Archive for February, 2010

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come (II Corinthians 5:7)!”

Close to the end of one of my least favorite jobs, my boss was evaluating my work before I was to be transferred to another location.  She told me that there had been too much “hand holding” going on with me.  I can’t exactly remember the context of the remark, but it had something to do with her perception that I should be farther along in my training and not require so much assistance from more experienced personnel.

I am sure she was probably quite right. It wasn’t long after that  discussion that I quit.  I just wasn’t cut out for the type of work I was doing. It wasn’t my cup of tea, and I am sure in retrospect that  I would never have improved in my performance even if the company had trained me for ten more years.

There are people, on the other hand, who don’t make progress for other reasons besides a lack of aptitude for the job at hand. These people fail at their tasks, and in their lives, because of a lack of character.

The Bible calls this kind of person a fool. The wise author of Proverbs says that fools are not worthy of honor (promotion in a job, for instance).  They require constant rebuke and discipline.  Furthermore,  the wise man says they are undependable, unresponsive to argument,and ultimately useless.  No one should expect a fool to change, if they remain foolish (Proverbs 26:1,3-9,11).

Christians don’t have to be fools. In the old days, before Jesus came and instituted a better way, the people of God needed hand holding to follow God.  But we don’t anymore.  We’re fully capable of living as people of godly character because God has given us the internal spiritual resources to do so (Hebrews 8:6-12).

There’s no need to go back to the old way of living before we decided to follow Jesus.  Those days and the habits that came with them are dead and gone. His way is superior anyway.

So the next time we are tempted to engage in stuff we did before we really knew Christ, we ought to remember that we don’t have to be foolish.  Instead, we can act like the new creation we are because Jesus gave us the means to do so.


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” This is what the LORD says:’Cursed is the one who trusts in man,  who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD…But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,  whose confidence is in him’ (Jeremiah 17:5,7).”

Yesterday I walked into a room at work while people were getting ready for a class.  One of the students began to mention a problem, but because he is an international with developing pronunciation, the source of the problem in his eyes was not clear to the person he was talking to.  But it was clear to me.  I was that source.

He didn’t notice I was there and kept mentioning my name in his faulty dialect.  Suddenly he looked up, waved his hand at me as if to say, “Well, here he is”, and then shut up.   He was a little embarrassed, and I was somewhat humiliated.

This is the kind of week it has been: a lot of conflicts and a lot of stress, mainly because of incidents like this and other kinds of conflicts.  But when I mentioned that I was in a fighting mode this week to one of my colleagues, she gave me a piece of advice she had received from someone when she was in a similar situation as mine: “If you want unconditonal love, get a pet.”  I thought this was good advice.

Some relationships are just naturally adversarial: parents and children, students and teachers, employer and employee.  In addition, when you are dealing with people, you are dealing with a fallen species.  Man’s heart is warped (Jeremiah 17:9).  My problem is that I want people to love me.  But that’s just not going to happen.

It is impossible for me to have a loving, caring relationship with everyone.  Nor am I required to do so.  Jesus didn’t show His heart  to everybody. He knew with some people it wouldn’t be reciprocated.

When he began doing miracles, people were all agog about Him.  But He knew their hearts were ruined, that they were mainly interested in the miracles and what they could do for them.  They were not interested in Him as a Person (John 2:22-25).

If I expect to get my emotional nourishment from the applause of people, I am heading for a fall.   But if I seek it from Jesus, He will bless my heart.

Because of His death on the cross, I don’t need a pet to get unconditional love.  I can get it from Jesus.  He met the conditions for my approval a long time ago and He is ready to lavish it on me.  

His love is unconditonal in one sense. I don’t have to perform for Him to get His favor. However, in another way of thinking I suppose there really is a condition. I have to go to Him for the love.  His unconditional love requires unconditional surrender.

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“Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them (Hebrews 7:25).”

“…ture World”. “…ed Robin”.  As I was driving down the road last night I spotted these electronic signs.  Because I live around here and know these businesses, and because I possess background knowledge of the English language, I could make out the complete names.

