Behind the Times

A devout old Christian was visited by his grandson who was on Spring Break from college. “How are you doing, Gramps?” asked the grandson. “Fine, just fine,” said the old man.

“How is school going?” the old man asked. Are you learning anything up there?” “You bet,” answered the grandson. “I’m learning all kinds of stuff.”

The grandson then began to enlighten his behind-the-times grandfather on 21st century intelligence. He said, “Grandpa, I don’t mean to hurt your feelings but your generation got a lot wrong.” “We did?” replied the grandpa with a tone of surprise in his voice. “What did we get wrong?”

“For starters,” said the grandson, “mankind isn’t made in the image of God. My biology teacher made it very clear that evolution is no longer just a theory. It’s proven science with all kinds of evidence to support it.” The grandfather countered by saying, “But the first two chapters of Genesis teach that God created Adam out of the dust of the earth and placed him in the Garden of Eden, and that He made Eve from one of Adam’s ribs.”

The grandson shook his head and said, “See, that’s the kind of thing I’m talking about. You guys interpret that whole story as literal history, but I’m taking a Religions of the World class and my teacher says that the Bible shouldn’t be understood like that. She says that every religion thinks their book is holy, but none of them actually are. They were all just written by men.”

The grandfather said, “But 2 Timothy 3:16 says that all scripture is given by inspiration of God.” In response, the grandson reasoned, “”Oh, that’s just the bible bragging on itself.”

“Well,” said the old man, “I guess we can’t trust what the bible teaches about abortion being wrong, homosexuality being a sin, men and women playing different roles in the home and society, spanking a disobedient child, our political leaders allowing for the death penalty in certain cases, or anything else that is not politically correct.” “You got it,” said the grandson. “Our society has moved on from all that. None of the kids in my dorm believe any of it. They say it’s all just ancient thinking and that it’s up to our generation to make things better.”

“Okay,” said the grandfather, “let me ask you one last thing. What about our need for salvation and the fact that those who know Jesus Christ as Savior will go to heaven in the afterlife and those who don’t will go to hell?” The grandson laughed and said, “Now c’mon, Gramps. Even if there is a God up there somewhere, everybody knows that He’s a God of love, forgiveness, tolerance, and acceptance. He would never send anybody to some awful place like hell.”

“And who taught you that?” asked the old man. “The guy who leads the Christian youth service I attend,” answered the grandson. “He’s really cool. He’s got long hair. He wears faded blue jeans and an untucked shirt. He’s got Christian tattoos all over him, and he’s got this gold cross necklace that hangs around his neck. All the kids love him. He’s like a rock star.”

“I see,” said the grandfather. “Well, I have to admit that this has all been very enlightening.” The grandson grinned and said, “That’s why I wanted to come visit you, Gramps.” “I love you and I wanted you to know how behind the times you’ve gotten. You really need to catch up.”

To that the old man replied, “No, I don’t think that will be happening. I couldn’t catch up to all that even if I doubled my speed.” Puzzled, the grandson asked, “What do you mean, Gramps?” The old man answered, “Well, son, you’ll just never catch up to something if you keep going in the opposite direction.”

Posted in Abortion, Bible Study, Capital Punishment, Children, Current Events, Discernment, Discipleship, Discipline, Doctrine, Faithfulness, God's Word, Government, Heaven, Hell, Homosexuality, Salvation, Scripture, The Bible, The Death Penalty, The Gospel, Trusting In God, Wisdom, Youth | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Something to Consider When Troubles Come Your Way

You have to love Gideon. As he lived in a time when God seemed to be a million miles from Israel, and as he dealt each day with the fallout from that situation, he became a realist. And as a part of that realism, he asked one of the most sincere, honest, and downright blunt questions in all the Bible.

Bear with me as I set the stage for the question. Gideon lived in the time period of the book of Judges. It was a time marked by the fact that even though Israel had conquered Canaan and settled it, they hadn’t followed God’s instructions by doing a thorough job of driving out Canaan’s inhabitants. Consequently, the people of Israel didn’t have the land all to themselves. Many of the various races that had always called Canaan home were still there.

