Unsung Heroes

I live in the state of North Carolina, but when it comes to college basketball I am not a fan of the UNC Tarheels or the Duke Blue Devils. No, my team is the NC State Wolfpack. Do you want to know why? It’s because I was seven years old and just starting to pay attention to college basketball in the winter of 1973-1974, and that just happened to be the winter the NC State basketball team won the ACC regular season championship, the ACC tournament championship, and the NCAA tournament championship. That team finished the season undefeated in the ACC and with an overall record of 30 wins and 1 loss. That one loss came at the hands of the defending national champion UCLA Bruins early in the season, and NC State avenged it by beating the Bruins later in the season in the Final Four of the NCAA tournament. That win put an end to the Bruins’ historic run of seven straight national championships.

That NC State team was magical and is still named on short lists of the greatest college basketball teams ever. It featured three All Conference players: 7’2 (listed as 7’4) center Tommy Burleson, 6’4 forward David Thompson, and 5’7 point guard Monte Towe. Thompson was named both the Conference Player of the Year and the National Player of the Year. He’s also mentioned on short lists of the greatest college basketball players ever. Everybody knows about Michael Jordan. Well, growing up, Jordan wanted to be David Thompson and showed his admiration for Thompson by asking him to give the introduction speech for him when Jordan was elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009. Thompson himself had been a member of that Hall of Fame since 1996.

A couple of years ago some good friends of mine — UNC Tarheel fans no less — gave me a daily devotion book entitled Daily Devotions for Die-Hard Fans: N.C. State. (By the way, the same publisher has done such books on many other college sports programs, and I recommend the books as gifts.) In the Day 33 devotion of my book, a devotion called “Hero Worship,’ I learned something that I didn’t know about that 1973-74 N.C. State basketball team. I learned that David Thompson has always called 6’7 power forward Tim Stoddard the unsung hero of that team.

I do remember Stoddard being a starting forward on the team, but I have to say that I remember him more for his long career as a Major League baseball player. As a matter of fact, according to the book, he’s actually the only person in history to earn a World Series ring (for his role on the World Series winning 1983 Baltimore Orioles team) and a NCAA basketball championship ring. For Stoddard, that’s a pretty nice thing to have on your resume, and it just adds even more mystique to that legendary N.C. State basketball team.

On the subject of Stoddard, here’s an excerpt from that devotion, “Hero Worship”:

“It was good to have a guy like that who did the dirty work. He was kind of the enforcer,” Thompson said. Stoddard was indeed the muscle man inside. He was a 6’7, 230-pound power forward who came to Raleigh in 1971. He moved into the starting lineup as a junior that championship season and averaged 5.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. “My role has always been a support guy,” he said. “That’s fine with me.”

And now, as my close to this post, let me offer another excerpt from that same devotion. This one drives home the point of the person whom God considers to be a true hero:

A hero is commonly thought of as someone who performs brave and dangerous feats that save or protect someone’s life. Or an athlete who excels. You figure that excludes you. But ask your son about that when you show him how to bait a hook, or your daughter when you show up for her dance recital. Look into the eyes of those Little Leaguers you help coach.

…For God, a hero is a person with the heart of a servant. And if a hero is a servant who acts to save other’s lives, then the greatest hero of all is Jesus Christ.

God seeks heroes today, those who will proclaim the name of their hero — Jesus — proudly and boldly, no matter how others may scoff or ridicule. God knows heroes when he sees them — by what’s in their hearts.

Posted in Character, Christ's Death, Doing Good, Evangelism, Faithfulness, Family, Fatherhood, God's Work, Influence, Leadership, Ministry, Motherhood, Parenting, Personal, Priorities, Service, Sports | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I Got Hacked

In late September of 2012, my email got hacked. I know that’s when it happened because I wrote a blog post about it back then. Well, here we are over seven years later and they got me again.

This time it was my own stupidity that hurt me. A few weeks ago I received an email saying that my email account was about to be deleted. Assuming the whole thing to be a scam, I ignored it. A few weeks later I received the same type of email and again ignored it. Okay, so far so good. But a couple days ago I received a similar type of email, except this one said “Your email account has been deleted.”