But the power outages didn’t do much for my thoughts about these companies.  My first inkling was that the faulty monikers were truly signs of the times.  I mused that these businesses could’t afford to keep full electronic nameplates going.  Or worse, they didn’t care to.

There are companies that repair these electronic signs.  One of them talks about the need for keeping these signs spiffy on their website: “Dirty signs, faded colors, missing letters and faulty bulbs do nothing for your businesses image. From a good cleaning to a one-time service need to a yearly maintenance contract, the Service Neon Signs Service Department will keep your corporate image fresh and professional.”

When we put our faith in Jesus Christ, we received a good cleaning.  We are like a brand new electronic sign, bright and flashy and exciting.  But as time passes we need maintenance.  If we don’t get it, our own faith becomes stale and we don’t do much to help others with theirs either.  Who wants to learn anything from a buzzing, faulty, semi-dark fellow human?

We have a part in our own repair job. The apostle Paul says we are to continue living in Him.  We have to maintain our faith, staying grounded in Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:6,7). 

We also have a repairman handy.  Jesus is living this day and is interceding on our behalf with the Father to protect us from our ongoing power outages.  He keeps us fully functional.  He doesn’t do a half-job.

It’s nice to know a good Maintenance Man because we live in a dark place.  It’s good to have a reliable Person to call when the lights go out.

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“Are God’s consolations not enough for you, words spoken gently to you? Why has your heart carried you away,and why do your eyes flash, so that you vent your rage against God  and pour out such words from your mouth (Job 15:11-13)?”

I am learning a lot in my new job.  I am a university teacher of international students, which is nothing new for me.  But these students are different from the ones in my last  teaching post.  Unlike the students in my previous job, this current crop are “pre-academic”, which means they are preparing for university.  They’re not there yet.

With these folks, I encounter the type of academic behavior you would expect from  junior high students – a list of “nots”:  not meeting deadlines, not bringing resources to class, not doing the homework, not coming to class.  I am not the most patient man in the world, and this new job has really tested my patience.  Yesterday in particular I felt like a drill sergeant as I pushed and lectured and cajoled my students to act like adults.  I don’t like this type of confrontation and find that having to push people to do what they should be doing anyway makes me mad.  In such cases, I really have to work at controlling my temper.

In one other school overseas, in a new job in a similar environment, my heavy handedness got me into a lot of trouble.  My students revolted.  They blamed me as much as I blamed them.  For a time, the whole situation was a disaster. 

But I’ve noticed a slow change occurring in my heart these days.  I have begun to put people over the standards.  As a result, I suddenly have started to help my students along instead of berating and blaming them.  They still need an occasional kick, but the boot is strategically placed to induce appropriate actions and results.    I think I am a better teacher now.  Ironically, the students perform better when they see I care.

 It seems to be a part of our nature to blame others for our misfortune.  George Bush was to blame for just about everything when he was president.  Other targets of people’s rage are the other gender, other races, other drivers –others.  Rage is all the rage. 

Look at the case of Andrew Joseph Stack III.  The NewYork Times wrote about him recently: “Leaving behind a rant against the government, big business and particularly the tax system, a computer engineer smashed a small aircraft into an office building where nearly 200 employees of the Internal Revenue Service were starting their workday Thursday morning, the authorities said.”   Stack was described by the stepfather of his wife as easygoing otherwise.  Oh, by the way, the paper also mentioned that Stack had marital troubles.

Could it be that this man was venting because life stank for him?  Is it possible that he himself made some wrong choices, bringing the troubles down on his own head?  It could be the IRS was a convenient scapegoat and bullseye for his anger.