Also keep in mind that Moses was now dead. So was Joshua. This is where Israelite leaders known as “Judges” enter into the equation. Since Israel no longer had a God-appointed national leader, God began to work through an assortment of these Judges to help the nation. Generally speaking, a Judge was a territorial leader whom God raised up to lead a certain section of Israel during a time of crisis against a foreign enemy.

All this helps explain the classic literary pattern for the book of Judges. That pattern goes like this:

  • The people of Israel do evil in the sight of the Lord.
  • God whips the people by allowing a foreign enemy to hold sway over them.
  • The people cry out to God for help against the enemy.
  • God raises up a Judge to lead the people in conquest over the enemy.
  • The people of Israel again do evil in the sight of the Lord and the whole process repeats itself, this time with different players.

Now let’s get back to Gideon. During his day the people of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord and God delivered them into the hands of the Midianites for seven long years (Judges 6:1). Each year Israel sowed its seed for its crops, and each year the Midianites, allied with the Amalekites and some other unnamed races, came in “as numerous as locusts” with all their tents and all their livestock and destroyed what the Israelites had planted (Judges 6:2-5). The annual devastation left the people of Israel poverty stricken, living in dens and caves and strongholds in the mountains, and crying out to God for help (Judges 6:2,6-7).

God’s answer was to first send a prophet to Israel to explain to them why such devastation was befalling them (Judges 6:7-10). Next, He appeared to a timid, cowardly man named Gideon, who was a member of the tribe of Manasseh, to raise him up to be the Judge who would lead his people to defeat the Midianites. God appeared to Gideon in the form of the Angel (that’s with a capital A) of the Lord, which is actually an Old Testament appearance of the preincarnate Jesus (Judges 6:11-21).

The Angel of the Lord’s opening words to Gideon were, “The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor!” (Judges 6:12). Since Gideon, at that very moment, was threshing some wheat in hiding to keep it from the Midianites, the Angel’s words seem almost sarcastic. By Gideon’s own assessment of himself a bit later in the conversation, not only was he a member of the weakest clan in his tribe, he was the least in his own family (Judges 6:15). Mighty man of valor? Yeah, right.

But it’s Gideon’s response to the Angel’s assertion, “The Lord is with you…” that has prompted me to write this post. Upon hearing that the Lord is with him and the rest of Israel, Gideon cuts straight through the red tape and asks “the elephant in the room” question. He says, “If the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us?” (Judges 6:13).

Gideon’s stating of the obvious warms my heart every time I read it. He’s not trying to sound super spiritual. He’s not trying to voice a bunch of fake faith. He’s not trying to tell the Lord what He wants to hear. No, Gideon is asking the question that a man standing in his sandals would be mentally deranged not to ask.

And lest you think that I am overstating Gideon’s skeptical doubt that the Lord was with him and his nation, let me point out that he immediately followed up his opening question by continuing in that vein. He said:

“…And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.” Judges 6:13, N.K.J.V.)

I don’t mind telling you that I can relate to a guy who thinks and talks like that. Perhaps you can as well. I don’t know what troubles you are dealing with at this moment, but you might be legitimately asking, “If the Lord is with me, why has all this happened to me? Where are the miracles? Where is the deliverance?” While I myself don’t have the answers to your questions, I do want you to know that you aren’t in sin for feeling out of heart enough to ask them.

But here now is the something that I want you to consider: consider the fact that there is no Bible record of Gideon personally committing any rank sin as part of his people doing evil in the sight of the Lord. Maybe he did, but maybe he didn’t. All I know is that if we stick strictly to the facts of the Biblical account, Gideon’s personal troubles were the result of the sins of others (his nation) rather than himself. Think about that. You see, if this was indeed the case, it means that Gideon simply got caught up in the backwash of God’s judgment upon his fellow citizens. Perhaps this is even why God saw him as a candidate to be the solution to the problem.

What we can say for sure is that whatever the exact details of Gideon’s case were, it’s a plain fact that sometimes the troubles that come our way are really not our fault. We aren’t being judged for some kind of personal sin. We aren’t reaping the bitter harvest of some bad seed we have sown. We aren’t being spanked by God for being disobedient or unruly. Instead, we are being unjustly affected by the wrongdoings of others. Is this fair? No. But is it a part of living life on planet earth? Yes.

So, what you need to do anytime troubles come your way is go the Lord in prayer and ask Him to help you discern not only what is happening to you but why it is happening. Trust me, the why is even more important than the what. And if God reveals to you that you aren’t the source of your troubles, then you need to take your prayers in a different direction. You need to start asking God what He wants you to do in the midst of your situation. You know, it just could be that He is raising you up to somehow be the solution that ends your troubles. That’s what He did with Gideon, and He might just do the same with you.

Posted in Adversity, Change, Complaining, Depression, Disappointment, Discernment, Encouragement, God's Judgment, God's Provision, God's Will, God's Work, Influence, Justice, Ministry, Prayer, Problems, Restoration, Service, Suffering, Trials, Trusting In God, Worry | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Time to Fight; A Time to Cease Fighting

I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; (Deuteronomy 30:19, N.K.J.V.)

A knight rode up to his king’s castle after a military campaign. The knight’s horse was bloodied and looked as if it was about to drop. The knight’s own armor was dented and twisted as though it had barely held up against a tremendous onslaught. As the knight dismounted from his horse and walked toward the palace door, he walked with an obvious limp.

The king was aghast as he watched the knight approach the throne. This noble knight had served him faithfully and successfully for many years, and never had he seen him in such a state. Worriedly the king asked, “What hath befallen you, Sir Knight?”

The knight straightened up as best he could and gave his answer. “Sire, I have been warring in your service. My fellow knights and I have robbed, pillaged, and burned out your enemies to the west. The fighting was intense, but we have accomplished the task for the glory of your kingdom.”

Shocked, the king replied, “You’ve done what? You fool, don’t you know that I don’t have any enemies to the west?” A long pause in the conversation followed as the knight processed what he had just heard. Finally he spoke up and ruefully said, “Well, Sire, you do now.”

It is so easy in life to get sidetracked fighting battles that God doesn’t want you to fight. Trust me, you can’t save the world and everybody in it. Even God Himself won’t (not can’t) do that. That’s why you should only fight the battles that He burdens you to fight, and you should cease fighting even those when He says, “That’s enough.”

In Bible story after Bible story, God uses His choice servants to bring people to critical points of decision. Putting it another way, God oftentimes instructs one of His servants to go to “battle” against an individual or a group, not for the purpose of defeating that individual or group, but rather for the purpose of bringing them to a defining crossroad.

This is the role the elderly Moses is playing to the Israelites in our text verse. He’s saying, “The words I have spoken to you are God’s message to you, but the choice is yours as to how you respond to them. By embracing the words and acting in accordance with them, you will choose life and blessing not only for you but also your descendants. But by rejecting the words you will choose death and cursing not only for you but also your descendants.”

The way the Bible stories play out, God’s servant’s job is finished once he or she has delivered God’s message. Sadly, in many of the stories the servant gets persecuted or killed simply for delivering the message. It’s the classic “If you don’t like the message, shoot the messenger” approach. While it’s true that in the case of our text verse Moses didn’t get persecuted or killed, he had certainly experienced more than his share of persecution in the preceding years.

Okay, so why has God burdened me to write this post? I think it’s because He needs someone who reads this to understand that He is now giving them the order to stand down. He is saying to this reader, “You’ve done the job I wanted you to do. You’ve delivered My message. Now lower your weapons and cease fighting.”

Frankly, if you keep up the “fight” after hearing this command from God, you will end up little better than that knight from my opening illustration. Even if you win some more rounds of the campaign, your victories won’t be pleasing to God your King. As Ecclesiastes 3:8 says, there is a time of war and a time of peace. So, faithful soldier, accept your time of peace as God is commanding it and let Him take care of the fallout from your efforts. You’ve done your job. Now let Him do His.

Posted in Adversity, Choices, Comfort, God's Will, God's Work, Influence, Ministry, Obedience, Peace, Persecution, Service | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Tale of Emanuel Nenger

Emanuel Nenger arrived in Hoboken, New Jersey from Germany sometime around 1876. He got work as a sign painter and eventually bought a farm in Westfield, New Jersey. Nenger’s true profession, however, was counterfeiter.

Even though government officials didn’t yet know his identity, they first became aware that a counterfeiter was producing counterfeit money in 1878. They gave the forger the name “Jim the Penmen.” Nenger began by producing counterfeit $10 bills. From there he slowly progressed up the scale to produce $20 bills, $50 bills, and $100 bills. The U.S. Treasury department first identified one of his $100 bills in November, 1893.

Nenger worked for weeks on each bill. He bought his paper from Crane and Company in Dalton, Massachusetts. He cut the paper to the same size as a bill and soaked it in diluted coffee solution. Then he placed the paper over an authentic bill and traced the authentic bill’s image. Lastly, he added in all the correct coloring and other details by using a camel’s hair brush.

As word of the unknown counterfeiter’s work spread, he became akin to a Robin Hood figure. Commoners offered no public outcry against him because in their eyes he was only hurting rich people. This was, after all, the late 1800s, a time when only rich people had regular access to large monetary bills.

This was also the reason why Nenger’s bills didn’t have to be painstakingly perfect to pass for the real thing. Since such a low percentage of people knew what a large-amount bill was supposed to look like, he could pass his fake money off without any problems. He even made a point of not including the line “Bureau of Engraving and Printing” on each of his bills. Later, when he was caught and asked why he left out this line, he responded in his broken English, “Because they didn’t make them.”

Nenger’s downfall came in March of 1896 when he passed a large bill at a local business. When the note got wet the ink began to smudge. The bill was reported to the local police and a search warrant was obtained to search Nenger’s home. There in the attic his workshop for his crime was discovered. On May 29, 1896, Nenger was sentenced to six years in the Erie County Penitentiary. He served his time, was released, and died in 1924 at the age of 77.

Now let me tell you the real tragedy of Emanuel Nenger’s life. During that search of his attic police also found three portraits that he had painted. These portraits were eventually sold at auction for a total of $16,000, which was a ton of money back then. And here’s the tragic part: it took Nenger almost as long to paint one of his counterfeit bills as it did for him to paint one of those portraits! To say the man’s talent was misused would be a landmark understatement.

Sadly, like Emanuel Nenger, many talented people today do not use their talents in service to Jesus Christ. This holds true even in regards to Christians. So many of our churches are just limping along, waiting forevermore for Christians in whom God has placed talents and spiritual gifts to use those in fruitful service. Instead, however, these Christians choose to either use their talents and gifts exclusively in service to worldly matters or to let them lie dormant altogether.

And so, Christian, I’ll close this post by asking you two questions. Question #1: What are you talented and gifted to do? And question #2: Are you using those talents and gifts in the Lord’s service? If you aren’t then the loss is truly yours. Not only are you missing out on all the personal fulfillment that comes from knowing that you are making a difference for Christ, you are also missing out on all the eternal rewards that you could be earning each and every day.

Posted in Church, Commitment, Discipleship, Doing Good, God's Work, Good Works, Individuality, Influence, Ministry, Service, Spiritual Gifts, Talents | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Popcorn Poppers and Irons

Some of us are old enough to remember eating popcorn made from a popcorn popper rather than a microwave. We’re also old enough to remember when people not only owned irons but actually used them. The following story stems from a time when popcorn poppers and irons roamed the earth.

Bob Jones University, a Christian college located in Greenville, S.C., was founded in 1927. For many years it was against school rules to have popcorn poppers or irons in the men’s dormitory rooms. The strange thing about that was the fact that both items were allowed in the women’s dormitory rooms.

The odd policy remained in place for some time until someone finally questioned why the girls could have popcorn poppers and irons but the boys couldn’t. After some digging into the school’s past, do you know what they found? They found that the rule went back to a time when the men’s dormitory had wiring that was insufficient to handle the electrical levels required for popcorn poppers and irons. Even though that wiring problem had long since been fixed, no one had bothered to update the rules.

