Throw Up Your Cap

So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11, N.L.T.)

Years ago, in a small fishing village on the coast of New England, a winter storm blew up suddenly and caught the small boats out at sea. The fishermen rowed hard to reach the safety of the harbor, and all the boats made it in except for one that was captained by an old man named John. Just when that boat was almost to safety, a huge wave struck and hurled it up against a rock. With his boat in ruins, John did the only thing he could do: pull himself up onto the rock and commence to hang on for dear life.

John’s fellow fishermen saw his plight, but there wasn’t anything they could do about it. The idea of taking rescue boats out into the teeth of the storm was ludicrous. To further complicate matters, it would soon be dark. So, being the practical New Englanders they were, they decided to wait until the morning to attempt a rescue. In the meantime, they built a bonfire on the shore and dedicated themselves to keeping it burning all night. Every now and then, by the light of that bonfire, one of the men would throw his cap up into the air just to let John know they were there and hadn’t abandoned him.

Finally, after a long, rough night, the winds subsided and the dawn broke. The fishermen quickly put out their boats and were able to rescue old John. After he had warmed himself by the fire and been given something to eat, they asked him what it had been like out there on that rock all night. Here’s what he said:

Well, it was the longest night of my life. I made out pretty well at first, but then a big wave came along and flattened me out and I felt myself slipping. I was worn out. I was ready to give up. My old father went down at sea, and I had decided my time had come. But just as I was ready to let go, I looked through the darkness and saw somebody’s cap going up in the air. I said to myself, “If there’s somebody who cares enough about old John to stay out on a night like this, I guess I’m not going to quit yet.” Just then the winds seemed to ease up, and I got a fresh hold, and well, here I am.

With this story in mind, I’ll ask you to throw up a cap yourself today because Johns are out there everywhere, just trying to hold for dear life. Find someone who needs some encouragement and tell them that you appreciate them. Show them that you care and that they’d be missed if they weren’t around. You never know how much influence your encouragement might have. It could just be that an encouraging word from you will give that person reason to keep pressing on rather than quit.

Posted in Communication, Doing Good, Encouragement, Friendship, God's Work, Influence, Ministry, Missions, Service, The Tongue | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Got a Need?

A small Bible college was growing so fast that it desperately needed more dormitory space. If a new dormitory couldn’t be built, students would have to be turned away. So, the school’s president took the matter to God in prayer and left the request with Him.

Not long afterward, the president was invited to speak at a conference in another city. One night, after the service, he was handed a small envelope with a note inside it. The note was an elderly woman’s request to meet with the president.

The following day the president went to the woman’s home for tea. All the while, as they sat there drinking tea and talking, he hoped that God would work through her to meet the financial need. Much to his disappointment, however, no offer had been made as the visit began to draw to a close.

Somewhat dejectedly the president headed for the door, but as he did, the woman’s face suddenly lit up. She said, “Oh my, I almost forgot.” Then she left the room momentarily and came back carrying a small folder. As she handed the folder to the president, she said, “This is for you and the work you are doing for the young people.” The folder contained many thousands of dollars worth of stocks and bonds, the cash value of which totaled up to the exact amount needed to build the dormitory.

While this story is supposedly true, the fact is that the Christian realm is filled with such stories. Preachers like myself know all about books of illustrations, and these books offer many such stories about God meeting people’s needs. Actually, the stories are so numerous as to be almost cliched. But are they true? Do such things really happen? Does God really meet needs?

I speak from personal experience when I answer, “Yes.” During my first few years of Disciples Road Church, a church I started and pastored for over eight years, God ran me through a lengthy class on this subject. Whereas I had always preached that God would meet every need, I found out that it’s a different deal altogether when you find yourself sincerely wondering how you are going to pay the light bill, the phone bill, the car payment, the mortgage payment, etc. That’s when you truly learn whether or not all those corny old stories you’ve read are for real. And again let me say: they are.

So who am I writing this to today? Is it you? Do you have some pressing need staring you squarely in the face right now? If you do, then take heart because God can and will meet that need if you will sincerely turn it over to Him and leave it there. Remember, Philippians 4:19 is still in the Bible, and it is applicable for any and all genuine needs. That verse says:

And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. (N.K.J.V.)

Posted in Comfort, Doubt, Faith, Fear, God's Love, God's Omnipotence, God's Provision, Money, Needs, Personal, Prayer Requests, Problems, Trusting In God, Worry | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

1,500 Sheep

A few years ago the Associated Press ran a story that came out of Gavas, a town in eastern Turkey. According to the story, one sheep from a very large flock walked to the edge of a cliff and jumped to its death. A second sheep soon followed. Then a third. Then a fourth. Then a fifth. The A.P. report read:

Stunned Turkish shepherds, who had left the herd to graze while they had breakfast, watched as nearly 1,500 others followed, each leaping off the same cliff.