We may get mad at our wives and kids, our coworkers, the neighbors, or the driver that just cut us off.  But the most convenient target is God.  He  doesn’t answer back, at least not directly. When in doubt, we blame God for our troubles, even when we ourselves are the source of our problems.  This is no surprise to God.  He is used to the anger of mankind (Proverbs 19:3) 

Once Jesus once took his disciples apart for a much-needed break.  Yet, when they got to their vacation spot they met up with a crowd wanting their attention.  Exhausted and frustrated, Jesus got mad and stalked off with his disciples in a huff, cursing the people as he left –right?  That’s not the biblical account.  The Scriptures say that Jesus looked upon  the people with compassion, seeing them as sheep without a shepherd. He proceeded to meet their needs (Mark 6:30-43).

We could study that story and decide that the application is to be more compassionate towards people, even when we ourselves are suffering. But this isn’t enough.  It is difficult to minister to others when we ourselves are not free.

What is enough is to comprhend that Jesus is enough in our own situations, that  He is sufficient even when we have a ton of needs.  Once we understand that, then we will have freedom inside.  Then we can be aware of the concerns and problems of others and  desire to alleviate their distress.

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“God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised (Hebrews 6:10-12).”

One man is on his way down, while the other seems to be searching for a way up.  Somewhere in the middle, they meet.

In an episode of the popular medical series “House”, the show’s namesake encounters a drunken priest in his hospital’s emergency room.  Daniel Beeson is a priest who is seeing hallucinations, and in subsequent scenes, has all kinds of other symptoms which Dr. House and his team wrestle with in order to determine the patient’s root problem.

The right reverend Beeson isn’t very holy.  He has dumped God because he was treated badly by the church when he was falsely accused of immorality by a teenager.  House, who is pretty godless,  is intrigued by this unbelieving priest and begins to discuss matters of faith with him.

One discussion centers around the issue of why people suffer.  Beeson says to House, “God wants life to have meaning, life’s meaningless without free will.  With free will there’s always suffering, so God wants suffering. I got tired of that argument by the time I even finished saying it. And even if I bought that, what the hell is God doing? Just the big stuff? The acts of God, the hurricanes, the earthquakes, the random killings of millions of innocent people. We better damn pray.”

House is amazed by a man of the cloth having this kind of attitude.  Somehow though, House doubts Beeson is completely gone spiritually.  “So If I happen to cure you, what happens then? You start thinking that God was working through me, that this is some sort of a miracle”?, House asks the priest.

Beeson tells House that his faith is gone for good. But House can’t figure out why a man who doesn’t believe in God anymore can still seek to make a living as a minister.  Beeson explains,  “I’ve been with the Church my entire adult life. It’s my only marketable skill.”  House thinks this is a smokescreen. He replies, “I detect the stink of leftover faith.”

This remark leads Beeson to probe House’s own belief system.  “You want to talk about hypocrisy, what about you? You act like you don’t care about anyone, but here you are saving lives”, retorts the priest. House, who is one of the world’s foremost curmudgeons, blows him off.  “Solving puzzles. Saving lives is just collateral damage”, replies the noted doctor. Says Beeson, “Yeah, nice try. I don’t think you’re looking for someone to prove you right, I think you’re looking for someone to prove you wrong, to give you hope.  You want to believe, don’t you?”

The Bible says that Christians who have fallen away from their intitial faith in Christ hold Jesus up to public disgrace (Hebrews 6:4-6).  So it would seem with backslidden priest Daniel Beeson.  The whole staff knows he is a drunken reprobate.  But somewhere in there Daniel is fighting for his faith.  God sees that.  So does House. And House, who loves puzzles, is interested.   God is using and blessing Daniel in that hospital despite himself.  

The priest could care less about God using him in his present suffering, but even in his fallen away condition, it’s happening. What he doesn’t know when he enters the hospital is that House is already questioning, wondering why his apostate Jewish boss would go through the trouble of a religious ceremony for her newly adopted infant.   Enter Daniel Beeson stage left to help him think even further about the things of God.

What a great, gracious and just God we have.  God doesn’t forget people of true faith even when they fall away.  He keeps His promises and He still uses them, keeping them a part of His eternal plan.