I can’t read this illustration and not relate it to our modern churches. How much of what we do no longer makes sense in this 21st century? I’m reminded of a joke about Baptists. (Since I’m a Baptist, I can talk about us.) The joke goes like this: “How many Baptists does it take to change a light bulb?” Answer: “None. Baptists don’t change anything.”

Mind you now that I’m not talking about changing anything that involves solid Biblical doctrine or solid Biblical principles. I’m not saying, “Boy, that whole story about the virgin birth certainly is outdated. I think we need to stop teaching that.” No, what I’m talking about are matters of practicality, matters involving the nuts and bolts of how we do what we do. In a nutshell, I’m talking about our overuse of the phrase, “But that’s how we’ve always done it.”

What I find funny is that no one wants to take our churches back to the model of the early churches that are described in the New Testament. Those congregations met in homes, didn’t have air conditioning, didn’t have padded pews, didn’t have pulpits, didn’t have sound systems, didn’t have choirs, didn’t have nurseries, didn’t have membership rolls, didn’t have Sunday Schools, didn’t have Bible Schools, didn’t have youth trips, didn’t have senior citizen trips, didn’t have fellowship halls, didn’t have cemeteries, didn’t have committees, didn’t have denominations, didn’t have Constitutions & Bylaws, didn’t have …….

You say, “Russell, are you saying that all of these things are wrong?” No, each of them can be perfectly acceptable if used correctly. What I’m saying is that even churches that we label as “traditional” can only trace their “traditions” back to a relatively recent time in history, typically the hundred years between 1850 and 1950. It’s like our churches got stuck in that hundred-year era.

But changes are happening, and they are happening fast. The past thirty years or so have seen remarkable modernizations in the way many churches “do church.” Video screens have become more and more commonplace. Contemporary music has as well. Praise teams are replacing choir directors and song leaders. Rather than bring their Bibles to church, many people now read the scriptural text from their cell phones or tablets. Church covenants and numbers boards are being removed from sanctuary walls. Sunday night services are going the way of the dodo bird. Most churches have a website or at least a Facebook page. Some larger churches even have systems in place to receive offerings from electronic sources such as debit cards.

Where will all this modernizing stop? I don’t know. Will it ever reach a ceiling where everybody again says, “Okay, we’ve got it just right now. Let’s settle in here and ride for a hundred years.” I don’t know. All I know is that we shouldn’t be afraid to update, replace, or do away with any tradition that turns out to be nothing more than something that used to work well but no longer does.

As have often been said, “We should never change the message, but we can change the methods we use to present the message.” The challenge to our modern churches, then, basically boils down to one simple question: “What does God want us to leave alone and what does He want us to change?” Answering that question will always take us out into the deep, dark waters of spiritual discernment. But we must dive into those waters if we want to present the timeless message of Jesus in an effective way to an ever-changing culture. If we don’t we might as well just plug in our popcorn poppers and do our ironing.

Posted in Change, Church, Communication, Current Events, Discernment, Evangelism, God's Work, Ministry, Music, Personal, Preaching, Sunday School, The Gospel, Worship | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Bullseye Shooting

A man was driving through the countryside when he noticed a house that had a barn beside it. Painted onto the side of the barn were several bullseye targets. Inside the center of each target was a bullet hole.

The driver was so impressed that he pulled up to the house and knocked on the door. An older fellow opened the door, and the driver said, “I just wanted to stop and tell you personally how impressed I am with your shooting. You must be a real marksmen.” In response, the older fellow said with a drawl, “Naw, shooting ain’t no trick. I just take my shot, find where the bullet went into the barn, and then draw my bullseye.”

Many people (even many Christians) go through life operating like that. They take their shot by doing what they want to do, and then they put their spin on it to make it look like God’s will. After a few years, they’ve got a “life’s barn” that in appearance makes them look like great shots but in reality displays what poor shots they really are.

The Bible teaches that we should seek God’s will first in every situation and then bend our will to His. While this might sound like a simple, easy way to live, it isn’t. The truth is that our wills bend hard. We like running our own show. We enjoy captaining our own ship. We revel in our human logic. We genuinely think that we know what’s best for us.

That’s why we shoot, and we shoot, and we shoot, never bothering to consult God regarding our aim. We’re like two men aboard a train. One of them says, “We sure are making good time.” “Yes,” says the other one, “but I think we’re on the wrong train.” And what do we do when we realize that we’ve gotten aboard the wrong train by taking a bad shot? We run to the barn, find the hole, and draw a bullesye around it so the world will think our shot is a masterpiece rather than a mistake.

I don’t know where this post finds you but my sincere desire is that it will cause you to slow your roll long enough to ask God beforehand, “Is what I’m about to do really of you?” Buying a car. Selling a house. Starting a job. Quitting a job. Getting married. Choosing a school. The list of life’s choices never ends. As a matter of fact, each decision you make merely leads you into a vast field that is filled with even more decisions to make.

You see, getting in God’s will and staying there isn’t just a one-time event. It’s an ongoing thing that fills up your days and nights as you are constantly called upon to die to self. Jesus described it as taking up your cross and following Him (Matthew 10:38; 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23; Luke 14:27). Many have called it a lifestyle, and I agree with that assessment. But it is a lifestyle that is created by a never ending string of moment-by-moment decisions. Putting it another way, you are always called upon to take your shots. The key is to allow God to make them straight and true.

Posted in Change, Choices, Commitment, Desires, Discipleship, Dying To Self, Faithfulness, God's Omniscience, God's Will, Obedience, Submission, Trusting In God | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Dying Chickens

A farmer had 600 chickens. Half of them died and the other half started acting sickly. He called the local agricultural agent, told him the situation, and asked, “What should I do?” The agent said, “You need to give the remaining 300 some penicillin.”

Not wanting to lose any more chickens, the farmer dutifully carried out his assignment. A few days later, though, another half of the chickens were dead. He called the agent again and said, “The penicillin didn’t work. Now I’m down to 150 chickens. What do you suggest?” The agent answered, “Give them some castor oil twice a day. That ought to help.”

So the farmer did as he was told. Despite his efforts, though, another 100 of his chickens died a couple of days later. He called the agent again and said, “Now I’m down to 50 chickens. Please, you’ve got to help me.” The agent said, “You mean the castor oil didn’t work? Boy, that’s strange. Okay, here’s what you need to do. Give each chicken an aspirin twice a day. I feel confident that will do the trick.”

One more time the farmer did as he was told, but again his efforts proved futile and the last 50 of his chickens died. He called the agent again and said, “I just want you to know that all of my chickens are dead now.” The agent said, “Really? That’s a shame. I had a lot more remedies to try.”

Many times we operate like that agricultural agent. Our marriages aren’t working? “Let’s try this.” Our relationships with our kids are broken? “Let’s give this a shot.” Our financial situation is a mess? “Maybe this will work.” Our churches are disasters? “The latest book says we should do this.”

We seem to never run out of plots, plans, schemes, and quick fixes. Our human logic is boundless. Our human reasoning knows no end. If one thing doesn’t work, we just try another. Then another. Then another. And there’s always a new book, a new video series, a new movement, or a new fad that confidently claims to have the answer. No matter what we try, though, our decline continues.

When will we realize that God is the one who has the answers we need? He is the one who can correctly diagnose the problem and tell us what to do about it. He is the  great fixer. But isn’t it funny (funny as in sad) that we will act upon everybody’s advice except His? It reminds me of the married couple who were discussing a certain problem they were having. The wife said, “I think we need to pray about this.” Flabbergasted, the husband replied, “Prayer? Has it come to that?”

God instructs us through His written word, the Bible. He instructs us through circumstances — closed doors, open doors, problems, and opportunities. If we are born again Christians, He instructs us through His Spirit who dwells inside us. But God can’t help us if we either don’t ask for His help or don’t implement His instructions. You see, the breakdown doesn’t occur on His end; it occurs on our end. And until we get our end in proper working order, our chickens will keep dying.

Posted in Bible Study, Change, Children, Church, Disappointment, Disobedience, Dying To Self, Family, God's Omniscience, God's Provision, Marriage, Money, Needs, Obedience, Parenting, Prayer, Problems, Scripture, The Bible, The Holy Spirit, Trusting In God, Worry | Tagged , , | Leave a comment