The Price of Ingratitude

November 22, 2012

“… although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were they thankful…”   (Romans 1:21)

In the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the believers in Rome he gives a resume of the fall of the human race.  Paul does the same thing Moses did in the third chapter of the book of Genesis.  They both describe the fall of man as it was and as it is.  By that I mean they are not merely describing an historical event in the past but they want us to understand what is happening in our culture right now.

In Paul’s account of the fall of the human race he traces the origin of our fall to two things: we did not glorify God as God, and we were not thankful.  He then continues to describe how God gave us up to what we wanted and we became guilty of every imaginable kind of sin.  As he vividly describes what happened to the human race after God did not give up on us but gave us up to what we wanted, the result became what Paul described as “all unrighteousness.”

If you track with Paul as he itemizes what he means by “all unrighteousness” it’s intriguing to realize that all that horrible sin began with the hard reality that we were not thankful.  There are so many exhortations and prescriptions in the Word of God for us to be thankful but here in the first chapter of Romans is a great warning about the price of not being thankful.

Like it was and like it is, appreciate the value of an attitude of gratitude.  And, like it was and like it is, do not underestimate the price of an attitude of ingratitude.

A Prescription for Communication

October 5, 2012

“‘Who told you that you were naked?’ the LORD God asked.’”  (Genesis3:11)

We have confessed, climbed and conserved to apply the jet pilot’s compass.  We must now apply the most critical points on his compass and ours.  Just as the jet pilot must communicate with his carrier, we must communicate with God.

We all know that we can communicate with God through prayer.  In the familiar story from the book of Genesis we learn that God communicates with us and He wants us to know that He communicates with us.

In a psychiatric hospital a man told his psychiatrist that he was Napoleon.  The psychiatrist asked him “Who told you that you are Napoleon?” The man responded, “God told me.” The man in the next room shouted, “I did not!”

In Hebrew the question God asked is literally: “Who made you know that you were naked?”  You may be uncomfortable telling people that God told you to make a decision like a career change. Would it be more comfortable to say God made you know that you were to make a certain decision? Do you believe God can make you know what He wants you to know and do?

It is exciting to know that we can communicate with God through prayer and even more exciting to know He communicates with us.  Just as the last two points on the pilot’s compass are the most critical, it is critical for us to be in two-way communication with God.

God communicates with us in many ways but the most important is when we are reading His inspired Word.  We should open the Bible with this prayer: “Let all the voices be stopped.  Speak to me Lord, Thou alone.”

A Prescription for Climbing

October 3, 2012

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is…” (Colossians 3:1)

To follow up on the application of the second point of the jet pilot’s compass to our own compass of life we must ask: what does it mean to “climb?” Since we are all different it means different things for different folks.  For me personally it means to get deeply into the Word of God.  A holy man named Thomas a’ Kempis wrote in words of his century that he found spiritual retreat and peace in ‘a little corner with a little book.’

For you climbing could mean meeting with a mentor if you are blessed to have one.  Ideally every believer should have one but realistically very few actually have a mentor or a disciple maker.  If you are a spiritual person a short or long private retreat could be a good way to climb.  While solitude works for some, a small group could work for others.  Simply being with spiritual people is moving in the right direction.

If you love worship music, getting immersed in meaningful worship music is a good way to climb.  This of course could happen in corporate as well as a closet worship experience.

Many people climb by reading the great old souls who have left us with their great expressions and “how to’s” of worship by example and precept.  Getting deep into devotional classics is a good way to climb.  I must repeat, however, that for me nothing replaces the Word of God for climbing.

The first letter of John tells us to track with the attributes of God.  According to John if we look where the love is, where the life is, and where the light is we will find ourselves climbing big time.

A Jet Pilot’s Compass

October 1, 2012

“… God called to the man, “Where are you?”  (Genesis 3:9)

When we know we could get lost we make sure we have a compass with us.  Jet pilots fly so far so fast they must have a compass to use immediately when they think they are lost.  A squadron commander I knew taught his pilots to use this five-fingered compass: “CONFESS, CLIMB, CONSERVE, COMMUNICATE and COMPLY.”

They were to immediately CONFESS when they thought they might be lost.  Then they were to CLIMB because communications are better and they burn less fuel with altitude.  Next they were to pull back on the throttle to CONSERVE fuel.  The final two points on their compass were critical:  to COMMUNICATE with their carrier and then COMPLY with that communication.  He promised that if they faithfully implemented the five points on this compass they would see the red light on their carrier called the “meat ball” that guided them to a safe landing.

If we realize we have lost our direction in life we must confess that we are lost.  Then we should climb, or do whatever we can do to get close to God.  This could be having a private spiritual retreat or seeking out spiritual people.  We should not make big decisions but conserve when we have lost our way.  The last two points on our personal compass are also critical: we must communicate with God and comply with what we believe He makes us know we are to do (John2:5).

If we will faithfully implement the five points on this compass we will see the “meatball” of His will that will guide us to green pastures in this life and to a safe landing in the house of the Lord forever.

Another Beautiful Word

August 31, 2012

“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…” (Acts 1:8)

The mercy of God withholds what we deserve and the grace of God lavishes on us countless blessings we do not deserve.  As we appreciate what the mercy of God withholds and the grace of God bestows when we believe the Gospel, we should be filled with grateful worship of our gracious and merciful God.

When Jesus gave His Great Commission He instructed the disciples to wait until the power of the Holy Spirit came upon them before they obeyed His Commission (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1: 4, 5).  After that happened to them on the Day of Pentecost, we read:  “Great grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33).  This use of the word “grace” means there is such a thing as the anointing, or the energizing unction of the Holy Spirit upon us as we serve Christ.  I am using the word in that sense when I tell people that His grace outweighs my challenges.

Paul was declaring this dimension of grace when he wrote: “God is able to make all grace abound toward you so that you, always, having all sufficiency in all things may abound unto every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8).  This is the most emphatic verse in the New Testament regarding the anointing and energizing grace of God.

Check out the superlatives he uses in this verse: All grace – abounding grace – each and every one of you  – he repeats all of you – all sufficiency – in all things – abounding unto every good work – always!  According to Paul we should all be able to make the claim that His grace outweighs our challenges!

Do you believe the grace of God can outweigh your challenges today?

Why and Oh

August 25, 2012

When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3)

The word we use most in this life is, “Why?” and the word we will use most in the next world will be, “Oh!”  The Providence of God is like a Hebrew word: we have to read it backwards.  By the Providence of God I mean that God is in charge and the events of our life have meaning.  Sometimes it is as if we are on the inside of a woven basket.  All the threads that come up on the inside of the basket represent the way we see the things that happen to us, which seem to have no meaning or pattern at all.  If we could just get out of that basket, on the outside we would see beautiful woven patterns.

Job is the biblical example of a man who tried to sort out, by looking inside the basket, what appeared to be the tragic meaninglessness of his life.  It was not until he looked up and saw all his tragic circumstances from God’s perspective that he was moved from asking, “Why?” to exclaiming, “Oh!” (Job 35: 1-7; 40-42)

In Psalm Eleven, verse three, the Psalmist asked a question: “If the foundations be destroyed, what shall the righteous do?” The NIV version of the Bible has a footnote that suggests this alternate reading: “When the foundations of your life are breaking up, what is the Righteous One doing?”

My wife and I have made that question a knee jerk reaction to the events of our life as they happen.  As a result, although we’re not on the other side yet we are already saying, “Oh!”

Will you confront the challenges you encounter daily with that same question?

A Setback or a Cutback?

August 14, 2012

“… every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”  (John 15: 2)

 My mentor Ray Stedman loved to tell the story about the famous violinist Paganini.  As a brilliant violinist and a superb showman, he liked to attach a sharp razor to his wrist.  At the right moment he would cut one of the strings on his violin.  The string would pop and the audience would gasp, but the most famous violinist in the world would keep playing.  He did this repeatedly and dramatically until he only had one string left on his violin.  As a genius he would then play the entire concerto on that one string.

Ray’s application was that God sometimes likes to cut back our strings and play the concert of our life on one string.  This brings great glory to Him because people can’t believe that as we are experiencing those cutbacks our concerto continues to play with an even more beautiful sound.

My precious wife has lost the use of her left arm and I have lost the use of all four limbs.  But the concerto of our lives and ministry continues to be more fruitful than it has ever been which brings great glory to God who is the One playing the concerto of our lives.

The explanation of Jesus was that He is a Vine and we are branches related to Him.  When we are fruitful because of that alignment He cuts us back to make us more fruitful.  Is it possible that events in your life that you have considered a setback are actually the cutback of your loving Lord and Savior who wants your life to be fruitful and your reward to be great in heaven?

A Prescription on Perspective

August 8, 2012

“Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is bad, your whole body is filled with darkness.” (Matthew 6:22, 23 NLT)

Perspective means “to look through” to the end.  I learned a helpful spiritual discipline on my faith journey when I asked God to give me His perspective of the long view and the forward look.  I now find it helpful to look up and ask God to give me His perspective as I take the long view back at the events of my life.  I believe it does wonders for our perspective when we regularly shake ourselves out of our introspective pity parties, look up, and ask for God’s long view perspective of our life in both directions.

Robertson McQuilken, a spiritual leader I deeply respect teaches: “It is easier to move to a consistent and problem-free extreme than to remain at the center of tension on any biblical issue, but the truth is often found at the center.”

In an interview Rick Warren was asked how he felt about his wife’s cancer.  He reflected that he once thought life was a series of mountaintops and valleys, but he has now decided life is like a railroad track.  The left rail represents this hard reality: there is always something bad in our life because God is more interested in our character than He is in our comfort.  The right rail represents this blessing: there is always something good in our life because God is good and He does love us.

I have found that when we’re hurting we can often find truth at the center between these two rails of reality.

A Right Question When We’re Hurting

August 3, 2012

“… what does He receive from your hand?”      (Job 35:7)

Not many devout people are disillusioned when they see wicked people suffer; however, the people of God are often faith-challenged when the godly suffer.  For thousands of years devout souls have been asking God, “Why do the righteous suffer?”

The book of Job is the longest, most profound and comprehensive answer to that question in the Bible.  If this is the oldest book in the Bible, then the very first truth God wanted to teach us is His answer to this primary ‘why question’ of His hurting people.

The way this ancient “Saga of Suffering” answers that question turns on a question Job asked his wife.  God had given Satan permission to take every possession he had, including his ten children (Job 2:3).  Then God permitted Satan to take Job’s health.  When he lost his health and was suffering from a dreadful disease, his wife told him he should curse God and die.  He responded to her cheerful counsel by asking, “Shall we accept good from the hand of God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10 NIV)

The essence of Job’s question was, “What should a righteous man expect God to put in his hand because he is living a righteous life?”  The answer to Job’s question is found in a discourse of a young man named, Elihu.  He told Job he was asking the wrong question.  He should be asking, “What is He receiving from your hand?” (Job 35: 7 NIV)

If you are hurting, or when you do, ask God the right question.  What have you done for Him lately?  What are you putting in His hand?


April 25, 2012

“Is Christ divided?”   (1 Corinthians 1:13)

 In the great prayer our Lord prayed for His Church (John 17), Jesus asked His Father, not once but five times, that we all might be one.  In light of that great prayer priority of our Lord, is it not an evidence of the work of the evil one when we consider all the “sects and insects and isms and spasms” that say they are His true Church today?

The risen, living Christ can be known by His followers today.  One of the favorite ways the authors of the New Testament identify the authentic followers of Jesus is when they refer to them as being “in Christ.”  When His Church in Corinth was hopelessly divided the Apostle Paul asked that church a very appropriate question: “Is Christ divided?”

If thinking people really track with the authors of the New Testament would they not think it strange if people profess to be in Christ and then cannot agree on anything?  There is, however, a supernatural oneness or agreement among people who are truly in Christ today.

Many decades ago when African American believers were petitioning white churches in the southern part of our country to integrate I discovered that it didn’t matter whether the people in my church were born in northern or southern United States.  What mattered in my congregation was whether or not they were born again.  Christ does not feel more than one way about civil rights.  Neither will we if we are born again and in Christ.

Paul concludes the second chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians by claiming that we have the mind of Christ.  If we in fact do have the mind of Christ we will agree.