Down deep Daniel Beeson wanted to follow his high priest Jesus into the sanctuary forever (Hebrews 6:19-20). He still has some aroma of hope in his heart.  The last we see of the priest, he is in his hospital bed offering forgiveness to the boy who had accused him.  Beeson is on his way back to physical health as well.          

We may feel as if living our lives is akin to being on the deck of a ship in a huge storm.  We are rocking and rolling with the boat. Our heads are dizzy and confused, our bodies are exhausted, our emotions are a mess and our spirits are frayed at the edges.  Yet, as Matthew Henry says, our ship has  a destination: eternity. It also has an anchor: hope in the saving work and ongoing ministry of Jesus Christ.   

Our need in our suffering is to encourage ourselves in this hope.

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“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good..(He) gives food to every creature. His love endures forever (Psalm 136:1,25).”

We’re trying to eat organic food around our house.  I am actually surprised that I find it palatable. In some cases, I even like it.  Organic peanut butter and organic ice cream are pretty good.

In the past I knew times were tough when pea soup started to appear on our dinner table.  This dish is a staple of Finland, my wife’s country of origin. Although not pea soup’s biggest fan, it has grown on me.  With a little salt and pepper I even like it. But the main thing is that it is cheap.

I have to admit, though,  I don’t always like certain foods, especially if I eat them day after day after day. In the past I have burned out on apples, cucumbers, and carrots, for example. After a constant intake of  certain foods I have had enough.  I complain.

“Beans, Bacon and Gravy” is a song which expresses the attitude of a Depression-era man who is tired of the same old grub.  Popularized by Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, the song is something of a lament about having to repeatedly eat these cheap offerings.   

“Oh, those  beans, bacon and gravy,
They  almost drive me crazy,
I eat them, I see them in my  dreams.
When  I wake up each morning
And an other day is  dawning,
know I’ll have another mess of  beans.”


The people of ancient Israel also had their own economic depression and sang the blues like the author of the above lyrics.  The Israelites had left Egypt, where they were slaves, and God fed them with a heaven-sent food called manna.  But the Israelites grew sick of it. Their attitude after constant meals of manna was, “Manna-Schmanna!”.  They wanted to go back to the buffets they remembered from Egypt. 

While they could recall the better food in Egypt, they seemed to have forgotten the painful slavery which God had delivered them from when he removed them from there.  They whined and complained about their seeming hardship, and the food they had to eat was at the center of the whining (Number 11:4-7).

The ancient Israelites weren’t the only people in the Bible to have a preoccupation with food.  In describing some people who he said “live as enemies of the cross of Christ”, the apostle Paul says that “their god is their stomach”. 

When we don’t like God’s provision, we modern believers are just like the ancient Israelites and the people Paul wrote about.  We grumble.  The grumbling is just a symptom that shows the real disease.  The real problem is that our hearts are not right. We’re mad at God in general and something like a real or imagined poor diet gives us the chance to air our grievances. We make our stomachs our substitute god.  The wise man of Proverbs calls such a person a fool.   This kind of attitude leads to some bad consequences (Proverbs 18:2,6-7).

One of the consequences of complaining is that the air of protest makes life hard for others.  It is difficult to live and work with complainers.  Moses was driven to extreme frustration by the Israelites. Even God got mad (Numbers 11:10-14). 

On the other hand,  people with their hearts right toward God have  a pleasing way about them.  People with good attitudes make friends and influence people and the effect actually in some cases brings them wealth (Proverbs 18:20-21). Ironically, if the complainers would just shut up, their chances of improving their situations, including the quality of their suppers, would increase! 

When I was a young man, I trusted in Christ.  My friends from high school who were already believers told me after I came to Christ that they could not stand being around me in the old days. I was an habitual complainer. This changed after I put my trust in Christ.  People notices I didn’t complain anymore.

The old ways have a tendency to creep back in, however.  I am a pretty good complainer again in my middle age.  When things don’t go right, I beef.

What God really wants from me is thanks.  After all, He is the one that provides my daily sustenance.  When I whine and complain, I question his character.  I am telling God He doesn’t really care, that His goodness isn’t good enough.

Even the worker in the Depression knew to give God thanks:

“We congregate each morning
At the county barn at dawning,
And everyone is happy, so it seems.
But when our work is done
We file in one by one,
And thank the Lord for one more mess of beans.”

Surely we can come up with some reasons to thank God,even if we wished that our circumstances, including our repasts, were of higher quality.  I like the spirit of the following meal time prayer (which can be sung to the tune of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee”):

 “Thank you for toast and jam,
Thank you for eggs and ham,
We thank you, Lord (da, da, da, da)
Thank you for beans and spam,
Thank you for all I am,
Thanking you best we can,
We thank you, Lord.”*

After the manna, God actually gave them meat, more than they could handle. It seems though that the meat might have been the cause of a subsequent plague engineered by God get their attention. Maybe the Israelites didn’t take care of the meat properly.  In any case, the old adage “be careful what you ask for” is applicable here.  If the people had the right spirit, they might have seen that God was actually trying to keep His people healthy through the manna he provided, that this heavenly stuff was actually a sign of His care.

Some days it’s hamburger and some days it’s steak.  But whatever He sets before us, we should thank the Lord for His provision.  His supply of our needs  shows He loves us and takes care of us.

*Derrick Smith

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“A discerning man keeps wisdom in view, but a fool’s eyes wander to the ends of the earth (Proverbs 17:24).”

Lately the local Starbucks has been playing a lot of soul music. I have enjoyed it because I have an affinity for this kind of music.  My attraction to soul music comes from my early adolescent days in the Baltimore of the late 1960s. Soul music was a distinctive part of the city’s culture. 

The music of  The Temptations, The Four Tops and the Supremes was played at hops and on the local radio.  The soft voices and brassy saxophones coming from soul music  gave the city a sense of community and made Baltimore unique. So, when I hear this music, I am reminded of my roots.  It is a part of who I am culturally.

Music particular to American culture just doesn’t sound the same if it is performed by a European.  Living in northern Europe, I would sometimes hear Nordic guys trying to sing our music. My comment: “Nordic white guys have no soul.”

Now this is not true literally. Of course they have souls. But they don’t  have “soul”: they don’t have what is needed in their hearts to carry off  a song written and sung by a black American.  It’s not a racial thing. It’s just the truth as far as culture is concerned.

The ancient Israelites carried off to Babylon after an invasion of their country didn’t feel much like singing the songs of their native land in their new country.  Somehow the change of location didn’t make it happen for  them.  Their own songs seemed out of place in the new culture, even when they themselves sung them (Psalm 137:1-4).

People who are of the same background can relate to each other because they have mutual experiences.  A person who finds themselves in a new cultural environment has a hard time fitting in.  They have a choice.  They can either try to acculturate, or they can somehow try to function within the new culture with their own customs and behaviors learned from home.  I think the people of God from Israel couldn’t bring themselves to adapt to pagan Babylon.

Jesus is the Eternal God.  Yet he injected Himself into our history and became a man.  He  was able to make the best of both worlds, though, because He was fully of heaven and fully of earth.  Jesus was completely human and completely God, except when it came to one issue: sin.  When it came to sin, He was a fish out of water.  Sin was not something He encountered in heaven and He was not about to acculturate. So he suffered when it came to that aspect of living here  (Hebrews 5:7-8).

Jesus’ goal was not to join in the sin, but to free us from us and get us ready for his world — heaven.  A lot of us have a long way to go in our training program (Hebrews: 5:9-14).

When we come to Christ, we have to learn some new music.  We have to dance to God’s holy tune.  The old sinful melodies won’t do anymore.   In respect to sin, we have to set our eyes and ears on eternity in heaven and in our hearts leave this fallen world behind.  It might involve some suffering to get rid of the old ways, but we have to do it.

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