I’ll admit that the pronouncement threw a scare into me, and so I clicked on the link. Supposedly, in order to get back into my email and update it, I had to put in my username and password. Yep, that’s where I messed up. Once they had my password, they sent their chain email to all of my contacts. The email said that I was traveling and that my niece needed some money, so could you please…. You get the idea.

I offer my sincere apologies to anyone who received that email from me. One friend of mine even replied back to me and said, “How much do you need?” God bless him for that. Another dear lady called me on the phone and asked me about the situation. God bless here as well. Other friends either emailed me or texted me with, “I think you’ve been hacked.”

Let me ask you something, what kind of criminal masterminds sit around and cook up these schemes? As my brother Richie said, “They’ll work hard on something like that but won’t go out and get a real job.” I’m telling you it’s sin, pure and simple, nothing but sin.  There’s even a commandment that addresses the matter: Thou shalt not steal. That refers to stealing money, and it also refers to stealing email passwords.

Of course all of this is simply a reminder that we live in a fallen world. Honestly, I don’t know how God puts up with it. I know a thimble full of the evil that goes on in this world, but He knows the entire ocean of it. And yet here we are, still going through the motions of daily life and all the sins that get committed as part of it. Talk about a God who is merciful and longsuffering!

I’m not sure that I have a point to this post other than to vent some of my frustration at the state of society these days. I live in mortal terror of answering a strange number on my cell phone because it might be a telemarketer. And, as we all know, if you ever answer one of those numbers it won’t be long before you get blitzed with a lot more of them. When I buy anything online I use my credit card rather than my debit card because our bank offers more protection for credit-card scam than it does debit-card scam. Isn’t it sad that there are actually scams for both types of cards? I constantly have to check the spam in my email account because I’ve learned that sometimes comments made to this blog get dumped into my spam rather than my email. But why do I get hit with so much spam anyway? How I long for simpler times when Spam was nothing more than the cousin of Treat, both of them being stuff you could use to make a sandwich, like potted meat or devil’s ham.

Anyway, I guess I’ll close by saying that my recent experience with my email has made me long for heaven just a little bit more. I think we can all rest assured that nobody will get hacked there. But until we get there, Christians we’d better keep our shields up. The devil is still walking around like a roaring lion seeking whom he can devour (1 Peter 5:8), and he’s still finding plenty of volunteers who will gladly do his work. Some of those volunteers hacked my email account this week. I wonder if they’ve ever thought about whose bidding they are doing. The chances are they haven’t, but that doesn’t make their sin any less excusable in God’s eyes.

Posted in Depravity, God's Mercy, Personal, Satan, The Devil | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The God of the Tight Spot

Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress; have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer. (Psalm 4:1, K.J.V.)

Psalm 4 is a Psalm written by David, and in its opening verse he hits the ground running with a profound thought. He says to God, “You have enlarged me when I was in distress.” Do you know what that statement shows us? It shows us that God does some of His best work for our good when we find ourselves in the tightest spots.

The Hebrew verb translated in the verse as “enlarged” is rachab. It’s a verb that means to broaden, to make room for, or to make wide. It’s the same verb that is used in reference to God enlarging Israel’s borders (Exodus 34:24; Deuteronomy 12:20, 19:8). Even more famously — because of Bruce Wilkinson’s best-selling book — it’s used in the “prayer of Jabez” from 1 Chronicles 4:10:

And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, “Oh that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!” So God granted him what he requested. (N.K.J.V.)

In contrast, the Hebrew word translated in Psalm 4:1 as “distress” is sar, which refers to a narrow, tight space. It’s the word used to describe the place the Angel of the Lord blocked when the prophet Balaam’s donkey was attempting to pass:

Then the Angel of the Lord went further and stood in a narrow place where there was no way to turn either to the right hand or to the left. (Numbers 22:26, N.K.J.V.)

By setting the words rachab and sar alongside one another, we get the point David is making. When he found himself in a narrow place — we might say he was boxed into a corner — God made a way for him to move out into a wide, broad territory. Charles Spurgeon, in his The Treasury of David commentary on the Psalms, illustrates the thought by describing an army that is trapped in a narrow passage and surrounded by the enemy. Just when the army’s situation looks totally hopeless, God dashes down the rocks, thus giving the army room to maneuver out into a larger place.

Perhaps you find yourself in a very tight spot right now. Maybe your own sins and bad choices have brought you to this spot, or maybe you are there through no fault of your own. Either way, your course of action should be to call upon God and ask Him to deliver you to a better place, an enlarged one where your every thought isn’t soaked in worry and fear. Like David, you should ask God to have mercy upon you and hear your prayer.

You might wonder, “But if God loves me why has He allowed me to end up in this tight spot anyway?” The answer is that He knows that you are much more prone to call upon Him from such a spot than you are to call upon Him from a wide, open place wherein you don’t sense your need of Him. That’s the thing about finding yourself in a jam: it will definitely get your attention and readjust your thinking. So, if you are currently in such a place use it as an opportunity to allow God to show off for you by delivering you out into a broad place. And when He does that, make sure that you not only thank Him for helping you but also commit yourself to serving Him all the more.

Posted in Adversity, Encouragement, Faith, Fear, God's Mercy, God's Provision, Mercy, Prayer, Prayer Requests, Problems, Suffering, Thankfulness, Trials, Trusting In God, Worry | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Christian Verses” Podcast: Romans 12:2

Christian, God isn’t just interested in what you do, He’s also interested in what you think. You see, He knows that your thoughts oftentimes result in your actions. Putting it another way, it’s hard to act right when you go around thinking wrong.

In the new podcast, Malcolm and I discuss Romans 12:2 and its call for the Christian to be transformed by the renewing of the mind. The question is, “Just exactly how can a person go about renewing their mind?” That’s a good question, and Malcolm and I provide our answer to it in the podcast. Here’s the link:

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The Pessimistic Christian

A man opened up a hot-dog stand by the side of the road in front of his house. His goal was to make a little money to supplement his monthly income. He didn’t have a grand plan for the whole endeavor but he did make great hot dogs, and much to his surprise people started stopping and buying them.

Encouraged by what was happening, the man posted a few hand-made signs along the roadside in both directions leading to his stand. He figured that maybe the simple advertising would increase his sales even more. And his hunch proved to be right as even more people started stopping and buying his hot dogs.

At this point, the man decided to go all in with his hot-dog business. So he quit his primary job and started buying his hot dogs, buns, and fixings by the bulk. He also paid for billboard space on the nearby interstate and ran ads locally on the radio and in the newspaper. All of this resulted in his sales going through the roof as cars full of people pulled up by the dozens to buy his hot dogs.

By now the man was so busy working day and night that he had no time for anything else. He didn’t watch t.v. He didn’t listen to the radio. He didn’t spend time on the internet. He didn’t read the newspaper. His whole life revolved around his burgeoning hot-dog business.

Finally, when he knew that he had to hire staff to help him, he called his son and said, “If you will come help me run the hot-dog stand, I’ll make you a full partner and we will share 50-50 in the profits.” But the son balked at the idea. He said, “Dad, haven’t you heard that we are in the middle of a recession? Times are tight, and businesses are going under right and left. This is definitely not the time for you to be hiring on staff.”

Now the man was worried about the future of his business. He thought, “I’d better buckle down and cut expenses if I’m going to ride out this recession.” So he started buying lower quality hot dogs, buns, and fixings, took down his billboard advertising, and canceled the ads he was running locally on the radio and in the newspaper.

It was only a couple of weeks before he started noticing a decrease in cars and sales, and it was only a couple of months before he was out of business altogether. The day he took down his stand he called his son and said, “Son, you were right. We sure are in the middle of a recession.”

Let me ask you something, Christian: Would those who know you best classify you as an optimist or a pessimist? I can tell you that if everything with you is doom and gloom, you are a pessimist. If you assume the light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train, you are a pessimist. If you think every open door is just one more opening for you to walk off a cliff, you are a pessimist. If you think that every new business is destined to file for bankruptcy, you are a pessimist.

And if you are a pessimist then you really need to pay attention to the words of Psalm 40:4-5. There, David writes:

Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods. Many, Lord my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you have planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare.

Don’t you just love that? First, David says, “Many, Lord my God, are the wonders you have done.” Let those words remind you of all the good things God has done for you in the past. Second, he says, “…the things you have planned for us.” Let those words fill you with confident expectancy about the good things God is going to do for you in the future. So, don’t let all the naysayers keep you cowering in a bunker, pessimistic about everything, scared to death because they are telling you the sky is falling. Trust me, it isn’t. And why isn’t it? It’s because, Christian, the God you serve is the one holding it up.

