|Thursday, February 02, 2017|
Do small acts of kindness really matter?
Do they make any real difference?
Does God actually take note of them?
I know the Sunday School answer, of course. I know the theological rubric. (I’m a Moody grad, an ordained minister). Still, I sometimes wonder. Do you?
Dusting off old memories
This weekend, I attended an Awana “Historic Walls of Fame” event. We were there to celebrate what God has done in establishing a Bible club now attended weekly by 2. 3 million kids in more than 100 countries.
When the program was over, I met with someone I hadn’t seen in decades: my very own Awana leader. Chuck was also my Sunday School teacher—a kind and patient man. Week after week, he listened as I recited verses, or demonstrated mastery of knot tying. We sat there, dusting off old memories
Then through squinted eyes, Chuck asked, “Hey, Jon, do you remember the time I took you to a Blackhawks game?”
Did I remember?
As a kid, I won a contest he sponsored at Awana and the prize was an outing to a Chicago Blackhawks game. He picked me up at home, drove me to the old Chicago Stadium, bought us tickets for the Hawks game. What a night-- the drama on ice, the roar of the crowd…the magic of being there.
Did I remember after more than four decades? Of course! I thanked Chuck for his kindness then—and his faithfulness in being a great Awana leader and Sunday School teacher.
Rare and privileged moment
Not everybody gets that kind of opportunity--to reconnect over a kindness shown decade ago. So it was a rare and privileged moment we shared.
It all makes me glad for heaven—and it should you, too. For there, every word of encouragement, every thoughtful gesture, every bit of kindness will be seen…and reviewed…and rewarded.
Now. And for eternity.
|What Courage Looks Like
|Thursday, January 26, 2017|
What does courage look like?
Chiune Sugihara is a name most of us have never heard of. Yet this man, born in Japan in 1900, is a soul who embodies Christian courage.
Joining a Christian fraternity at his university, Chiune became proficient at learning languages—English, German, Russian—launching him into a career with Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In 1939, his government placed Chiune at the Japanese consulate in Kaunas, Lithuania. There, he met a Jewish man who had recently fled Poland after a bombing raid had taken the lives of his wife and children.
It was then Chiune realized there would be no stopping Hitler’s war from the borders of Lithuania. He was determined to help the Jewish people living in Lithuania to escape by way of Japan. Yet the Japanese government rejected Chiune’s proposal. What then?
After praying and talking the matter over with his wife, Chiune did what his conscience demanded. The record shows that on July 31, 1940, he began writing transit visas—by hand—at a rate of 300 people per day. Witnesses say he worked long hours, took only short meal breaks, and wrote as rapidly as he could.
Word spread. On September 4, the Japanese government closed the consulate, ordering Chiune back to Japan. But he stayed up all night before he was to leave, writing visa after visa.
"Cannot Write Anymore"
At the station where he was to depart, a crowd of Lithuanian Jews surrounded his train, begging for more visas. There, he handed out those he has written overnight stating, “Please forgive me. I cannot write anymore.” Yet once on the train, he wrote still more visas, tossing them out the open window as the train slowly picked up steam.
No one knows exactly how many people were saved by his courage. Estimates range from six thousand to ten thousand.
Chiune did what God called Him to do: save lives.
And that's what courage looks like.
|Thursday, January 19, 2017|
A comfortable chair, a scenic backdrop—and an all-absorbing book. That’s what Diana and I call ultimate relaxation.
Reading is a hobby my wife and I share with gusto. She reads a wide range of devotional books, historical fiction, cookbooks, and a lot about the British monarchy (she could probably earn a haul on Jeopardy). I read biographies, westerns, action novels (think Clive Cussler), mysteries (John Grisham, Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle) plus Christian writers like Tim Keller, Kyle Idleman, Charles Spurgeon, and J.C. Ryle.
Right now, I'm reading a book by puritan Richard Baxter. I’m learning that any title by this guy is a book worth devouring. I was struck by a grid he created for choosing—or rejecting—books we allow on to our shelves. Allow me to quote him verbatim. Baxter advises:
Make careful choices of the books which you read. Let the Holy Scriptures ever have preeminence. While reading, ask yourself:
1. Could I spend this time no better?
2. Are there better books that would edify me more?
3. Are the lovers of such books as this the greatest lovers of the Book of God and of a holy life?
4. Does this book increase my love to the Word of God, kill my sin, and prepare me for the life to come?
Now by these standards, I’m afraid some of my reading choices would come up short. What about you?
Really, it all comes down to an appetite for readiness. Are we hungry for the Lord’s return? Do we desire Him enough to ready ourselves for Him? I’m reminded of a sobering perspective from 1 Peter 4:7:
The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.
Here’s to good reading—all year long. Quality books whose pages turn us toward Christlikeness, not mere entertainment.
|Things We Claim Are Important
|Thursday, January 12, 2017|
One of the many reasons most of us dread a trip to the dentist is that the news we get there seems disproportionately negative. Whether it’s a simple dental cleaning (“You need to floss more”) or an X-ray (“that spot suggests a problem”) a dental exam is rarely a good news kind of experience.
May I play the role of the dentist-you-dread for just a moment? Open wide--we’re about to take an exam based on a discomforting hypothesis of mine. Simply stated, it goes like this: Most of us Christians have a long list of stuff we claim is important, but apparently isn’t.
For most of us, that list includes things like prayer, Bible reading, sharing our faith. Your list may vary slightly. But a survey from the Evangelical Alliance suggests that nearly one-fifth of Christians do not even have a fixed prayer habit. And for those born after 1980, that figure climbs to nearly one-third.
Have not told another person about Christ
42% admit they have a hard time setting aside any regular time for Bible reading or prayer. The study says—quote—”In practice, only half are managing to do this.”
A Lifeway survey shows 61% have not told another person about how to become a Christian in the previous six months. And 20 percent actually admit they “rarely or never pray for the spiritual status of others.”
Little Anticipation of Following Through
In other words, these things we claim are important to us are really not that important. (I told you this examination wasn't going to be fun!).
Like friends who haven’t connected for a while and glibly say, “We should have lunch together,” we mean well, but have very little anticipation of actually following through on spiritual disciplines. Yet merely claiming they are important somehow makes us feel better.
Just One Chance
Folks, we get one shot—just one (very short) turn—at this thing called life. One chance to impact eternity. One chance to store up for ourselves treasures in heaven.
Those things ought to be important enough for us to do. If not, we should drop the facade and stop claiming they are.
|It Meant a Lot
|Thursday, January 05, 2017|
“Have I got a story for you!”
When my friend, Jack, opens a conversation like that, he usually does.
“Bob sounded upset. I could tell.”
Jack was talking about his friend Bob, whom he has known for nearly 30 years. For more than 20 of those years, Bob and his wife Betty were Jack’s neighbors.
"If Only I Had More Evidence"
During those years, Jack and his wife, Deanna, tried to witness to them, and shared the gospel on several occasions. But Bob is extraordinarily independent and convinced that God will somehow squash all of his freedom should he yield his life. He once claimed, “If only I had more evidence, I could believe.”
But all was not well with Bob, who more than a decade earlier had suffered a heart attack. The doctor thought perhaps Bob might require a stent or serious surgery. He was heading into the hospital the next day.
Anything but heart surgery...
Jack offered to come over and visit—and Bob seemed warm to the idea. So he and Deanna jumped into their minivan and drove the 15 minutes to Bob’s home, praying that God might somehow use their visit.
They talked routine things. Trivial things. Anything except the prospect of heart surgery. And then it was time to leave. I like how Jack paints the picture:
Seemed a bit cowardly
“We were all standing there and I told Bob that Deanna and I would pray for him that night as a couple. But that seemed a bit cowardly. So I swallowed hard and blurted out, ‘Hey, could we pray for you guys right now?’ Bob shrugged his shoulders. Betty was equally quiet. So we prayed right there in their living room, asking God to bless the doctors with unusual insight.”
Pretty cool, I thought. But Jack had more.
“The next evening, Jack got a call from Bob. "He says, ‘Hey Jon, I think your prayers must’ve worked. Doctor said I didn’t need any surgery. Didn’t even need a stent! So, uh…thanks a lot for coming over last night. It meant a lot.’”
Bob is still not a believer. But I’m convinced he believes that Jack cares an awful lot about him.
Someday, Bob will know why.
At least, that’s how Jack is praying.
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