|Thursday, November 08, 2018|
Bergen is beautiful.
Like all of Norway, Bergen wreaks of a rustic charm, storied history, and luscious landscapes impossible to capture on canvas or camera. But because Bergen is so old, its hotels are often cobbled together from adjacent buildings creating different levels and twists. For example, our hotel could be entered through a revolving door—or through an alley you might easily overlook. Once inside the hotel, finding your room can be equally challenging.
I kept forgetting that I needed to make a left turn off the elevators and then walk past the “ice machine” (about the size of a Keurig—and rather than cubes, it dispenses tiny pearls of ice you collect in six ounce plastic cups they supply).
To get to our room, you had to continue beyond the electric shoe shine machine, then turn right. Then it was a left turn a few paces later at the window overlooking industrial heating pipes. Next, you would make another turn at the double doors, walk down seven steps—and there you would find it on the right—our room.
But here’s the thing. I kept turning the wrong way. Time after time, the elevator doors would open and I would head off in the wrong direction—or at least feel that I wanted to go in that wrong direction. With so many epic fails at basic geography, I concluded this: my every inclination is to go wrong—at every turn. A light went on for me the vey moment I acknowledged this painful flaw.
Isn’t the same thing true—and even more so—spiritually? Isn’t it equally true that apart from God, our every inclination—all of us—is to go the wrong way at every turn?
Surely Isaiah speaks of us when he writes, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way.” And you’ll notice, it’s always the wrong way! Romans 3:11 bluntly states,“There is no one that seeks for God.” In other words, our every inclination is to go wrong. At every turn. If there is to be any hope for us, we must invite God to be our GPS. Time to humble ourselves and join David in his prayer:
|Thursday, November 01, 2018|
The gray dumpster appears to squat toward you menacingly when the elevator doors whoosh open. It's definitely industrial sized. Apparently we’ve needed the capacity, as we have filled it more than once.
Up there on the 10th floor, the last of us are getting ready to move out of our offices into a new building. That means stuff has to be sorted, traded and tossed.
As someone who struggles with near-clinical dumpster diving tendencies, I sense my pulse spiking every time I saunter past the dumpster So it should come as no surprise that I can offer a fairly detailed account of its current contents.
Some of it is obviously dated media junk—stuff that has previously been digitally transferred: reel to reel tapes, cassettes, old DAT media (Digital Audio Tapes). Imagine my surprise upon discovering pieces of an old logo that used to adorn our wall.
Then there’s the other stuff, a surprising—if not eclectic—collection. I’ve seen old music CDs, well used Knick knacks, photos, framed posters, food storage containers and more.
Now I can hardly condemn those who’ve thrown away these things. Most all of them are fairly worn. And my wife assures me I would do well to learn how to throw out junk with more regularity. She’s right. Still, it’s a bit strange. Process this with me:
We give our time to get money.
We give our money to get stuff.
Then we toss that stuff into a dumpster.
Of course, nothing lasts forever. And there’s no moral law against parting with things you no longer need (again, while not a professional hoarder, I have room for growth here!). Yet for some of us—not necessarily my office mates—the relatively small gap between items purchased and items trashed conjures a sense of almost direct-to-dumpster living. We buy and toss, buy and toss—almost literally throwing away our money.
Surely a biblical stewardship demands we assess the ledger of our lives to make sure we don’t invest too much in disposables and too little in imperishables. Jesus cautions, “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys” (Matt 6:19). But ultimately, He leaves the decision to you and to me.
Treasure in heaven—or direct-to-dumpster living. What will it be?
|Awesome and Wonderful
|Thursday, October 25, 2018|
Kids and Bible verses.
Put them together and you’re rarely at a loss for smiles. There’s just something about hearing young voices quote Scripture.
That’s one reason we’re such huge fans of the Awana program. Nothing like hiding God’s word in their hearts at a young age. Truth is, though I still memorize Scripture, it’s a bit harder at my age. And I must confess, the verses that I can recall the most reliably these days are those that I learned in Awana as a kid.
Our daughter and her husband are doing a great job of raising their four kids—and Awana is a big part of that. Lucy is four and in the Cubbies program. Recently, she worked on memorizing Psalm 139:14, “I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
Lucy’s mom did what all good moms do: sat down and helped Lucy commit that verse to memory. They used several creative tools.
They looked at Lucy’s baby book and saw picture after picture showing how tiny she once was, and how God had caused her to grow so beautifully. Then they reviewed the verse together. The “Donut Man,” Rob Evans, has recorded a song about this passage, so naturally, they gave it a listen. Again they were reminded, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
Finally, Mom asked Lucy, “Can you say your memory verse now, ‘hon?”
This is what came out of her little girl’s mouth: “I am awesome and wonderful.” That’s it.
You’re smiling, right? Me, too. Call it the “New Lucy Translation.” Actually, it’s not a bad rendering—so long as we keep in mind any of our awesomeness and wonderfulness is really the fingerprint of the Almighty.
Say—how’s your Bible memory plan working out? You do have one, don’t you? You say, “Well…I’m just no good at memorizing the Bible.”
Nonsense! God gave you a great mind and a great Book for a great purpose. You are, after all, “awesome and wonderful.” Just ask Lucy.
|If the World Hates You
|Thursday, October 18, 2018|
Imagine being a little girl in in a Jewish family in the thick of World War Two. An impatient knock on the door refuses to go away. But you do. Because you know who it is. You’ve known they would eventually come.
You whisper to your mother, “I’m going upstairs to hide.” Scampering up the steps, you clear the first floor just as a German officer rams his body into the foyer.
You dive into the closet without a sound, buried in the perfect hiding place—the one you’d rehearsed. But is it truly perfect? As the soldiers’ boots pound up the stairs, the hammering of your heart makes you feel starved for air.
The closet door is yanked open, leather gloved hands shove hangers and a flashlight pokes here and there. Finally, the flashlights are withdrawn and the soldiers retreat down the stairs and out the door. But you still wonder if it’s safe to come out. How long should you wait? What signal would prove that it’s truly safe?
This is the story I heard recently watching a video monitor at Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust museum. If you’re wondering how the drama ends, I can add only the last details shared by this little girl—now an old woman—who managed to survive the Holocaust:
"After they left, Mother came upstairs. She said, ‘You can come out now.’ So I did. I asked her, ‘Are you okay?’ She said, ‘Yes.’ I asked her, ‘What about Father?’ Her mother’s answer: ‘They took him.’” The passing of 75 years could not erase the agony of that moment for the little girl with the now wrinkled face.
Having interviewed Holocaust survivors and read books on the subject, I still scratch my head wondering how it could ever have taken place. I found insight in an excerpt from “Mein Kamp,” a book Hitler wrote in 1924. In it he claims, “No one need be surprised if among our people, the personification of the devil as the symbol of all evil, assumes the living shape of the Jew.” Hideous as the statement is, it is an icy reminder that words have consequences.
Consider the evil things that are written today about Christians, comparing us to the Taliban or calling us terrorists. Consider the other awful accusations made about us.
It all takes us to 1 John 3:13. “Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you.”
Pardon the negative tone of this blog. And its abrupt ending. But there is no pretty bow to wrap up some packages.
This is one of them.
|Lessons at the Jordan
|Thursday, October 11, 2018|
It’s a scraggly line on the map in the back of your Bible. The Jordan river. About 150 miles in length, it trickles mostly north to south through the Sea of Galilee and eventually down to the Dead Sea.
The Jordan River is where Jesus was baptized. So it’s understandable that many who travel to Israel today want to be baptized or re-baptized in the Jordan. When Diana and I serve tour groups, I often help with the baptismal service.
Would you write me off as unspiritual or godless if I confessed to you that as meaningful as these baptisms are to the people we assist, the experience is not among my favorites? I can see the shock on your face, so let me explain.
First, the Jordan River is not a clean river. It just isn’t. In fact, it's downright dirty.
Second, the Jordan is filled with little fish that actually nip at your legs while you’re standing in the water. A creepy sensation, to be frank.
Third, the water is cold and, to make matters worse, we typically arrive when the sun is past its prime. Again, not pleasant.
A recent experience in the Jordan left me with two impressions for which I am humbled—and grateful.
We baptized one lady who made this statement in her simple testimony: “I love Jesus dearly—and sometimes desperately.”
A shark could have chomped down on my leg at that point and not given me more of a jolt. How often is it true of me that I love Jesus dearly? How often could I truly say, “I love Him desperately?” Yet that’s the place I need to be!
When through with the baptismal service, we changed out of our white baptismal clothes and took a quick shower. But because of my convictions about the Jordan being so dirty, I repeatedly lathered the soap, determined to “get that dirty river off of me.”
But I was slammed with the thought, Why am I not equally repelled by the dirt of my sin? Why am I not more disturbed about my sin-stained words, my unclean thoughts? Maybe it’s time for a cleanliness “recalibration” in my life. Maybe it’s time for a purification that only the Pure One can bring.
A desperate love for God—and a hunger for true holiness. That’s what I hope comes to mind next time you see that squiggly line called the Jordan River on the map in your Bible.
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