Incredibly, only 450 of the sheep died. The rest survived because their fall was cushioned by the bodies of the sheep that had jumped before them. I guess there’s something to be said for being toward the back of the line, after all.

Here’s a typical parent-child conversation:

Jimmy: “Dad, can I take my skateboard and try a triple-spin-reverse off the front porch?”

Dad: “No!”

Jimmy: “Why not? Tommy does it.”

Dad: “If Tommy jumped off a cliff, would you follow him?”

That comeback about jumping off a cliff has traditionally been the go-to line that parents have used to keep kids from caving in to peer pressure. It reminds me of the “You’ll shoot your eye out” line from the movie A Christmas Story. As little Ralphie says about his mother using that line as her excuse not to buy him a BB rifle, “That deadly phrase uttered many times by hundreds of mothers was not surmountable by any means known to kid-dom.”

Truth be told, though, parents have to warn their kids about jumping off cliffs because peer pressure is such a powerful force. In his book There’s A Sheep Born Every Second, David Kirkwood uses that A.P. story about those sheep and writes, “Imagine the peer pressure that last sheep must have felt. Surely 1,499 sheep can’t be wrong, can they?”

So, consider today’s post a word of encouragement to all you parents who are still trying to hold the line. Keep up the good work. Don’t make the mistake of giving in to peer pressure yourself, the pressure other parents put on you to let your kids: watch anything they want to watch, listen to anything they want to listen to, wear anything they want to wear, think anything they want to think, say anything they want to say, go anywhere they want to go, buy anything they want to buy, and do anything they want to do. Can 1,499 sheep be wrong? You’d better believe they can! And that’s why you can’t let your child be number 1,500.

Posted in Children, Choices, Courage, Decisions, Desires, Discernment, Discipline, Dress and Appearance, Family, Fatherhood, God's Will, Influence, Motherhood, Parenting, Youth | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

God Is Not Mocked

Dr. R.G. Lee was one of the most famous Baptist preachers who ever lived. From 1927 to 1960, he served as the pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. During those years the church grew in membership from 1,400 members to 10,000. He also served three terms as the president of his denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention.

Dr. Lee once used the following illustration:

Newburg, New York had a society led by Bline Palmer called The Druidical Society. It had a high priest and met to ridicule and destroy religion. Infamous and blasphemous acts were performed. At a meeting they burned a Bible, baptized a cat, partook of a mock sacred meal and administered sacrament to a dog.

In the evening, he who administered the sacrament was attacked with a violent inflammatory disease and died before morning in great bodily and mental agony, his inflamed eyeballs protruding and his tongue swollen. Another was found dead the next morning. A third died in a fit a few days later.

In five years of the organization of the society, all thirty-six of the original members had met strange and premature deaths: one of horrible swelling, one found dead in bed, one died in convulsions, one froze to death, three died in accidents, five were suicides, two were stoned to death, seven died on the gallows and eight were shot.

In conclusion, I guess about all I can add to Dr. Lee’s illustration is a thought from the Bible. It’s a simple thought but a profound one. In Galatians 6:7, the Bible still says:

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked… (N.K.J.V.)

Posted in Atheism, Depravity, God's Holiness, God's Wrath, God's Judgment, Rebellion, Sin, Sowing and Reaping | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Elephants, Grass, & Spiritual Warfare

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. And the Lord said to Satan, “From where do you come?” So Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it.” Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?” So Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!” And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on his person.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord. (Job 1:6-12, N.K.J.V.)

My mother is a member of Calvary Baptist Church in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Dr. C. Mark Corts was the pastor of that church for almost forty years. He died in 2006.

In his retirement years, just before his death, Dr. Corts wrote an excellent book entitled The Truth About Spiritual Warfare. In the first chapter of the book, he deals with the story of Job and explains that spiritual warfare isn’t about us. It is, instead, a battle between God and Satan. Corts writes:

Natives in Africa say, “When elephants fight, the grass gets trampled.” That’s what we see happening in the Book of Job – the clearest look behind the curtain in the Bible. Two titans, God and Satan, were engaged in warfare, and Job was the grass that got trampled.

This whole understanding of spiritual warfare has been very helpful to me whenever I find myself having to play the role of grass. When I sense that I’m in the throes of spiritual warfare, I ask myself two questions. Question 1: What is God trying to accomplish in this situation? Question 2: How is Satan working to keep it from happening?