Posted in Adversity, Complaining, Criticism, Decisions, Depression, Doubt, Encouragement, Faith, God's Love, God's Omnipotence, God's Provision, Problems, Trials, Trusting In God, Worry | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

An Example of Why Bible Study is Hard Work

A man’s gift makes room for him, And brings him before great men. (Proverbs 18:16, N.K.J.V.)

This verse provides us with a case in point of how the Bible can sometimes be difficult to correctly interpret and apply. The Hebrew word translated as “gift” in the verse is mattan, and it simply means “a present” or “something offered.” For example, it’s used in Genesis 34:12 in reference to the dowry paid for a bride; it’s used in Numbers 18:11 in reference to the heave offering that went to the support of Israel’s priests; it’s used in Proverbs 21:14 in reference to a present given to a person to cool that person’s anger; and it’s used in Ezekiel 46:16-17 in reference to a gift given by a prince to a son or a servant.

Okay, fine. Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? But hold on a minute. In Ecclesiastes 7:7, Solomon uses the Hebrew word mattanah, which is nothing more than a variation of mattan, to refer to a straight-up bribe. He writes:

Surely oppression destroys a wise man’s reason, And a bribe debases the heart. (N.K.J.V.)

So now how should we interpret a mattan? Is such a gift worthy of praise or condemnation? Obviously, according to the Old Testament Hebrew, this kind of gift can go either way. When used legitimately, it becomes a present or a reward. When used illegitimately, it becomes a bribe paid to promote corruption and pervert justice.

At least now, though, we have a handle on how to interpret and apply mattan, right? We just need to avoid the sin of bribery and we’re all set to go. Well, unfortunately, there is yet another wrinkle that allows for mattan to get preached in a completely different way.

You see, mattanah, that same variation of mattan that Solomon uses in Ecclesiastes 7:7, is also used in Psalm 68:18, which says of God:

You have ascended on high, You have led captivity captive; You have received gifts among men, Even from the rebellious, That the Lord God might dwell there. (N.K.J.V.)

Now pay attention because here’s where things get interesting. The apostle Paul, in Ephesians 4:7-8, actually uses a Holy Spirit-inspired paraphrase of Psalm 68:18 in his description of how Jesus ascended up to heaven following His resurrection and at that time gave spiritual gifts — the gifts of apostleship, prophecy, evangelism, and pastoring-teaching — to believers. This explains why Ephesians 4:7-8 is one of the New Testament’s classic passages on the topic of spiritual gifts. As Paul writes:

But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore He says: “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men.” (N.K.J.V.)

It is because of this tie-in with Paul’s word about spiritual gifts that many commentators promote the idea that the Hebrew word mattan (mattanah) can also refer to a gifting akin to a talent, a skill, or a special ability. So now let’s revisit our text verse, Proverbs 18:16, and apply this new definition to it:

A man’s gift (talent, skill, special ability) makes room for him, And brings him before great men. (N.K.J.V.)

By understanding the word “gift” this third way, we find that this verse can actually mean the polar opposite of the first definition I offered in this post. Instead of a man having to bring a gift as a means of showing the respect required to gain an audience with a great man such as a king, that man’s talent (skill, special ability) will be more than enough in and of itself to ensure that he “goes places” in life. As Harry Ironside says in his commentary thoughts on the verse:

A gifted man does not need to force himself forward. His gift will open doors for him…

What I’m trying to get you to see in all of this is that it takes very real time and effort to get at what the Bible teaches. When just one Hebrew word can carry with it no less than three different definitions, you’d better be on your game if you want to understand that word correctly and apply it to your life in a manner pleasing to God. And, sadly, there just aren’t that many people who are willing to devote the time and effort required to “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). But here’s hoping that you will be one of those minority folks who are willing to do so. No, God won’t make you do it, but if you will do it voluntarily you’ll be amazed at how His written word will become something very special in your life. As a matter of fact, in keeping with the theme of this post, it will become nothing less than God’s “gift” to you.

Posted in Bible Study, God's Word, Scripture, Spiritual Gifts, Talents, The Bible | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Scofield Reference Bible

C.I. Scofield was one of the most influential Bible teachers America has ever produced. Of all the study Bibles and reference Bibles ever printed, none have had the impact of his Scofield Reference Bible. The work first appeared in 1909, and then Scofield himself, with the help of a committee, revised it in 1917. Since then millions of copies of it have been sold around the world. A new revision, called The New Scofield Reference Bible, was published in 1967 and has proven to be popular itself, but some Christians still prefer the original edition.

Several features made the Scofield Reference Bible such a hit. First, it provided commentary notes — Scofield called them “helps” — to aid the reader in understanding what he or she was reading. These “helps” included word definitions, doctrinal summaries, etc. While this type of feature is quite common in Bibles today, it definitely was not in the early 1900s. Second, the Scofield Bible featured a cross-referencing system that enabled the reader to trace certain Biblical topics throughout the pages of scripture. Like following the links of a chain, the reader could turn to passage after passage and find out what each passage had to say about the same topic. Third, the work also included Archbishop James Ussher’s system of dating the years of Biblical history.

Still, as important as these features were, what created the most buzz about the Scofield Reference Bible was its inclusion of two controversial teachings. First, Scofield was an advocate of the “gap theory” interpretation of Genesis 1:1-2. This theory holds that the earth of Genesis 1:1 was as God originally intended, complete with a pre-Adamic race, but that something happened — i.e. the fall of Satan — that ruined that earth and left it as the decimated wasteland described in Genesis 1:2. According to Scofield, this ruined earth existed in its wrecked state for untold eons of times, perhaps many millions of years, before God went to work reconstructing it. Consequently, the Scofield Reference Bible taught that the days of the creation week as recorded in Genesis 1:3-31 are not so much the days of “creation” as they are the days of “recreation” or “restoration.”

The second controversial teaching the Scofield Reference Bible promoted was “dispensationalism.” According to this teaching, while God always remains the same, He chooses to work in different ways in human history to accomplish His plans. Scofield called the various eras of these differing ways “dispensations” and listed seven such eras: the dispensation of Innocence (Genesis 1:1-3:7); the dispensation of Conscience/Moral Responsiblity (Genesis 3:8-8:22); the dispensation of Human Government (Genesis 9:1-11:32); the dispensation of Promise (Genesis 12:1-Exodus 19:25); the dispensation of Law (Exodus 20:1-Acts 2:4); the dispensation of Grace/The Church (Acts 2:4-Revelation 20:3); and the dispensation of the Millennial Kingdom (Revelation 20:4-6).

It was Scofield’s “dispensationalism” that prolifically introduced the evangelical world to the ideas that God isn’t finished with the nation of Israel and that one day Jesus will visibly return to walk this earth again and establish His millennial reign wherein He will reign over the earth for 1,000 years from His throne in Jerusalem. The latter teaching is known as premillennialism. Also, as part of Scofield’s whole approach to prophecy, his reference Bible included J.N. Darby’s teaching concerning the pre-tribulation Rapture of the church.

Nowadays, teachings such as dispensationalism, the premillennial return of Jesus, and the pre-tribulation Rapture of the church are commonplace, having been made well known by noted Bible teachers such as Harry Ironside, John Walvoord, Charles Ryrie, J. Vernon McGee, Tim Lahaye, David Jeremiah, John MacArthur, Jimmy Deyoung, and a whole host of others. But make no mistake, it was the Scofield Reference Bible that established that entire line of interpretation as solid and reputable and set the stage for such best-selling books as Hal Lindsay’s The Late, Great Planet Earth and the entire Left Behind series.

I myself teach the dispensational/premillennial/pre-tribulation Rapture line of interpretation, and while I agree with many others that C.I. Scofield’s “gap theory” take on Genesis chapter 1 isn’t correct, I can still appreciate the man’s work and how it changed the landscape of American theology. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the Scofield Reference Bible invented the modern-day “study Bible” and in so doing paved the way for the vast assortment of such Bibles that are on the market today. So, if you have any kind of study Bible on your shelf, you owe a debt of gratitude to C.I. Scofield. Needless to say, he poured countless hours of work and study into producing his Bible, and just as needless to say, God rewarded his efforts in monumental ways the waves of which continue to roll today.

Posted in Bible Study, Christ's Second Coming, Christ's Return, Prophecy | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment