Archive for October, 2014

Following the stunning victory at Yorktown during the Revolutionary War, the victory over the British was still far from being assured. Our early government had insufficient funds to pay the men serving in the Continental Army, and they were very unhappy. Even high-ranking officers spoke of taking the law into their own hands. To make matters worse, the Continental Congress cut expenses by reducing the number of regiments. Soldiers had risked their lives, only to be sent home in poverty as soon as they weren’t needed.

As usually happens in revolutions, top leadership in the army realized that with a weak, fledgling central government, they held the real power. There was only one man standing in their way: George Washington.

In what historian James Thomas Flexner calls “probably the most important single gathering ever held in the United States,” General Washington had to face the wrath of his own officers. The contentious meeting took place on March 15, 1783. Washington spoke of his selfless love for his country and his soldiers, and his confidence that in the end, the government would act appropriately and pay them what they were due. He begged the men not to destroy their own new nation.

But when Washington had finished his prepared speech, he saw that his war-toughened officers were unmoved. His heart must have almost stopped beating, realizing that anarchy was about to cut short his dream of seeing a new nation come into existence. Sensing that the soldiers were planning to quit and go home, he reached into his pocket, pulled out a letter from a Congressman, and prepared to read it. Could a statesman’s word reach these disheartened men when his words had failed?

It was at this point that something seemed to go wrong. Washington seemed confused; he stared at the paper helplessly. The officers leaned forward, their hearts beating rapidly with anxiety. The man destined to become our country’s first president pulled from his pocket something that only his most intimate friends had ever seen him wear: a pair of eyeglasses. “Gentlemen,” he said, “You will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country.” The soldiers he had led with such skill and valor began to weep. Washington had saved the United States from tyranny and civil discord.”

Later on, Thomas Jefferson would reflect on this incident and comment: “The moderation and virtue of a single character probably prevented this Revolution from being closed.” Neither Washington’s rhetoric nor his sacrificial love for his country was enough to convince his men to fight on until they could see the United States officially born. His weak eyes proved decisive, and his men’s hearts were won.

When I think of leaders like those who were in charge of giving birth to our nation – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and others – I am filled with deep gratitude. The nation they founded will not automatically always exist. It is our duty, and the duty of every succeeding generation, to prayerfully try to choose leaders who are dedicated to preserving the principles that our first generation of leaders installed in our nation’s founding documents in 1776.

How can we do this? First, we must vote. As we approach the election on Tuesday, I strongly encourage you to prayerfully cast your ballot for the candidates whom you believe will lead both our nation and our state in a strong, right and visionary way. The future security of our nation has an enormous stake in the outcome. Also, there are dark clouds, darker than at any time in history, on the world’s horizon.

Please vote prayerfully and wisely for the candidates of your choice! America’s most dangerous vote is the vote that is not used.



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Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, in Spiritual Literacy, tell the humorous story of a Hindu, a Rabbi, and a man who was a perpetual critic who were traveling separately through the countryside late one afternoon when they were caught in a terrific thunderstorm. All of them sought shelter from the storm at a nearby farmhouse.

“The storm will be raging for hours,” the farmer told them. “You are welcome to stay here for the night. I have a problem, however. I only have room enough for two of you in our home. One of you will have to sleep in the barn.”

“I’ll be the one to do that,” said the Hindu. “A little hardship is nothing to me.” So, he went out to the barn.

A few minutes later there was a knock on the door. It was the Hindu. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but there is a cow in the barn. “According to my religion, cows are sacred, and no one must intrude into their space.”

“Don’t worry,” said the Rabbi. “Make yourself comfortable here. I will go sleep in the barn.” He went out to the barn.

A few minutes later, there was a knock at the door. It was the Rabbi. “I hate to be a bother,” he said, “but there is a pig in the barn. In my religion, pigs are considered unclean. I just do not feel comfortable sharing my sleeping quarters with a pig.”

“Oh, all right,” said the perpetual critic, “I will go sleep in the barn.” He went out to the barn.

A few minutes later, there was a knock at the door. It was the cow and the pig.

It is an interesting and humorous story, one that illustrates just how unpleasant and difficult it is to be around a critic. This is because critics are generally against more things than they are for. An expression I have coined fits them very well: “they were born in the objective case and live in the kickitive mood.”

Joseph Addison (1672-1719), in The Spectator, defined what he believed should be the goal of literary critics in this way: “A true critic ought to dwell rather upon the excellencies than imperfections, to discover the concealed beauties of a; writer, and communicate to the world such things as are worth their observation.” All critics, not just those in the literary field, tend to focus entirely upon imperfections. As a popular song some years ago expressed it, they do not know how to “eliminate the negative and accentuate the positive.”

Critics are found everywhere – in churches, in civic clubs, in community organizations large and small, in school systems, in the political arena, and just about everywhere else where people are involved in constructive projects. If you have never run into a critic, it is because you have never tried to do anything of a constructive nature.

A critic is someone who knows how things ought to be done – as long as he or she doesn’t have to get personally involved. A critic never has to have a search warrant to find faults. Why is this true? Those who can – do; those who can’t – criticize.

Someone has said that criticism is the disapproval of people, not for having faults, but for having faults different than their own. Since critics have absolutely no ability to see their own faults, they spend their time feasting on the faults of others.

If you are committed to getting things done, and to making the community of which you are a part a better, happier, and more productive place, expect criticism. Don’t let it throw you off stride. The person who never receives any criticism isn’t breathing.

If the criticism you receive is untrue, disregard it. If it is unfair, don’t let it irritate you. If it is ignorant, smile. If it is justified, learn from it and keep on trucking down the road.


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When adversity knocks on your front door, how will you handle it? The difficulties you face have the power to develop your character and give you strength. Or, they can totally defeat you.

A gemologist uses a grinding stone to make a diamond shine with radiance, but that same stone can reduce solid rock to dust. In that same way the adversity we face can either grind us down or polish us, depending upon the material out of which we are made. Out of what kind of material are you made?

If what you are doing meets with no resistance, what you are doing is not really worth doing. Consider these facts: Without the resistance of water, ships could not float. Without the resistance of air, planes could not fly. Without the resistance of gravity, humans could not walk.

In other words, adversity has the power to either make you or break you – your attitude determines which it will be. Attitude overcomes adversity. Frederick Buechner was right when he said, “Even the saddest things can become, once we have made peace with them, a source of wisdom and strength for the journey that lies ahead.

Eddie Gilbert, a member of the church where my wife and I worship every Sunday, proves every single day that this is true. Because of an injury at birth, he has been confined to a wheelchair his entire life, yet he is one of the most radiant Christians I know.

He experiences every single day the debilitating effects of physical handicaps that would grind at least ninety percent of the adults that I know down to a nub. Everyone who meets him is greeted with a friendly greeting and a contagious smile.

Eddie lives on the block behind our church. As a member of our adult choir, every Wednesday night his battery-powered wheelchair crosses the street behind our church to bring him to choir practice. Every Sunday morning his wheelchair crosses the street to bring him to attend morning worship. It would be wonderful if all the members of our church were as faithful as he.

When Eddie was crossing the street one Wednesday night a couple of years ago, a driver did not see him in time and ran into his wheelchair, knocking it over. Fortunately, the driver only bumped him out of the chair and onto the street – a minor bruise or two, but no breaks. The driver, and others who had gathered, wanted to call an ambulance to carry him to the hospital emergency room.

Eddie would not listen to the suggestion. He said, “I can’t do that. I’ve got to go to choir practice.” He pushed the wheelchair lever forward and continued on to choir practice. “He can’t”, as has been said about lots of people, “carry a tune in a bucket,” but he goes to choir practice faithfully. When the musical prelude is over at eleven o’clock sharp each Sunday morning, he strikes a set of chimes in front of his wheel chair to lead our congregation into worship.

Eddie is an inspiration to everybody who knows him. Last year he was chosen as our church’s “Man of the Year.” People who grumble and complain and whine because they have a hangnail or a minor toothache, and I have known lots of them, could learn a lot from Eddie’s dedication and grit. He chooses to deal with the situation he has been given rather than be defeated.

Those who meet adversity with the wrong attitude are left ground down and defeated. Those who have the right attitude live victorious lives. Eddie is a living example that this is true. When adversity comes your way, with what kind of attitude will you face it?

Consider these elementary facts: (1) A rubber band is effective only when it is stretched; (2) A turtle gets nowhere until it sticks its neck out; (3) A kite rises against the wind, not with the wind. You do not have to let adversity defeat you.

Learn, therefore, to “Do all things without complaining” (Philippians 2:14). It can be done! The wonderful thing about facing and overcoming the difficulties you face in life is that God is willing and able to assist you.


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“Why, God, Why?”

Those who are going through the dark night of suffering often ask, “Why, God, why?” It becomes easy for them to believe that God is omnipotent but does not care or that He loves but is powerless to prevent their suffering. We find it easy to ignore God when we are riding the crest of a wave and everything is coming up roses, and to blame Him for ignoring us when everything is literally coming apart at the seams.

This is precisely the kind of sentiment expressed by Job’s counselor, Elihu, as he rolled back the curtain on the reality of human anguish, “Where is my Maker who gives songs in the night?” (Job 35:10).

Only those who have endured the long night and have heard the Lord’s song in the midst of suffering have any right to answer. But the answer comes to us through Psalm 42. Out of the depths, the psalmist shouts these words of assurance, “The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime; and His song will be with me in the night” (Psalm 42:8).

This was no easy, glib, pious platitude. The writer of this psalm was in the nighttime of his life when he penned these words. He was experiencing more difficulty than he had ever thought possible. Along with other captives he had been led away from his beloved Jerusalem to an excruciating exile. During the days of his long march, he had been taunted by his captors and was ravaged by pain of body and soul. Would he ever be able to see the Holy City again? Would his life come to an end in a foreign land?

All he could do in his darkness was utter a sad soliloquy of his suffering which finally turns into a dynamic dialogue of authentic prayer. As we listen in, we discover how to face the experience of going through the night, find the purpose of the night, and finally hear the song of hope in the night.

The taunting questions hurled at the psalmist by his enemies threatened the very fabric of his faith. His pain, multiplied by disappointment, finally lead him to despair. The question posed by his captors now became his. Under such difficult circumstances he found it both human and easy to ask, “Where is my God?”

Indeed, where was the psalmist’s God? It is the question that every believer finds easy to ask in times of sickness, times of unexplainable calamity, times of life’s bitter reversals. The questions of the night inevitably keep on coming, so that we cry out with the psalmist, “Why have You, O Lord, forgotten me?”

In exploring the presence of suffering in our world, we are ultimately led to consider the kind of persons God created humans to be. Freedom is necessary for the accomplishment of God’s purpose. He gave us the power to choose, which means we reap the benefit of good decisions and suffer the consequences of wrong ones. Without the power of choice, we are little more than marionettes. To take away human freedom, and a world in which suffering is a possibility as a result of wrong choices, would make us less than God made us.

That leads us to the purpose of the night. The purpose is found in the first two verses of Psalm 42, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; when shall I come and appear before God?” It is during our darkest and most difficult hours, times of suffering, times when we are at the end of what seems to be a dead-end street, that we realize the inadequacy of our own strength and turn to the sovereign God for help and guidance.

Suffering gave the psalmist a precious gift: an intimacy with his Creator that he would not have had otherwise. Thus, the purpose of the night – even the darkest night — is to move us from self-centered pity to the dialogue of God-centered praise. Trouble gives us traction as we run to God.

When we are sitting on the top of the world and everything is going our way, it is easy to become so self-sufficient that we forget God. However, when things go wrong and we are lying on our back, the only direction we can look is upward. It is in looking upward that we are able to see God and experience the adequacy of His presence and power.

The next time your outlook seems dark and difficult, try the up-look.


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Love is a verb

Few words, if any, are defined in such a bewildering variety of ways as the word love. For example, it is used to describe:

  • The emotion of intoxicating romantic involvement that leads to a lifelong commitment of sharing and giving in the context of marriage.
  • An overpowering sexual attraction that seeks nothing more than the gratification of impulses in what is often called “a one-night stand.”
  • The willingness to enter a burning house to rescue a mate or an infant child.
  • A person’s attitude toward the university from which he or she graduated, toward one’s pet, or toward a specific geographical location.
  • The affection we have for a specific activity (such as playing golf), or for specific material possessions (perhaps the boat you own, or the car you drive).
  • The craving we have for certain foods, or for a specialized way foods are prepared.

The confusion that people have concerning the definition of the word love is far more than semantic, as the soaring divorce statistics and number of children born to unwed parents clearly indicate. Tragically, what we call Cupid’s arrow often turns out to be Cupid’s error.

The detour from the established standards of a stable society is largely the result of what theologians call situation ethics or the new morality. In other words, the rightness or wrongness of any and every activity depends on the situation, not on fact or established truth. It says there are no moral absolutes other than the absolute of love – as defined by each individual, of course, and depending on the situation. It believes that absolutely nothing is wrong or out of bounds to a person if he or she believes love exists.

It is common for some who live by this philosophy to support it with various proof texts from Scripture, quoted out of context, of course, and twisted to mean whatever they want it to mean. By quoting specially chosen Bible verses out of context while ignoring others, you can justify almost anything – even immorality and/or amorality. In today’s world this practice is a highly marketable commodity.

What is called the new morality is actually “the old immorality.” One of the difficulties with it is that you can never quite come to grips with it, or get your hands on it. It can mean anything you want it to mean. It can be used to justify countless kinds of selfish desires in the name of love. Actually, it is nothing more than shoddy rationalizing.

The language of love and the language of seduction are the same for those who live by this philosophy. Both he who desires a girl to be his wife as long as he lives, and he who wishes to have her for one night only, use the same three words, “I love you.” The three words are the same in either case, but the level of commitment they demonstrate is vastly different. There is a tremendous difference between mere seduction and making a total commitment of genuine love.

What then, is genuine love? How should it be properly defined? What does it look like in action? How can you know when it is present? These are vitally important questions because they enable us to avoid the swamplands of situation ethics. Of more importance, they enable us to obey the “new commandment” that Christ gave to His disciples, “that you love one another, even as I have loved you” (John 13:34-35).

In I Corinthians 13:1-13 the apostle Paul focuses on the kind of love every person needs. He tells us that love is more important than our spiritual gifts, our talents, and our possessions – as important as these things are. In fact, he says that without love we can accomplish nothing, we are nothing, and we profit nothing.

Notice that I Corinthians 13 is not a definition of love. Rather, it tells us what love does. It is any action that is consistent with the will and character of God. It is always motivated by the character of the lover and the need of the person or persons loved. It acts without regard to personal cost, and for the benefit of the person or persons loved. True love doesn’t have a happy ending; true love doesn’t have an ending. Works, not words, are the proof of love.

In other words, love is a verb!


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