Praying With Expectancy

The great evangelist D.L. Moody once said, “If you pray for bread and bring no basket to carry it, you prove the doubting spirit which may be the only hindrance to the boon you ask.” Obviously, Moody knew his Bible. Over and over again in scripture, we find on full display the importance of actually expecting God to answer your prayer. For example, James 1:5-8 says:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (N.K.J.V.)

Notice how God describes the person whose prayer requests are marked by doubt and a lack of faith. He calls that person “a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind,” “double-minded,” and “unstable.” Get the picture?

Anyone who has been to the ocean knows what a sea wave that is driven and tossed by the wind looks like. Such a wave has its course dictated by the wind. The wave rolls whichever way the wind pushes it. Basically, the wave is a victim of its circumstance. If the wind turns violent, so does the wave. If the wind turns calm, so does the wave.

However, scuba-divers will tell you that the deeper you dive into the water, the less effect the wind has on the water. This fact of nature illustrates the secret to a victorious prayer life. It’s faith that allows you to dive deep enough into your wave to break free from that wave’s turbulence. When you pray in faith, expecting God to answer your prayer, a great calm comes over you. The Bible describes this calm as “the peace of God, which passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). While it’s true that this particular phrase gets used a lot in Christian circles, contextually in scripture it is named as a specific byproduct of prayer.

Even Jesus Himself spoke of the importance of praying in faith-filled expectancy. In Mark 11:22-24, He says:

“Have faith in God. For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.” (N.K.J.V.)

Admittedly, it’s easy to see how the “prosperity” “name-it-and-claim-it” preachers of today can run wild with this passage. The fact is, though, that the Bible is the best commentary on itself, and there are other passages that place certain governors on which prayer requests God will actually grant. For example, if something lies outside His will, God won’t grant that request no matter how much faith accompanies it. As 1 John 5:14-15 says:

Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him. (N.K.J.V., emphasis mine)

Likewise, God doesn’t obligate Himself to grant the prayer requests of rebels who don’t keep His commandments. As 1 John 3:21-22 says:

Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight. (N.K.J.V., emphasis mine)

Still, though, with these types of mitigating factors understood, let’s not make the mistake of watering Jesus’ promise down so much as to make it completely useless. His point is that believing — truly, genuinely, sincerely believing — produces major results in prayer. It’s doubt in the heart that ties God’s hands in so many situations. Why couldn’t Jesus do many mighty works in His hometown of Nazareth when He returned there as an adult to minister? It was purely and simply because of the people’s unbelief (Matthew 13:58; Mark 6:5). He willed to do many miracles there, but the people just didn’t have the level of belief/faith that would unleash Him to do those miracles.

I don’t know what it is that you’ve been asking God to do, but you’d do well to check your faith/belief level in regards to how much expectancy you are coupling up with your request. Coaches are always asking their players to “buy into” the program of training and instruction those coaches are selling. Well, God asks the same thing of each of us. He wants us to buy into His program of training and instruction. But buying into anyone’s program requires a tangible level of faith/belief that the person really will produce positive results in your life. Here again, the same is true of God. To borrow from D.L. Moody’s quote, it does you no good to pray for bread empty handed. You must, instead, bring a basket with you when you make your request for bread. That is the type of prayer that God honors and the type of request that He freely grants.

Posted in Belief, Commitment, Desires, Discipleship, Doubt, Faith, God's Provision, God's Will, Inner Peace, Needs, Prayer, Prayer Requests, Rebellion, Trusting In God | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Day Mitchell Page Ended My Childhood (repost)

(I’m off this week, and so I thought I’d take the opportunity to reuse some old posts rather than write new ones. The reused posts will be ones that have never received a lot of views. Maybe God will use them in greater ways this time around.)

Today is one of those hot, sultry, late July days. The temperatures are in the 80s, and there is a slight chance of the thunderstorms that are such a classic trademark of summer in the mountains of western North Carolina. The trees are as full as they get. The grass has a tinge of brown here and there from the summer heat. Bees, gnats, and mosquitoes are everywhere. Ants are working themselves in double shifts.

School has been out since the middle of May, which means that the boys have gotten quite used to sitting up past midnight and sleeping in late. The summer trips have all be taken. Most of the calendar dates have been met and scratched off. The next major event on the horizon is the return to school. It was on just such a day, almost thirty-five years ago now, that the last second of my “innocent little boy” era was snatched away and I lost one of the dearest things in the world to me: the wonder, safety, and insulation of my backyard sanctuary.

When I was a kid my backyard served as the epicenter of the sports universe. It was a football field, a basketball court, and a baseball stadium all rolled into one. How it was used depended upon which sport was in season. Far and away, though, my favorite season was baseball and my favorite time of the year was summer. Virtually every day my schedule was the same: sleep till noon, get up and eat some cereal, and then head out to play the big game. For me, stepping out the door onto our carport and then out into the backyard was akin to running out of the tunnel and onto the field at a Major League ballpark. I’d even do pregame shows in my head, complete with announcers, before hitting the door.

The layout of my field was simple. Home plate was in front of the side of my swing set. The third base line was the pole of my basketball goal. The first base line was the middle support of our carport. And the canopy of huge trees that encircled our house was the outfield fence. Any ball hit high enough into any of those trees was a home run. All other balls were either fielded for outs by the imaginary players that manned each position or went for singles, doubles, or triples.

I used a plastic bat and ball and batted for each player in each team’s lineup. I batted right-handed for the righties and left-handed for the lefties. I swung somewhat weakly for the weak hitters and came out of my shoes swinging for the big studs. Over the years, I must have gone through fifty balls and a dozen bats hitting for the lineups of Major League teams. I wrote the batting lineups out on sheets of notebook paper, played regular innings, and kept precise score. Of course, my beloved Philadelphia Phillies rarely lost.

I wish I was a good enough writer to adequately convey just how important my backyard stadium was to me. It was my refuge from a world that didn’t always go to suit me. It was my empire where I ruled as undisputed king. It was my personal fantasy land where all my athletic dreams came true. Even today if a psychiatrist asked me to go to a “happy place” in my mind, I’d find myself standing at home plate of that stadium, at the height of summertime, plastic bat in one hand, plastic ball in the other, just about to toss up the ball and cut loose with a mighty swing. No site from my warehouse of memories is safer or more magical.

Ah, but then came that one summer’s day, that one game, and that one swing. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was batting for the order of the Oakland As, and the specific guy at the plate was a player named Mitchell Page. That name has long since been lost to baseball history, but in 1977 Page finished second in the American League’s Rookie of the Year voting to future hall of famer Eddie Murray. I knew all about Page because I had his baseball card from that year, complete with all the information that I would ever need about the man.

Since Page was a left-handed power hitter, I switched over to the left side of the plate and mustered my strength to do his swing justice. I tossed the ball up into the air, paused for just a moment to get the timing right, and then cut loose with all I had in a left-handed swing. To my surprise the ball jumped off the bat in a way I’d never seen one do. I remember that it started off on a much higher plane than usual, a fact that caused me to first assume that I had hit the backyard equivalent of a mile-high Major League popup that would land somewhere between the infield and the outfield for an easy out.

The strange thing was, though, rather than the ball reaching an apex and coming down, the ball kept climbing higher and higher as it soared toward the canopy of trees. I stood there and watched it, thinking to myself, “Man, Mitchell Page shouldn’t have this kind of power.” I was having real trouble getting my logical mind wrapped around the illogical reality that was playing out before me. Higher and higher, farther and farther the ball sailed until suddenly, in a flash, just as surely as it had been headed toward the highest point of those trees, it disappeared completely from my sight!

I stood there for a while looking confused and puzzled, like one of those guys who thinks he just caught a second’s glimpse of Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. I was thinking, “Did what I think just happened really happen? Could it be possible? Would the laws of the universe allow for such a thing? Did I just step out of time and space and enter into some parallel dimension like those I’ve seen on those t.v. shows The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits? Did Mitchell Page just hit a baseball over the trees and, thus, completely out of the stadium?”

With my mind still racing I threw down my bat, forsook all pretense of the game, and headed off to find exactly where that ball had landed. I went through our back yard, down the bank, and into the woods. My eyes scanned every known place where any previous ball had ever landed, but there was nothing white to be seen anywhere.

So, then I made my way further out into the trees, out toward our neighbor’s gravel driveway. That driveway ran along the edge of the backside of that big canopy of trees, with the trees basically separating our property from her’s. And that’s when I saw it, that white plastic baseball lying there in the middle of that driveway. I remember how the white of the ball stood out so vividly against the backdrop of the dark gray of the gravel. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the unimaginable had happened: Mitchell Page had hit a ball completely out of the greatest backyard stadium of all time.

How did I feel at that moment? Well, would you believe that I literally had to hold back the tears? Rather than being ecstatic over such an awesome feat, I was devastated. I felt like a baby bird that had just been pushed out the nest where it had been nurtured and protected for so long. I was now living in a brand new world and there was no going back to how things had been.

I didn’t even finish that game. As a matter of fact, I only tried playing a couple of times after that day, but my heart wasn’t even in those. I had grown too old and too strong for my own good. Now I needed a bigger stadium, and deep down I knew that such a place didn’t exist. Life would come hard and fast from here on out, and my safe place was no more. The yard, landmarks, and trees were still there, but they’d never hold the same fairy dust they’d once held.

Needless to say, after all these years my mind still makes occasional trips back to my backyard baseball stadium. Of course, I can never stay there for long. The past is the past and the demands of the present must constantly be met. But those fleeting memories serve as the lenses through which I personally view those words from Ecclesiastes 11:9:

Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. (N.K.J.V.)

My youth is long gone now, and there’s a certain brand of cheer, let’s call it “little boy” cheer, that I’ll never know again. It’s not that my life is bad now. To the contrary, I’d say that in God’s eyes it’s better than it’s ever been. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes miss those imaginary big-league games in my backyard.

This post got me to thinking about Mitchell Page, and so I did a little internet research on him. I learned that he died in his sleep on March 11, 2011 at the age of 59. Something in me was saddened by that news. All I’ll say is that I hope he was a Christian. If he was then one day we’ll have an awesome conversation in heaven, and I’ll tell him what a profound influence he unknowingly had on my life.

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Ducking Those Spears & Arrows (repost)

(I’m off this week, and so I thought I’d take the opportunity to reuse some old posts rather than write new ones. The reused posts will be ones that have never received a lot of views. Maybe God will use them in greater ways this time around.)

In The Making of A Man of God: Studies In the Life of David, Alan Redpath gives us a wonderful quote concerning the man of God in relation to the people of the world. He writes:

It is impossible for a man chosen of God to be at peace with the children of the devil. A man anointed of the Holy Spirit is immediately the target of Satan…It is possible that for a while you, like David, may be able to soothe your enemy and make him happy if you play your spiritual harp to him. But the moment the world discovers what you are, when the obvious evidence of heavenly reality rests upon you, they will begin to sling the javelins at you.

The story that Redpath has in mind is found in 1 Samuel chapters 16 through 18. The teenage David would play the harp for King Saul whenever Saul was depressed and melancholy, and David’s playing would refresh the king. The situation changed, however, after David slew the Philistine giant Goliath and became a national hero in Israel. Following that, Saul became so insanely jealous of David that one day, while David was playing the harp for him, Saul threw a spear in an attempt to pin David to the wall. The spear missed, but the message was sent. From that moment on, Saul was out to get David.

Whereas Redpath spoke of javelins being slung at David, the Israelite patriarch Jacob spoke of arrows being shot at another man of God: Jacob’s son, Joseph. In Genesis 49:22-26, the elderly Jacob offers up his deathbed description of Joseph. Verse 23 of that description says:

The archers have bitterly grieved him, shot at him, and hated him (N.K.J.V.).

Now, was Jacob talking about literal archers with literal arrows, just as Saul had thrown a literal spear at David? No. First, Jacob was talking about his ten oldest sons whose jealousy and hatred of Joseph had led them to sell him into slavery (Genesis 37:1-36). Second, he was talking about Potiphar’s wife, who had falsely accused Joseph of attempted rape when Joseph had spurned her sexual advances (Genesis 39:1-18). Third, he was talking about Potiphar, who had sided with his wife in that whole scandal and had ordered that Joseph be thrown into prison (Genesis 39:19-20). Fourth, he was talking about Pharaoh’s chief butler, who had reneged on a promise that he had made to Joseph (Genesis 40:1-23). You see, each of these individuals, with his or her actions toward Joseph, had shot an arrow at him in an attempt to wound him.

But why am I telling you all this? I’m doing it to let you, the man or woman of God, know that when you step out into the world and start serving God in an uncommonly high way, you’d best know how to duck. Trust me, stuff will start flying at you! I don’t figure that it will be literal stuff, but, hey, you never know. Just ask David on that one. The point is, though, that the world recognizes the person who walks out of step with it, let alone the one who stands as a daily rebuke of it.

But please don’t let this warning deter you from going all out for Christ. Remember that the same David who had the spear thrown at him wrote about the Lord preparing a table for him in the presence of his enemies (Psalm 23:5). That tells us that God can not only keep His servant safe against the world’s spears and arrows but also provide a bountiful table of blessing for that servant right in the midst of the servant’s enemies. I like the sounds of that, don’t you? So, don’t give up on serving the Lord when those spears and arrows start flying. Instead, start looking for God’s table of blessing. It will be there.

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How To Be a UCLA Basketball Player (repost)

(I’m off this week, and so I thought I’d take the opportunity to reuse some old posts rather than write new ones. The reused posts will be ones that have never received a lot of views. Maybe God will use them in greater ways this time around.)

Dr. Paul Chappell is the founding pastor of Lancaster Baptist Church in Lancaster, California. He tells the following story:

Last week we took our singles on a retreat up to beautiful Yosemite National Park. As we got back in for the evening service where I was to preach, one of our men said, “Pastor, I met a doctor who had brought a group of multiple-handicapped children to Yosemite. For many months they had studied about Yosemite. They began dreaming that somehow they might be able to go up the Bridal Veil Trail and see some of the park. So the doctor brought them.

As they came to this particular trail, it was very, very difficult for them. In fact, they were really just inching their way along. But they had this dream and wanted somehow to make their way up.

The doctor said as they were just inching their way up this trail, down from the mountaintop came a tremendous group of young men – tall men. As it turned out, the basketball team from UCLA had run up and down the trail, getting ready for their season. As those basketball players went by those young children with their multiple handicaps, the doctor said it was as if hope just fell out of their hearts and the actuality of their handicaps seemed to settle in, in a very significant way.

But the doctor said something wonderful happened about an hour later. That same team came running back up the trail, but this time each player picked up one of the handicapped children, put him on his back and ran him all the way up to the top of that mountain, then all the way back down to the bottom of the mountain.

Today, it might just be in your power to give someone a much needed lift. Even if the lift isn’t a literal one (as in the story), it can be an emotional or spiritual one. If such an opportunity presents itself, don’t hesitate to embrace it. It could be that somebody out there right now really needs you. Don’t let them face their mountain alone.

And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:9-10, N.K.J.V.)

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Miss Thompson & Teddy (repost)

(I’m on vacation this week, and so I thought I’d take the opportunity to reuse some old posts rather than write new ones. The reused posts will be ones that have never received a lot of views. Maybe God will use them in greater ways this time around.)

Today, I feel led to share a story that I picked up years ago from well known pastor and author John Ortberg. It’s Ortberg’s story put into my own words.

Miss Thompson was a 4th-grade teacher who had a student who was unmotivated, apathetic, and well behind the rest of the class academically. Actually, the only reason he was in the 4th grade at all was because his previous teachers had promoted him undeservedly. The student’s name was Teddy.

It didn’t take Miss Thompson long to reach the end of her rope with the boy, and her frustration began to come out by way of negative comments toward him. But no matter how much she scolded him or criticized him, nothing seemed to faze him one way or the other. He just took it all in silence. She began to suspect that he genuinely didn’t have the mental capacity to learn.

In desperation, she decided to dig up Teddy’s progress reports from previous years and see if she could find something she could use to reach him. All she found, though, was the sad pattern that had brought him to his current state:

  • “Teddy is academically inferior and in great need of help.”
  • “Teddy has no dad.”
  • “Teddy’s mom is sick.”
  • “Teddy is in need of professional counseling.”
  • “Teddy’s mom has died.”
  • “Teddy lives with his aunt.”

Now the teacher understood her student better, but none of it gave her the answer as to how to help him.

When Christmastime rolled around that year, each of the kids brought a gift for Miss Thompson. Teddy came in carrying a brown paper bag with the opening crudely taped closed. Something was obviously inside the bag, but it was anybody’s guess as to what it was. When Miss Thompson opened it she found that it was half a bottle of cheap perfume and an old bracelet. Basically, it was the tackiest gift she had ever received. She had enough sensitivity and courtesy, though, to make a good show of things for Teddy. So, she put a little dab of the perfume on her wrist and complimented him in front of the entire class.

At the close of class that day, Teddy lingered around until the other kids were gone. This was something he had never done. He stood in silence for a good while until he finally said, “Miss Thompson, you smell just like my mother when she wore it.” Then he left. Miss Thompson cried all the way home that afternoon, and the following morning she walked back into class with a renewed sense of mission. She would make Teddy her personal project and pour more time, effort, and compassion into him than she had any other student.

And how did it all turn out? Well, Teddy passed Miss Thompson’s class. Then he went on to graduate high school. Then he enrolled in college and graduated from there. Then he enrolled in medical school and graduated from there. Every now and then along the way he would send Miss Thompson notes informing her of his progress. The last one came just prior to the ceremony for his graduation from medical school. The note read: “Miss Thompson, I am graduating soon. I want you to sit in my mother’s chair. You are the only family I ever had.” It was signed “Theodore Salvard, M.D.”

Ortberg’s point to the story was that you, Christian, are the only Jesus that some people will ever see. I’ll add in that this world is filled with people like Teddy, people who need someone who will put in the effort to understand them and help them. Perhaps the Lord will one day have you cross paths with someone like that. Perhaps it’s even already happened. That person might be a kid, an elderly person, a homeless person, or someone who is “the talk of the town.” I don’t know who God might have in mind for you to help, but what I do know is that Jesus Christ came to serve others, including those who needed the most help. I also know that if we, His people, really want to walk in His steps, such ministering to others has to be a major part of who we are and what we do.

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Genuine Pearls (repost)

(I’m off this week, and so I thought I’d take the opportunity to reuse some old posts rather than write new ones. These posts will be ones that have never received a lot of views. Maybe God will use them in greater ways this time around.)

Pearls have historically commanded high prices. Their expensiveness is the result of their rarity. Thousands upon thousands of oysters are examined each year, but only a small percentage of them contain genuine pearls. I’ve read that out of every three tons of pearl-producing oysters, on average only three of the oysters have pearls inside them.

At one point, however, the market began to be atypically flooded with large quantities of pearls. As a matter of fact, there were so many pearls available that merchants began to seriously question the pearls’ authenticity. Were these new pearls merely well done imitations produced by man? No. Upon examination, the pearls were found to have actually been made by oysters.

Finally, after further investigation, the mystery was solved. As it turned out, the Japanese merchants had figured out a way to cause almost every pearl oyster to produce a pearl. You see, the merchants knew that a pearl is formed when some kind of foreign substance (a parasite, a grain of sand, etc.) gets lodged in a certain part of the oyster. To ease the irritation caused by the substance, the oyster begins to secrete a protective fluid called nacre that covers over the substance. This process continues and the nacre eventually hardens into a glorious pearl. Of course, all this takes a few years to happen. So, what the merchants were doing was harvesting oysters, purposely inserting artificial substances into them (substances such as beads or tiny bits of shell or buckshot), placing the oysters back into the ocean by means of nets, and then harvesting them again a few years later to retrieve the pearls. The larger the artificial substance, the larger the pearl.

When the market became glutted with pearls, wealthy buyers began to demand that each pearl be put to a special test to see whether or not it had been artificially created. This test involved the use of X-ray. Under X-ray, the false “hearts” created by the implanted substances could be seen. In this way, the genuine pearls could be identified and priced accordingly.

This illustration reminds us that, sadly, our churches are home to some fake Christians. On the outside, these people look saved. They carry Bibles, know the lingo, pray, sing the hymns, put money in the offering plates, etc. But on the inside their hearts are false. They don’t truly know Christ as Savior. They aren’t born again (John 3:3). God the Holy Spirit does not dwell inside them (Romans 8:9). They aren’t in the family of God (John 1:9-13).

I have no delusions that we will ever get it all sorted out this side of eternity. For one thing, lost people don’t always act lost. For another, saved people don’t always act saved. We can rest assured, though, that Jesus knows how to X-ray each person’s heart and there simply is no fooling Him. I can honestly say that being placed under His X-ray doesn’t frighten me. But can you say the same thing? If you can’t, you really need to ask yourself why that is.

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Let Your Help Come From the Lord

I will lift up my eyes to the hills — From whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1-2, N.K.J.V.)

The heading for Psalm 121 informs us that this Psalm is “A Song of Ascents” (N.K.J.V.). The Hebrew word translated as “ascents” can be defined as “a journey to a higher place.” The fifteen Psalms that receive this specialized heading are Psalms 120-134.

There are at least three possible interpretations as to when these specific Psalms (songs) were sung by the people of Israel. First, since the Hebrew word translated as “ascents” (N.K.J.V.) can rightly be translated as “steps,” these Psalms could have been sung by Israel’s priests as those priests, in order to offer sacrifices, ascended the steps that led up to the altar of the Jewish temple. Second, these Psalms could have been sung by Jewish worshipers who were making their way up to the city of Jerusalem to observe the Mosaic Law’s three prescribed annual feasts: Passover/Unleavened Bread, Pentecost (also known as “Weeks” or “Harvest”), and Tabernacles (also known as “Booths”) (Deuteronomy 16:16). Third, they could have been sung by the Jews returning to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon.

There is an honest debate among translators in regards to how verse 1 of this Psalm should be translated. The classic King James Version conveys the minority translation by rendering the verse:

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.

This rendering conveys the idea that the help comes from the God who resides in the hills, specifically the hills surrounding Jerusalem. However, the potential problem with this idea is that those hills (i.e. “high places”) were the sites of idolatrous worship shrines when wicked kings ruled Judah (Israel’s southern kingdom). The prophet Jeremiah probably had these sites in mind when he expressed the polar opposite thought of his help coming from the hills:

Truly in vain is salvation hoped for from the hills, and from the multitude of mountains: truly in the Lord our God is the salvation of Israel. (Jeremiah 3:23, K.J.V.)

To eliminate the problem of a contradiction with Jeremiah 3:23, most translations of Psalm 121:1 insert a question mark after the words “from whence comes my help.”  The New King James Version’s rendering is a prime example of this:

I will lift up my eyes to the hills — From whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1-2, N.K.J.V.)

You see, the insertion of the question mark places the help as coming from the Lord who lives somewhere other than the hills. It is as if the Psalmist is contrasting Israel’s false gods, the ones worshiped in the “high places” located in the hills surrounding Jerusalem, with the true God. Those false gods couldn’t provide any real help, but the true God could. The true God, after all, was far greater and loftier than any hills that He created.

While this particular translation is by far the majority one found in the various English translations of the Bible, there are some commentators who still favor the wording found in the classic King James Version. For example, William MacDonald, in his Believer’s Bible Commentary, says the following:

I still prefer the KJV here, and I’ll tell you why. The temple in Jerusalem was the dwelling place of God on earth. The glory cloud in the Holy of Holies signified the Lord’s presence among His people. The city of Jerusalem is situated on a mountain and is surrounded by mountains. So when a Jew in other parts of Israel needed divine help, he looked toward the hills. To him this was the same as looking to the Lord. Since the Creator’s dwelling was in the Jerusalem hills, there was a poetic sense in which all help came from the hills.

No matter which translation and interpretation of Psalm 121:1 is the correct one, there is certainly no mistaking the fundamental teaching of the opening two verses of the Psalm. The Psalmist wants everyone to know that his help comes from the Lord. And how much help can the Lord offer? Well, as the Psalmist is careful to mention, we’re talking about the God who created all creation. Needless to say, a God with that much power can provide any amount of help that anyone — and that includes you — could ever need. So, don’t hesitate to seek His help the next time you find yourself in need of it. You really can’t do any better.

Posted in Adversity, Comfort, Encouragement, Fear, God's Love, God's Omnipotence, God's Mercy, God's Provision, God's Sovereignty, Grace, Idolatry, Needs, Problems, Trusting In God, Worry | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Robert’s Trip to the Dentist’s Office

Psychologist James Dobson, the founder of the Focus on the Family ministry, tells a great story in his book Straight Talk to Men and Their Wives. The story comes from one of Dr. Dobson’s friends, Dr. William Slonecker. Dr. Slonecker was a pediatrician who had the unfortunate assignment of having a ten-year-old terror named Robert as one of his patients.

Dr. Slonecker and his staff dreaded the days when Robert would show up for appointments. During those visits the little hellion would run around grabbing instruments, files, telephones, or anything else that suited him. All the while, his passive mother would do little more than watch him go.

During one examination, Dr. Slonecker happened to notice that Robert’s teeth were in poor shape. Slonecker wasn’t a dentist, but even he could tell that Robert had several cavities. Clearly, a referral to a local dentist was in order. But which of Slonecker’s dentist friends would be granted the “pleasure” of receiving the new patient? It was a tough decision because Robert’s behavior was bad enough to possibly end a professional friendship. After some thought, Slonecker settled upon a certain dentist who had a reputation for doing well with children.

The appointment was made, and Robert arrived at the dentist’s office fully ready to conquer the new terrain. “Get in the chair, young man,” said the dentist. “No!” shot back Robert. “Son, I told you to get into that chair, and that’s what I intend for you to do,” the dentist answered sternly. Robert stared the man down for a moment and then threatened, “If you make me get in that chair, I will take off all my clothes.” Calmly, the dentist replied, “Okay, take ’em off.”

Robert was surprised that his threat didn’t have more of an impact, but he wasn’t done yet. Immediately, he set himself to the task of taking off his shirt, shoes, and socks. Once they were removed he defiantly looked at the dentist as if to say, “You didn’t think I would do it, did you?”

“All right,” said the dentist. “Now get in the chair.” With less confidence in his voice this time, Robert responded, “You didn’t hear me. I said if you make me get in that chair, I will take off all my clothes.” But the dentist still wasn’t phased. Again, he calmly said, “Okay, take ’em off.”

This left Robert with only one more card to play, and he played it by taking off his pants and shorts. Now he was standing buck naked in front of the dentist and the dentist’s assistant. Then the dentist once again repeated his familiar command, “Now, son, get in the chair.” This time Robert did as he was told and sat cooperatively through a difficult session as multiple cavities were filled.

At the close of the session, Robert told the dentist, “Give me my clothes.” The dentist, however, wouldn’t oblige. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Tell your mother that we’re going to keep your clothes tonight. She can pick them up tomorrow.” Robert, by now a thoroughly defeated former tough guy, meekly followed the assistant out the door and into the waiting room. There sat not only his mother but a room filled with other patients and parents. Imagine everybody’s surprise as a ten-year-old wearing no clothes was led by his mother out of the office, into the elevator, and out into the parking lot.

The next day, Robert’s mother returned to the dentist’s office to claim Robert’s clothes. The staff wasn’t one bit surprised when she asked to have a word with the dentist, but as it turned out she wasn’t there to rebuke him. To the contrary, she told him the following:

You don’t know how much I appreciate what happened here yesterday. Robert has been blackmailing me about his clothes for years. Whenever we are in a public place, such as a grocery store, he makes unreasonable demands of me. If I don’t immediately buy him what he wants, he threatens to take off all his clothes. You are the first person who has called his bluff, doctor, and the impact on Robert has been incredible!

Extreme situations sometimes call for extreme measures, and drastic problems sometimes call for drastic solutions. It could be that God is right now telling you to get radical regarding some situation or problem that has been plaguing you for a long time. If that’s the case, the only question left to be answered is: Are you willing to “go there” and do whatever it is that God is telling you to do? One day a dentist “went there” and a rebellious kid name Robert turned out all the better for it. That story proves that “outside the box” solutions can work. Obviously, you need to make certain that God is in your uncommon course of action, but if He is, then you should launch into it with confidence that He will stand behind you all the way.

Posted in Brokenness, Children, Choices, Decisions, Discipline, Disobedience, God's Will, Problems, Submission | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Mask of the Hypocrite

Popular pastor and author Chuck Swindoll tells the story of how his sister once bought him a gag gift for his birthday. The gift was a full-face rubber mask, the kind that you pull down over your entire head. She told him, “I’ll give you $10 if you will wear it into the pulpit one Sunday morning.” Chuck’s children loved the possibility of seeing him do that, and so they chipped in to raise the potential reward to $15.

While the idea of wearing the mask in a church service was a little too much for Chuck, he did get bold enough to wear it one night to a speaking engagement for which he was scheduled. Without offering any explanation for why he was wearing the mask, he simply walked to the podium and began his remarks. And what was his topic for that evening? Being authentic.

As you might expect, Chuck didn’t get too far into his comments before the entire room erupted with laughter. At that point he took off the mask and explained that the English word “hypocrite” is derived from a Greek word that referred to a stage actor in the plays from ancient Greece and Rome. It was customary for the actors in such plays to cover their faces with large masks that came complete with mechanical devices that were used to augment the actors’ voices. During the course of any given play one actor would portray multiple characters by donning multiple masks. Thus, the word “hypocrite” literally refers to someone who dons a mask of disguise in order to perform a fake role. The hypocrite isn’t authentic; he isn’t who he pretends to be.

In Matthew 7:3-5, Jesus says:

“And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (N.K.J.V.)

Boy, Jesus sure loved hyperbolic illustrations. Imagine a person who has a plank sticking in his eye. Now imagine that same person peering intently into another person’s eye and saying, “Let me remove that speck for you.” The absurdity of such a scene isn’t hard to grasp. The person who has the plank sticking in his eye is merely playing a make-believe role. He’s not real. He’s not authentic. He’s appearing to care about objects sticking in peoples’ eyes when all the while he has a plank sticking in his own eye.

I suppose that we’ve all had times when we’ve played the role of hypocrites. We’ve fussed at our kids for texting while driving, but then we’ve hit the open road ourselves and started texting. We’ve complained when gossip was being spread about us, but we’ve had no problem spreading gossip about others. We’ve condemned people for not attending the Sunday morning worship service, but then we’ve thought nothing of skipping that week’s Wednesday night service. See how that works?

Perhaps now would be a good time for you to examine your own life and be honest about any masks you are wearing. Obviously, there is a certain level of authenticity that you’ll never be able to reach as long as you are keeping your true self hidden. Sure, you might be able to fool your friends and acquaintances. You might even be able to fool your family and friends if you are a talented enough actor. But one thing is for sure: you’ll never fool God. He always knows exactly who you are, and He wants all hypocrites to stop playing their fake roles, repent of their sins, and actually become the people they are pretending to be.

Posted in Backsliding, Character, Confession, God's Omniscience, Hypocrisy, Personal Holiness, Repentance, Sin, Truth | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

“The Disciple’s Road” Radio Broadcast

I’d like to use this post to pass along the word that this coming Sunday, July 19th, I’ll be starting a new radio broadcast through Wilkins Radio in Spartanburg, S.C. Wilkins has stations in several markets across the country and my thirty-minute broadcast, The Disciple’s Road, is going to be heard in four of them. The stations and weekly times are as follows:

  • KLNG (AM 1560/FM 101.5) Omaha, Nebraska: Sunday mornings at 8:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. (Central Standard Time) (that’s 9:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time)
  • WDZY (AM 1290/FM 103.3) Richmond, Virginia: Sunday afternoons at 2:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time)
  • WYYC (AM 1250/FM 98.1) York, Pennsylvania: Sunday nights at 9:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time)
  • WELP (AM 1360/104.3) Greenville, SC: Thursday nights at 8:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time)

Of course, I realize that most of us don’t live in Omaha, Richmond, York, or Greenville. The good news, though, is that each of the Wilkins stations can be streamed live online at wilkinsradio.com. To hear the broadcast all you’ll have to do is go to the Wilkins site, scroll over to “Our Stations,” and click on the station you want to start streaming. That will take you to a page for that station, and once you’re there all you’ll need to do is click on “Listen Live.” Also, you’ll see an option there to download a free mobile app. for your smartphone or tablet.

I’m excited about this new ministry. According to a recent survey by SOMA Communications, 34% of weekly listeners to Christian radio are not born-again Christians. Furthermore, for the month of June the Wilkins stations in total registered over 60,000 listening sessions worldwide on cellphones, computers, and laptops. Those numbers don’t even include the listeners who tuned in by way of home radio or car radio. So, the potential is there for the broadcast to not only edify a lot of believers but also help win some lost people to Christ.

The first several weeks of the broadcast will feature a sermon series I call “Back to Basics.” The “basics” I’ll be preaching about are the basics of Christianity, i.e. topics such as: “Salvation,” “Baptism,” Prayer,” “Bible Study,” “Church Attendance,” etc. For this week’s opening broadcast the sermon is entitled “Salvation.” That one is already in the can (so to speak) and sent to Wilkins for airing.

Doing a radio ministry is actually a return to my preaching roots. In my early days of pastoring I began broadcasting each Sunday on the two local stations — WKYK (Burnsville, NC) and WTOE (Spruce Pine, NC) — and continued those broadcasts for several years until I stopped doing them a few years ago. Now the Lord has opened this door for me to not only get back into that form of ministry but to do so on a larger scale. Like I said, I’m excited about that.

Please pray not only that God will bless this new ministry but also that I’ll prepare and preach sermons for it that He can bless. I honestly don’t know what to expect, but I have a great peace about the whole endeavor. Even more than that, I have a burden and a vision for it. As for how God uses the broadcasts, well, we’ll just have to wait and see. All I know is that He is leading me to walk with Him down this road. And that’s plenty enough to get the journey started. Thanks in advance for your prayers.

Posted in Personal, Preaching | Tagged , , | 2 Comments