with God that isn’t so cool.  I am so glad God knows our hearts.  I so often hear people being critical of other’s behavior without knowing why they did something.  Juries have sentenced people to life in jail because they have ended someone’s life.  However, sometimes ending someone’s life might have been an incredibly difficult act of love and mercy.  In the 1950s in Pennsylvania a state trooper shot and killed a truck driver who was trapped inside a burning semi.
We are so quick to judge.  Often quick to say, “That was stupid.”   One of the greatest things Jesus ever said was “Neither do I condemn you.  Go and sin no more.”   Until we know all the factors that went into someone’s actions it really is best for us to hold our tongues.  Silence can be so profoundly wise.

Being Used

She is a Labrador Retriever.  She is a water dog.  So why does she hate rain? During our walk today we got caught in a serious downpour.  This was soak your socks rain.  This was drip off your nose and wish you had windshield wipers on your glasses rain.  So we stepped into a wooded area for some shelter.  While standing there in the shelter of the leaves we were still being drenched.  She proceeded to push between my legs and sit down.  I had become her umbrella.   Under his wings is nice but really now, I think I was being used.
Do we ever use God?  Or should I say try to use God.  Do we ask God to do things for us we can do ourselves?   “Lord, help me pass this exam.”   Well, maybe we wouldn’t need to ask that if we had studied.   “Lord, help me get this job.”  But, maybe we didn’t do our homework on the company and its needs.  “Lord, give us a safe journey today.”  And then drive 90 miles an hour! 
God is eager to help us.  But He is a good parent who at some point says get off the couch and get to work.  Remember the paralytic wasn’t healed until he made the effort to stand up.  The blind man wasn’t healed until he went and washed the mud off his eyes.  We are not talking about salvation.  That is God’s job.  We are talking about the practicalities and successes of this life.  Those are our jobs.  We are given talents to use.  The man in the parable who buried his talent didn’t make his master very happy.