Let me illustrate. A mother once approached me and asked, “Aren’t you Russell Mckinney?” When I answered, “Yes,” she proceeded to tell me how much she enjoyed my Sunday morning radio broadcast on one of our local stations. In particular, she was enjoying the series Life Lessons from Proverbs that I was broadcasting at the time. She was enjoying those sermons so much that she asked if I could get her some cds of them for her teenage son. I said, “Sure. Give me your phone number and I’ll call you when they’re ready.”

A couple of weeks later, I called the number but got no answer. So, I left a message saying that the cds were ready. All the mother had to do was call me back so that we could agree to a meeting place where I could give them to her. But several days later I still hadn’t received that callback. I thought that seemed kind of odd because she had seemed so genuinely interested in getting those sermons. My first instinct was to call her again, but then I got to thinking that I didn’t want to pester her. Perhaps she had changed her mind. I certainly didn’t want to make a nuisance of myself by forcing my own preaching onto her!

So what did I do? I took the matter to God in prayer and asked Him if I should make another run at contacting the woman. He answered by reminding me of what Dr. Corts had taught about spiritual warfare. I asked the two questions. What was God trying to accomplish in this situation? Answer: He wanted that teenage son to hear the spiritual truths of those life lessons from Proverbs. And how was Satan trying to keep that from happening? Answer: He was somehow keeping the lines of communication broken down between me and that mother.

Well, once I had that information, I called the mother again. I was disappointed to have to leave another message, but this time she called me back pretty quickly. We worked out a plan for how I could get the cds to her, and she got them. She also explained why she hadn’t called me back the first time. It hadn’t been anything personal. She had meant to call but, for whatever reason, just hadn’t gotten around to it. I didn’t tell her that I truly believed that Satan had assigned some of his troops to her case and was actively working to keep her son from getting those sermons. I didn’t want to scare her.

And now we come to the application portion of this post. Do you feel like you are currently under spiritual attack? Is the aura of spiritual warfare hanging heavy around you right now? If the answer is yes, please take some time right now to ask yourself the two basic questions about the warfare: “What is God trying to accomplish in the situation?” “And how is Satan working to keep it from happening?” You’ll probably be surprised at how straightforward and simple the answers are. Then, once you have those answers, you’ll be able to move forward wisely concerning the situation. Understand that you are the grass upon which two elephants are engaged in battle and keep doing your part to help God accomplish His will.

Posted in Adversity, Angels, Demons, God's Will, Personal, Prayer, Satan, Spiritual Warfare, The Devil, Trials | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Bobby Leach

Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:12-13, N.K.J.V.)

Englishman Bobby Leach lived an interesting life. On July 25, 1911, he became the second person to pull off the stunt of going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Of course, the feat didn’t come without some injury. He spent the next six months in the hospital recovering from two broken kneecaps and a broken jaw.

Upon his recovery, Leach, who had once been a performer with the Ringling Brothers & Barnum Bailey circus, toured as a celebrity throughout Canada, England, and the United States. He made a good living speaking in the vaudeville shows and lecture halls of the day. For his act, he would show off his steel barrel, talk about his experience at Niagara Falls, and pose for pictures.

In 1920, Leach attempted to boost his declining fame by swimming Niagara Falls’ whirlpool rapids. He made several attempts to pull off the feat but was unsuccessful each time. What made those attempts all the more incredible was the fact that, by then, Leach was his sixties.

Then came 1926. While on a publicity tour in New Zealand, Leach slipped on an orange peel, took a bad spill, and broke his leg. Infection set in, and eventually the leg became eaten up with gangrene. The leg was amputated in an attempt to save Leach’s life, but it was to no avail. He died two months afterward.

Isn’t it ironic that Bobby Leach survived his daredevil attempts at Niagara Falls but saw the end of his life begin when he slipped on a simple orange peel? In Knight’s Book of Illustrations, Dr. Stewart Anderson uses Leach’s life as an illustration of spiritual truth. He says:

Some great temptations, which roar around us like Niagara, may leave us unharmed. But a little, insignificant incident may cause our downfall simply because we are not looking for it.

The truth is, each of us runs the risk of getting into trouble anytime we drop our spiritual guard up, stop paying attention, and assume we’ve got everything under control. That’s just when some “little” temptation will bring us down. Keep this in mind as you move through life, and be sure to watch out for those orange peels!

Posted in Backsliding, Personal Holiness, Sin, Temptation | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rejoicing in the Lord Always

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! (Philippians 4:4, N.K.J.V.)

Many years ago, in Germany, a young man was diagnosed with cancer of the tongue. The prognosis was that the cancer would spread unless the tongue was completely removed. Only by removing the tongue could the young man have any chance of living to an old age.

On the day of the surgery, a group of students gathered around the operating table to observe the procedure. Before the surgeon began, though, he bent down over the patient and said to him, “My friend, if you wish to say anything, you now have the opportunity. But I must warn you that your words will be the last words that you will ever utter. So, think well about what you wish to say.”

The young man did take considerable time before speaking, and those moments of silence hung heavy in the air as the surgeon and the students waited. Finally, they heard the young man utter four simple words. He said, “Thank God, Jesus Christ.” That response brought tears to the eyes of everyone in the room.

I have to question if I would express such devotion at such a time. My last words could well have been: “Why, Lord?” or “I don’t understand, Lord.” Of course, I could be underestimating myself. Then again, maybe I’m not.

The New Testament book of Philippians is a letter the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians of Philippi. It is a short book, just four chapters long. Nevertheless, over the course of those four chapters, Paul uses some variation of the word “rejoice” no less than eleven times. Furthermore, he uses the word “joy” six times. What makes these words all the more amazing is the fact that Paul wrote the letter while he was under house arrest in Rome. This explains his references to “the palace guard” (1:13) and “Caesar’s household” (4:22).

How could a man talk so much about rejoicing and joy when he was chained to a Roman soldier twenty-four hours a day? (The guards operated in six-hour shifts). How could he say, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (4:4)? Obviously, Paul had learned that inner joy isn’t dependent upon outward circumstances. He understood that he had been granted spiritual life by Christ, that his sins had all been forgiven, that God could use him no matter what his circumstances were, and that even his death would merely be his promotion to heaven. This explains the joy that was bubbling up from inside him.

Christian, I don’t know where you find yourself today, but I do know that you can have joy there. Even if your earthly circumstances aren’t all that pleasant, you can focus on your eventual entrance into heaven, that glorious place where there will be no more sorrow, pain, sickness, shame, or regret. There, you will be eternally wedded to Jesus as a part of the church, His bride. And, there, you will surely have never-ending reason to say, as that young man in Germany once said, “Thank God, Jesus Christ.”

Posted in Adversity, Attitude, Complaining, Contentment, Depression, Disappointment, Heaven, Joy, Perseverance, Praise, Reward, Salvation, Thankfulness, The Tongue | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Wise as Serpents, Harmless as Doves

In Matthew chapter 10, we find Matthew’s account of Christ’s commissioning of His chosen twelve. It’s a marvelous chapter to study in terms of basic ministry, bold evangelism, and preaching for a decision. With that said, I’d like to draw your attention to a single verse from the chapter. I’m referring to verse 16, where Jesus says:

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” (N.K.J.V.)

Notice that Jesus begins by describing Christians as sheep. That’s the good part. But then He says that we are sent out into a world filled with wolves. That’s the bad part. It’s because of that bad part that we can’t be just regular sheep. We must simultaneously be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves.

Picture a flock of sheep in the midst of a ravenous pack of wolves. That mental image doesn’t foretell a pretty outcome, does it? Oh, but wait, these aren’t regular sheep. These sheep are as wise as serpents. And how wise is a serpent? Well, going all the way back to the garden of Eden, the serpent is described as being more cunning than any of the other creatures (Genesis 3:1). Based upon that description, a sheep as wise as a serpent wouldn’t be easy pickings for the wolves. That’s exactly the point Jesus is making.

A Christian who is as wise as a serpent will exhibit good sense, prudence, and tact when it comes to evangelism. He will not go out into the world wild-eyed, ignorant, and hopelessly naive. He will not be of the world, but he will be in the world, and he will understand how the world works. Charles Spurgeon described the situation as follows:

He sends them, not to fight with wolves, nor to drive them out of their haunts, but to transform them. The disciples were sent to fierce men to convince them, and therefore they must be wise…The Christian missionary will need to be wary, to avoid receiving harm; but he must be of a guileless mind, that he do no harm…we are to be simple-hearted, but we are not to be simpletons.

Is it a tough balancing act to stay wise but harmless? Yes, it is. Whereas wisdom is typically associated with power, and power is often associated with the ability to inflict harm, that’s just not how Jesus expects His followers to wield their wisdom. Do you remember the story where James and John learned this lesson? It’s found in Luke 9:51-56. When Jesus and the chosen twelve came to a certain village in Samaria, the citizens wouldn’t let them enter the village. James and John, being as wise as serpents in the racial hatred that existed between the Jews and the Samaritans, understood the roadblock for the insult that it was. Accordingly, they responded by wanting to strike like cobras and exact revenge. Their question to Jesus was, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” But Jesus rebuked them by saying, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” He might as well have said, “Calm down boys, I need doves not cobras.”

And so, Christian, I’ll ask you to assess how you are doing with your balancing act. Are you a sheep that has either too much dove or too much serpent about you? Neither imbalance is good. If you are too gullible in worldly matters, you need to develop more of an edge because you have too much dove about you. Conversely, if you are too quick to strike, you need to develop more of a calm, peaceable nature because you have too much serpent about you. Think of it this way: Too much dove will make you easy pickings for the wolves, but too much serpent will keep you from converting any of the wolves into sheep. And, at the end of the day, turning wolves into sheep is why we’re called to go out in the first place, right?

Posted in Adversity, Anger, Attitude, Balance, Character, Discernment, Discipleship, Evangelism, God's Work, Ministry, Missions, Revenge, Service, Witnessing | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nibbling Your Way Into Real Trouble

Here’s a good word from Mike Yaconelli, who writes for The Wittenburg Door:

I live in a small, rural community. There are lots of cattle ranches around here, and every once in awhile a cow wanders off and gets lost…Ask a rancher how a cow gets lost, and chances are he will reply: “Well, the cow starts nibbling on a tuft of green grass, and when it finishes, it looks ahead to the next tuft of green grass and starts nibbling on that one, and then it nibbles on a tuft of green grass right next to a hole in the fence, so it nibbles on that one, and then goes on to the next tuft. The next thing you know, the cow has nibbled itself into being lost.”

Yaconelli then applies his illustration to the problem of Christian backsliding. He writes:

…Backsliders keep moving from one tuft of activity to another, never noticing how far we have gone from home or how far away from the truth we have managed to end up.

Tell me, Christian, when was the last time you looked around and got your spiritual bearings? Could it be that you have nibbled yourself right through a hole in the fence and are currently a long, long way from where God would have you to be? Maybe you didn’t start out with the intention of leaving your God-appointed pasture. Nevertheless, that’s what happened as you continued to nibble your way through life.

I especially like what Yaconelli says about the backslider not noticing how far away from the truth he has managed to end up. Isn’t it amazing how we start to rationalize our sin or explain it away the further we get from walking with Christ? The backslider begins to see scriptural truth more as a dull gray rather than as black and white, and once that rationalizing and explaining away begins, all bets are off as to where that person might end up in life. That’s how a simple case of backsliding becomes a full blown case of rebellion and catastrophe. So please, Christian, take this post as your warning. Stop your nibbling and get back to your pasture today.

Posted in Backsliding, God's Will, Rebellion, Repentance, Sin | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Old Bearskin

Notre Dame football has had a long and successful history, but it stood the tallest when Knute Rockne was the head coach. From 1918 to 1930, the team’s winning percentage was .881. They lost only twelve games during those thirteen years and won six national championships. And the unprecedented success would no doubt have continued had Rockne not been killed in a plane crash on March 31, 1931. He was just 43 years old.

During Rockne’s tenure at Notre Dame, a football column regularly appeared in the school newspaper. The column’s writer would say incredibly mean, nasty, insulting things about the team as a whole, and he would pointedly criticize individual players. But the writer always remained anonymous by merely signing his name as “Old Bearskin.”

What was most shocking about the column was that the writer seemed to have inside information concerning the team. He knew which players were lazy, which ones were ladies’ men, and which ones kept scrapbooks to read their own press clippings. As you might expect, every player on the team hated “Old Bearskin.” When a player would come to practice and complain about something that had been written, Coach Rockne would sympathize and say that no one should write such things. Then he would say to the team, “Boys, let’s get out there and show ‘Old Bearskin’ that the things he writes aren’t true.”

It was only after Rockne’s death that “Old Bearskin” was revealed to be none other than Rockne himself. His purpose in writing the column was to keep his players humble and hungry as opposed to egotistical and content to rest on their laurels. Obviously, Rockne understood the pitfalls of pride and went to the extreme of writing the column to keep his players from succumbing to those pitfalls.

I trust this illustration will help us all understand why God sometimes allows us or even causes us to experience humbling setbacks and defeats. We don’t like such experiences any more than Knute Rockne’s players liked that newspaper column, but how can we argue that we don’t, at times, need these experiences? Actually, God either allowing or causing these experiences is nothing less than an act of love on His part. You see, He understands Proverbs 16:18 far better than we do, and that’s why He faithfully does His part to keep us from becoming a victim of its warning:

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. (N.K.J.V.)

Posted in Adversity, Balance, Character, Criticism, God's Love, Humility, Pride, Problems, Prosperity, Sports, Trials | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment