No Golden Calves Here

mercedes-wax

On a bright Sunday morning Larry Lacour walked out of his home toward the car in his driveway. He was on his way to church in Colorado Springs but took a moment to wave good morning to his neighbor who was bowed down in worship. The man smiled as he stood up to wave before getting back to work waxing his Mercedes-Benz.

Dr. Lacour was my preaching professor in seminary and could tell a good story. This is more than a story, however. It reveals a truth I have never forgotten. Idolatry is about more than objects of wood, stone or some other building material.

It is a spiritual issue today as much as it was three millennium ago when God gave Moses the Ten Commandment’s, the second of which was “”You must not make for yourself an idol”. Idolatry, Tertullian said, “can be practised outside a temple, and without an idol.”

Chris Hedges in his book “Losing Moses on the Freeway” explains. “We are burdened by household gods, no longer made of clay, but all promising to fulfill us. Our computer, our television, our job, our wealth, our social status, along with the brands we wear and the cars we drive, promise us contentment in the form of identity.”

It may be a hobby or lifestyle we dwell on through our time, talent, and thoughts. Whatever “it” is, we believe it will bring well-being, health and success. In reality, they are not so subtle forms of self-worship by forces Hedges says “who seek to ensnare us”. Even attitudes of reverence given to a philosophy or a belief can become idolatry if they surpass the importance of knowing, loving and serving God through faith in Jesus Christ.

We would do well to remember there is a God, and we are not Him.

On the trip from Egypt to Israel the Hebrew people took a long rest break in the shadow of Mount Sinai. They sent Moses to talk with God for them on the summit. Although theirs was not the microwave society of today, they became impatient and approached Aaron, Moses brother. They told Aaron to make them gods, i.e. idols, to lead them because they did not know what had happened to Moses.

Aaron obliged them with the construction of the Golden Calf, a representation of the supreme god in that area and the universal god of fertility. They ate. They drank and they indulged in “revelry”; most likely meaning sexual activity. Their search for well-being and something to make them feel good was short sighted. Forty years of desert wandering followed their few hours of revelry.

The LORD Almighty is the only all knowing, all powerful, ever present and ever loving God who desires the best for us, rather than to use people for their own ends. “No Golden Calves here”, we say. It is in our best interest to be sure.

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Don’t Be A Big Head

big-head“Nothing is more humiliating than to see idiots succeed in enterprises we have failed in”, said Gustave Flaubert. Looking past Gustave’s obvious wounded pride when he calls those who succeed idiots, is the deeper quest for success all people yearn for.

Information is essential regardless of the endeavor. “Know your enemy” is an axiom to achieve victory. And, “If you want to succeed you have to get an education” is the mantra of many parents to their children.

However, information without application produces a big head. The most popular professors in business at the University of Arkansas are those who have practical experience, I’ve been told. Illustrating academic knowledge with real world examples both holds attention and constrains unbridled enthusiasm for what “should work”. Some with higher degrees prove they know the facts, but sadly demonstrate through experience they do not know how to use their knowledge to grow a successful business.

Early in one’s career is the perfect time to realize that information without inspiration creates a heavy load. I can know what to do. I can be very aware I should act upon what I know. If the task, however, is all work and no play, no joy, and no understanding of how doing the task will make life more pleasurable, it makes life all grunt and groan. I should do this. I must do that. Why is that still not finished?

Consider this example. Most automatic coffee brewers include an instruction book containing a maintenance section. It contains products and usually the amount to use at a set period of time to keep the machine functioning well over its lifetime. Many people never read the instructions or choose to ignore them if they do. The truth is using tap water in your coffee pot without regularly descaling it with vinegar or a commercial powder will cause the appliance not to function. No water can make its way through the brew chamber because mineral deposits from the water eventually will clog the water line. Using distilled water will leach minerals out of the metal leading to a similar “it quit working” effect although over a longer period of time. Knowledge is useful and must be applied for good effect.

“I did not know!” countless repairmen have heard. I may choose not to read the owners manual. Consequently, essential maintenance is not performed; maintenance that would prevent an early breakdown. Similarly, life is often easier when we ignore doing what we should do or should have known to do. Ignorance may be bliss but only for a short time. “The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge” (Proverbs 18:15). In addition, the wise put their knowledge to work. It is what wisdom is all about.

Psalm 73:11-12, 17-18 celebrates the gift of God’s covenant instruction, as the perfect guide for life. Jesus said much the same in John’s Gospel. “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Free, that is, from the lack of knowledge, lack of motivation, and lack of proper application to live with as few problems and as many success’ as possible.

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“None can have riches without being greatly endangered”

wealth green tea

Columbia University professor of business Sheena Iyengar tells this story: When I was a PhD student, I was studying Japanese. So I went to Japan for a couple of years. A strange thing happened to me on my first night. When I ordered this cup of green tea, the waiter brought it over and I asked for some sugar. The waiter said politely we don’t put sugar in our green tea. I said, “I understand in Japan you are not supposed to put sugar in your green tea. But I am an American — could you forgive me and let me have some?” The waiter hesitated and I insisted. Then the waiter went and talked to the manager. Finally the manager comes and says “Sorry, we don’t have sugar.” I said, “Okay, I’ll order a cup of coffee.”

And I get the cup of coffee and on the saucer are two packets of sugar! At first I am outraged. He is violating my rights as a customer. But in Japan they were protecting me from committing the ultimate faux pas — drinking my tea incorrectly.

God rarely is as stringent in keeping someone from a particular action. He may send a warning from a friend, put an article or book in front of us or cause a pang of conscience. Rarely, however, does God shut a door, lock it, and throw away the key.

God cares deeply, but gives us a choice. For example, wealth can be quite enjoyable and used to help others. It may be quite destructive, also. God’s loving concern about wealth shines clearly through the Psalmist and is echoed many other places in Scripture. “Though your riches increase, do not set your heart on them.”

“Heart” refers to the center of a person’s thoughts, will, emotions, and knowledge of right from wrong (conscience). John Wesley writes “From that express declaration of our Lord, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven,” we may easily learn, that none can have riches without being greatly endangered by them.”

Wealth tends to lead us away from God. We become less generous and more selfish when considering the percent of income kept and the percent given away. Often, time building and enjoying family, friends, and coworkers is sacrificed in order to spend more time on the task of making more money.

In other words, wealth tends not to enhance life in the places that really matter. Rather, wealth often detracts from the very people and values we think we need more money for. Wealth becomes “mine” rather than a tool placed at God’s disposal to bless others and lead them into an abundant everlasting life with Jesus. Jesus said, “You cannot serve both God and Money”.

What is a person to do? Give money away as quickly as it is received? Possibly. Another is to surround yourself with two or three accountability partners to explore the books or who are in a position to observe if you keep your stated goals.

There can be only one top priority in life. God makes the rest of life rich when everything else is secondary. What is the priority revealed by the use of time, finances, and ability in your life and mine?

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Eyes, the Windows to Who We Really Are

eyes feareye tears

 

 

 

 

eyes angry

“Have mercy! This thang’s killin’ me!” Mr. Barron hollered back, ‘John! … And he kept hollerin’, “Oooooh…. shoot this thang. Have Mercy!” If you do not recognize these lines from Jerry Clower’s “Coon Hunt”, you owe it to yourself to read it. Better yet, buy the track and listen to it. Make sure you have used the bathroom and have not just walked away from a big meal. The story is a virtually guaranteed remedy for depression and the blues told by one of the country’s top comedians until his death in 1998.

The cry for mercy, however, is not a laughing matter in the real world. Mercy, compassion for the miserable, is something everyone needs. Folks may not call out for it as John did in “Coon Hunt”, but everyone finds himself or herself in a place of misery from time to time. You can see it when you look into their eyes, the windows to who we really are and what we really think.

Look into a person’s eyes the next opportunity you have. Staring, blinking, averting, inviting ignoring, sparkling, entreating eyes can speak louder than words. A person’s eyes can tell you something they are not confident enough to say out loud, yet are desperate to communicate. They may think, “What words can convey the feeling of misery and hopelessness of being trapped in this quicksand of misery?”

Not only may eyes communicate the need for mercy, eyes can lift heavy hearts when the right contact is made. They can give compassion, forgiveness, hope, strength and love.

Do you see eye-to-eye with God? Do you want him to see what is in your thoughts and emotion? Why avert his eyes and the forgiveness, love, and ability to lift your soul they bring? Let God see. Tell him how you feel as he looks into you. Allow God’s gift to flow into your need through his gaze.

Pray to live in such a way as to perceive God’s welcome even when others seek to shut us out. Pray to share the gifts of God and his mercy with the new person in town, at work, and your neighborhood that may feel nobody sees me or cares. Perhaps the one who needs you to look at them most is the one who has been a non-person when your paths have crossed in the past.

Why settle for merely talking when you can look into another’s eyes, the windows to who they really are?

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Together

sch beg

The distinguished writer Oliver Wendell Holmes received a lesson in humility one day from an unlikely source. He was out for a stroll, and a little girl overtook him. They walked together for a time. When the girl mentioned it was time to go home, he said, “Tell your mother, when she asks you where you’ve been, that you’ve been out walking with Oliver Wendell Holmes.”

The little girl didn’t miss a beat. She turned to the famous jurist and writer and said, in all innocence, “When your folks ask you where you’ve been, tell them you were out walking with Mary Susanna Brown.”

Once we can get the titles and pretensions out of the way, the real human encounter, one heart meeting another, becomes a reality. Every soul desires it. It is a fruit worth cultivating—together.

The beginning of school signals for many the end of summer and the beginning of new challenges, new opportunities, and new beginnings. Individuals gather into classes and classes into schools. Persons instinctively sense they can go farther together than solo. Our hearts desire companions on the journey.

Newcomers to the community often look for a new church home, a place that draws them closer to Jesus and helps them become more like the Master. Sadly, the search can overlook the value of different approaches and gifts. The goal ceases to be about relationship and focuses on best. Who has he best youth group, children’s ministry, small group ministry, community outreach, worship team, preacher, or facility?

There are many great Christ like fellowships in Siloam Springs. The focus on some is outreach; helping more and more people fall in love with Jesus and commit to following him. For another it is making the Presence of Christ tangible in order to bring hope to the hopeless, healing for the broken, and family to the fatherless. One church put it this way, “to be Jesus with skin”. This community does not need another event. Finally, one fellowship said they would like for everyone to have a tee shirt emblazoned with the words “Regardless who wins the White House, Jesus is still King”.

Yes, we have some great Christian churches. Where is God calling you to lend a hand? Which fellowship can help you be most like Jesus for the sake of others? Imagine if our town only had one teacher, one EMT specialist, one doctor, or one friend. No one can fill everyone’s needs. God gives different gifts and different tasks to people and fellowships to build the body of Christ. God is counting on us to work together in the wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit because we love Him.

Commit to a team. Get off the sidelines. Suit up. Run onto the field. Together our community of faith wins. God rejoices and those who live around us are blessed.

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On this we agree

evil

Evil exists in this world. Do you agree?

Consider the following. Chemical warfare. Beheadings. Suicide bombers. Sex slave traders. Financial traders stealing pensions and life savings. Phone scammers. Governments only concerned with their own power and influence. People who walk on and over anyone who stands between them and the top, especially as it relates to personal pleasure. The list seems endless.

Evil is defined as “a force in nature that governs and gives rise to wickedness and sin”. If this refers to the fallen human nature that includes both original sin plus actual sins humans choose to commit, I agree.

Everyone inherits the spiritual disease called original sin, which was first observed after Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden. Why did they do it? They wanted to become their own god.

This ‘”force in nature” is not Mother Nature, El Niño, or La Niña.

What secularists consider impersonal, Christians consider very personal in a spiritual sense. Spiritual does not mean not real or real only in a psychological way or as a metaphor.

Lucifer, Satan, the Destroyer, Father of Lies, and Beelzebub are just some of the names for a fallen archangel cast from heaven to earth. Jesus referred to him as the prince of this world whose time is finite and who will be imprisoned when Christ returns.

Satan seeks to “steal and kill and destroy” through unfortunate incidents such as cancer, tornado’s, break-ins, and death. Often he works through the gossip and greed of people.

And, I have heard people describe very personal attacks by Satan or those he commands called demons. James, the brother of Jesus, clearly believed demons were real even though many people relegate them to make believe and movies today.

Evil may also be actions that are morally wrong or bad and actions that cause physical injury or emotional harm. The actions of a person may be or cause evil, but the person themselves is not.

Missing this distinction frequently leads to revenge not justice and the destruction of lives rather than their rehabilitation. Everyone is a sinner; i.e. do wrong things.

Few people are so bad as to be labeled evil. Consequently, please do not confuse the person with the evil they participate in. “The wicked or immoral part of someone”, is not the totality of who they are.

Nice, France; Munich, Germany; and Istanbul, Turkey have known intense evil these last few days.

The perpetrators had a “wicked or immoral part” but are not total evil. They may influence others to do evil, but they should not be considered beyond the reach of rehabilitation.

Who will reach out to them, how will they attempt it, and will they keep trying if their efforts are not met with immediate success?

Someone reached out to each of us. “Are we any better? Not at all!…As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one”.

Evil must be resisted and evil must be destroyed. Jesus did his part. He has conquered Satan and will imprison him in hell. Until then, we must choose to overcome evil and encourage others to do the same with the rehabilative help of the Holy Spirit.

Make no mistake, however, we fight the Evil One and the evil present in every human when we love them and seek to persuade them to choose Jesus Christ as their savior. Agreed?

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The Way of Escape  

Love AlikeHow can the nation escape headlines such as these? “Hundreds Mourn Officer Killed in Dallas Police Shooting”. “Police Shoot Man in Baton Rouge”. “Atlanta Police Officer Charged With Murder In The Shooting Of Unarmed Black Man”. “Baton Rouge: Three US police officers shot dead”.

Stop! Just stop killing. “Do not murder.” Life matters. Yours. Others. The unborn (Ex 21:22). “Do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Although this is a Christian text, the truth of the Golden Rule is not hard to find in most major religions of the world. Blacks kill whites and whites kill blacks. Civilians kill cops and the police kill civilians. Muslims kill those of other faiths and other faiths kill Muslims. It must stop.

Do not be quick to rush judgment. There were six Levitical cities of refuge a person who accidentally killed someone or accused of murder could flee to prior to standing trial. It takes time to calm emotions and discover facts. Find a safe place to become Holy Spirit centered.

Forgive. Forgiveness does not overlook wrongdoing. It does not sweep it under the rug or say it is okay. Forgiveness is an act of the will. It chooses to extend mercy rather than revenge or justice. Forgiveness acknowledges the wrong and its pain then moves forward in strength, not weakness, to put the wrong in the past. It refuses to remain shackled by bitterness and looking behind. Forgiveness enables a new day to begin even as it acknowledges the possibility that the past could repeat itself.

What might the ending of Romeo and Juliet look like if Shakespeare had woven forgiveness into his story? Could the Hatfield and McCoy feud have been diffused with a liberal dose of forgiveness? Why should the past mar the future when forgiveness enables a fresh start?

Listen and learn. Seek to understand before seeking to be understood. Listening to those you disagree with does not mean you must agree or inevitably will cause you to change your position. However, listening may help you gain a deeper context, appreciate the path and struggles others have walked, and understand them, their beliefs and actions better. How could it not help both sides live together more amicably? Don’t judge another until you have walked a mile in their shoes.

The Old Testament phrase “an eye for an eye” is widely misunderstood. It is often seen as permitting, even encouraging, vicious retribution. In reality, it forbids endless mindless revenge by requiring proportionate retribution. You cannot take a person’s life that stole from you. Jesus, while not directly rewriting civil law, does not permit personal retaliation at all among his followers. Civil law and justice is not erased. Personal hatred is and mercy toward the guilty is encouraged just as Jesus followers have received mercy from God because “No one is righteous, no not one”.

Life is not all about my wants and beliefs. Nor is it all about yours. Life is about all of us. The killing must stop for all our sakes. There is a way of escape. It is a train that needs us all aboard.

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