Monthly Archives: April 2008

I Saved This Part For You


Last summer, my oldest son and I were going through a set of challenges and experiences that we called, “Chandler’s Induction Into Manhood.” He had turned thirteen just before school ended, and I wanted to commission him for the years of maturing that were ahead.

One of the challenges involved three days at an undeveloped piece of land that his grandfather owned in Texas. During our stay, we had several objectives that involved building character and learning skills, and one required my son to help build a gazebo deck. Neither he nor I had ever built one, but Granddad was on hand to lend instruction and expertise. It was a fun experience, and Chandler learned quite a bit about handling tools, making measurements, and sticking with a job until it was done.

But even better than that, this challenge taught us something about the nature of God. You see, Granddad could easily have built that deck on his own. It would have been completed faster, with less waste, and in the end, it probably would have looked better. He didn’t need our help. He had been doing carpentry work most of his life and had the callouses to prove it. In fact, I’ve always thought that his spiritual gift has something to do with building, crafting and fixing things. It’s what God designed him to do.

He could have done it all on his own, but Granddad saved a part for his grandson, because he knew that it would bless him. Granddad saw an opportunity to teach his grandson some carpentry skills and an opportunity to do some mentoring, so he set aside the deck project until his grandson could be there to help with it.

Isn’t that just like what God does with each of us? He’s an all-powerful, all-knowing, everywhere God. What does He need us for? Nothing really. He could fix all the world’s problems; He could save all the lost people; He could heal all the hurting on His own, but He takes joy in saving a part for us to do.

That’s why He waited to feed the 5,000 until He had five loaves and two fish from a young boy. That’s why He asked Peter and the others to bring some of the fish He had just put in their nets even though He already had some on the fire. That’s why He brought a boy named Zoloo all the way to Chiang Mai from Mongolia when He could easily have healed him in his own country.

When my son finished working on that deck, he was so proud of it! He had no idea that he was capable of completing a project like that, and his confidence in his own abilities grew. The experience changed him, moved him closer to being a man. It was well-worth the the extra effort, time and material waste to produce the masterpiece of a young man.

God saves us a part to do, because he wants to train us, to equip us and to test our hearts. And like Chandler’s granddad, he also saves that piece, because he wants relationship with us. He wants to work alongside us, because He loves us. The project is important, but it’s second priority. His first priority is you.

Day One - Deck Building

Day 2 - Deck Building

Completed Project

The Mighty Builder

Done In By the Deck

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Filed under parenting, Relationships, Service, Spiritual Growth, Spirituality

Man-na?


The Israelites had been miraculously freed from their captivity in Egypt, but their food ran out in the desert, and they were feeling a little grumpy. “If we were still in Egypt, we would have food to eat! Did you bring us out here to die?” they demanded from Moses. Moses, in turn, complained to God, “What am I going to do with these people you gave me?”

God agreed to send the Israelites bread (a.k.a., “manna”) from heaven each day, and He made good on His promise for 40 years while the they wandered through the desert. (Lesson #1: Be careful what you ask for. There’s only so much you can make from one ingredient breakfast, lunch and dinner. When manna got old, they learned to make manna-cotti, manna-lla wafers, and salad with manna-goes, but it was a few years before the first MannacDonalds.)

But when the Israelites first saw the bread, they had no idea what it was. They asked each other, “Man-na?” (Hence, the name.) Translated, the question is, “What is it?” Even though God had told them that He was sending them bread… Even though He had told them when it was coming, they still were surprised by its arrival.

Fast forward almost fifteen hundred years. Jesus had just fed the 5,000 and walked on water. The Jews met him on the other side of the lake, and their appetite for miracles had been whetted. “Show us a miracle!” they demanded. “Moses gave our forefathers manna in the desert.”

Jesus replied, “I am the living bread that has come down from heaven. If you eat this bread, you will live forever.” Of course, he was speaking spiritually, not physically, but they didn’t get it. They thought Jesus was a prophet, maybe Elijah or Jeremiah or John the Baptist returned from the dead. They were offended that He would say that they should eat His flesh, and many of them turned away.

In a very real sense, they were still saying, “Man-na?” “What is this?”  Even though God had told them that He was sending them a Savior… Even though He had told them whose family line He would come from…  Even though He had told them when and where and how, they still were surprised by His arrival.

“Man-na?” It’s the single, most important question any of us will ever answer in regard to Jesus. What do we make of Him? Is He prophet, philosopher, teacher, nice-guy? Or is He God? Will we be satisfied with His miracles, or will we not be satisfied until we have a relationship with the Miracle-Maker? We can’t just choose not to deal with the question. Not dealing with it is an answer in itself. Jesus is the Bread of Life. Nothing else can satisfy our spiritual hunger.

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It’s Not Gone Till God Says It’s Gone


Just finished an international dinner party with people from the U.S., Thailand and Mongolia. We were celebrating the success of a leg operation for a young boy named Zoloo.

A month ago, Zoloo’s mom had been told by his Mongolian doctors that he had cancer in the upper bone of one of his legs. There was nothing to do but amputate. But through a series of events that only God could have arranged, several ministries partnered with the local Mongolian church and flew Zoloo to Chiang Mai, Thailand, for a second opinion. There it was discovered that the cancer diagnosis was false and likely owing to the part of the bone biopsied the first time.

Two days after the updated diagnosis, Zoloo had surgery to repair the bone in his leg. A benign tumor needed to be removed, and a cyst needed to be filled with synthetic bone matter. A temporary metal rod was installed to add strength while the bone heals and grows. I’m happy to say that a day after the surgery, Zoloo was able to walk with the help of crutches. One leg that had been shorter than the other was restored to its full length, and Zoloo gets to keep his leg.

Satan told Zoloo’s family that his leg was gone. Truth be known, that’s not the worst thing that could ever happen to someone. Zoloo would have continued living. He could have continued to have a happy life. His amputation might have even given him a ministry in God’s Kingdom. But Zoloo’s family knew better than to give up based on the report of their Enemy. When they asked God about the leg, He told them that there was still hope, and then He brought all the pieces together to turn that hope into reality.

As I thought about this good work today, I was reminded that Satan will often try to discourage us by telling us that something important is gone. But it’s not really gone till God says it’s gone!

In 1 Samuel 30, Satan told David and his army, “Your wives an your children are GONE! Stolen by the Amalekites! Lost forever!” (That’s not a direct quote, by the way.) But David asked God, and God told him that there was hope. David and his men tracked down the Amalekites and totally destroyed them. Their wives and children were safe.

In 2 Kings 6, Satan tells a prophet that the ax head that he borrowed from a friend was gone, but the prophet asked Elisha what God had to say, and God said there was hope. Elisha tossed a stick into the Jordan where the ax head fell, and the ax head floated to the surface.

In the next chapter, Satan told the king of Israel that the kingdom was gone, but Elisha asked God and learned that there was hope. The next day, the invading Aramean army completely disappeared, leaving all their supplies, their gold, their clothes, and their horses and donkeys.

In Luke 22, Satan told Peter that his call to leadership was gone after he denied knowing his friend and Savior three times, but in John 21, Jesus restored Peter to his leadership position.

And in John 19, Satan told all the believers that their Savior was gone, but in John 20, God showed them an empty tomb.  Ironically, Jesus really was…gone!  Just not in the way Satan had advertised.

Are you missing something important?  Check the source of your information.  It’s not gone till God says it’s gone!

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Filed under Challenges, God's Will, overcoming obstacles, spiritual warfare, Spirituality, Uncategorized

The Canary’s Complaint


Coal miners used to take canaries in cages down into the tunnels with them.  The canary has a highly sensitive respiratory system.  If poisonous methane or carbon monoxide gas started to seep into the tunnels, the birds would stop singing, sway noticeably and die, giving the miners an early warning system before the gas overcame them or resulted in an explosion.

Considering the canary’s purpose, wouldn’t it be nonsense to give it an enclosed, oxygenated cage?  Would it make any more sense to put the canary on life support while you went on working?  Ridiculous, right?  All you would accomplish is covering up the symptoms of the problem (i.e., the canary’s death).  The source of the problem (i.e., the poisonous gas) would continue to fill up the mine until it eventually exploded or suffocated all the miners.

But don’t we do the same thing with our problems sometimes?  Don’t we cover up the symptoms rather than deal with the sources?  When a friend challenges us about something we are planning to do, do we stop sharing information with him or her?  When we feel guilty about the way we are behaving, do we make excuses to justify our actions?  When we come across a Scripture that nails us to the wall, do we take a break from reading our Bibles?  When we have emotional pain, do we deaden it with addictive behaviors?

These types of solutions will make us feel better short-term,  but they are typically followed by deeper emotional and mental plunges as our temporary fixes wear off.  Long-term, they are much more trouble than they are worth and very destructive.  And if we keep ignoring the canary’s complaint, it will eventually stop complaining; then we are in serious trouble.  How many canaries can we afford to silence, eliminate or ignore before we succumb to the real problem?

A canary can be our best friend.  Granted, their constant chirping gets on the nerves, but we can learn to consider it as an early warning system.  Listen to them closely.  Give yourself time to really consider what they have to say.  Talk it over with someone objective and trustworthy, and get their take on the message.  And by all means, if you find all the canaries singing the same song, get out of that hole you are in!

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Filed under accountability, Denial, God's Will, Relationships, sin, Spiritual Growth

King Rat


James Clavell’s gritty first novel (King Rat) was about the fight for survival in the Chiangi Prison Camp in Singapore during World War  II.  He had spent half the war there himself and had learned much about how inhumanely humans can act toward one another when they are forced to compete for scarce resources to meet their most basic needs.

Instead of uniting together against their common enemy, the men fought against each other.  They formed gangs that stole food and other essentials from other prisoners and sometimes even committed murder in order to take what another man had.  The only rule was survival of the fittest.

Because their captors failed to provide enough food to keep the men healthy, the prisoners devised ways of breeding and raising rats under their huts.  These rats provided a source of nutrition for the men that helped them stay alive.  But rats breed quickly (a single pair could be responsible for the addition of 15,000 rats in just one year).  There were always more than enough to eat, so the men took to gambling with them.

They would throw a rat into deep pool and bet on how long it would be able to tread water.  The strongest could stay above the surface for twenty-four hours or more.  But a strange thing happened if they added a second rat to the pool.  Both rats would inevitably be dead in less than an hour, no matter how strong they were.  Instead of working together for survival, the rats spent all their energy trying to claw up on top of each other.

The metaphor wasn’t lost on the men of Chiangi.  They realized that they were just like the rats, trying to claw up on top of the other gangs.  Feeling powerless to retaliate against their captors, they focused their anger and frustration on those around them.  But in the end, all the infighting exhausted their minds and bodies, and many died in Chiangi who no longer had it in them to fight.  The shift in paradigm brought life-giving change to Chiangi.

I wonder if there isn’t a bit of truth in the metaphor for those of us in the Church.  With all the competitiveness and fighting between different churches and denominations, have we forgotten that our real enemy is outside the Church?  How much energy, time and resources are we expending in order to prove others to be wrong in their practices and doctrine?  And what if we ignored all but the “salvation differences” and worked together to push back the Enemy?

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  (John 13:34-35)

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Filed under Interpersonal, Relationships, Religion, Spiritual Growth, Spirituality

I Hate Perfect People


Okay, that’s a little harsh, I know. I don’t actually hate them, but that’s mostly because they don’t exist. By my count, there have been only three to ever walk the face of the earth, and the first two caved under the pressure. What I actually hate is people pretending to be perfect, and they are legion.

Perfect people have it all together. They spend three hours a day in personal devotions, chair every church committee, have immaculate houses and trim physiques. They walk with the Lord every moment of every day, and all their kids play musical instruments…superbly well!

Why do I hate them? Same reason most of us do, I think. They are walking condemnations of who we are and what we do. When we spend time with them, we come away feeling inferior and discouraged. We want to crawl under a rock or wallow in self-pity. “Why can’t I be like them? Why is my family so messed up? There’s no hope for me if that’s the standard!”

But aside from my personal issues, I hate the impact they have on the Body of Christ. Their “perfectness” creates a wall – both for the non-believer and the believer. Perfect people are unapproachable. They don’t have problems like I have. They don’t struggle like I struggle. How could I ever open up to them about my sin or my pain? They wouldn’t understand, and they would probably judge me for it.

I attended a Christian men’s conference a few years ago, and the speaker asked us to talk at our tables about our struggles as men. I knew how hard it is to get men to open up to other men, so I thought I would prime the pump.

“I struggle with sexual purity. I was exposed to some pornography when I was about seven years old, and over the years, I developed an addiction.  When I became a Christian I realized that I had to deal with this sin in my life. I’m winning some battles, but it still has a strong pull on my heart.”

Silence. Nothing for about thirty excruciating seconds, and then the other seven guys at the table all said basically the same thing: “Well, I haven’t struggled with that, but I feel for you. No, my problem is…” and they began to rattle off some pretty mundane transgressions. All very safe stuff. I felt like a leper.

But as they shared, I realized something I had missed before. They were all from the same church – the one where the event was held. I was the only one from out of town. I suspected that many of them actually did struggle with sexual purity on some level (my experience is that it’s fairly universal for men – if not with pornography, then with eye control and impure thoughts), but they felt it was unsafe to share with each other. My suspicions were confirmed when one of the men approached me privately after the conference and confessed a deep-rooted battle with porn.

Why was it unsafe for those men to share with each other? Because they feared being judged. They feared what would change in their relationships. They feared that their secret might get out. Only faux weaknesses were safe enough to share.

This is such a tragedy! None of those men were perfect. All of them had issues that needed to be shared at that table. But no one wanted to expose his heart to the other men. Instead, they played perfect with each other, and by doing so, they stepped into Satan’s net of isolation. One of his main strategies against us is divide and conquer. He knows that we are stronger together, and he will do whatever it takes to keep us from unity.

We’ve got to be more transparent with each other and with the world around us. Playing perfect only sets us up for a fall when the Enemy exposes our sin. Pretending that we don’t struggle doesn’t make Chrisianity more attractive; it makes it unreal and hypocritical and “holier than thou.”

What the hurting people around us need to see is that we are hurting, too, but that we have Someone to whom we can take those hurts. We struggle, but we have hope. We sin, but we have forgiveness. We fall, but we get up.  Then, they will know that it’s safe to confide in us, that we can relate and that we won’t judge.  And that magnet is much more powerful than anything the Enemy has in his arsenal.

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Filed under Authenticity, evangelism, Interpersonal, Relationships, Spirituality, Uncategorized

Dime Store Pearls


Maybe you’ve seen the e-mail that’s made several trips around the world and at least three to my email box. Or maybe you’ve heard the song.  They are about a young girl who saw a string of gleaming white pearls at the dime store and fell in love with them. Working hard over the following weeks, she earned enough money (two dollars) to buy them and began wearing them everywhere she went – even to bed. She only took them off for bath time, because her mother told her that they would turn her neck green if they got wet.

The girl’s daddy loved her immensely and would make time every night to put her to bed with a story and a kiss. After finishing the story and tucking her in one night, her daddy asked her, “Sweetheart, do you love me?”

Enthusiastically, she answered, “Oh, yes, Daddy! Of course I love you!”

“Then give me your pearls,” he said.

“Oh, no, Daddy! Not my pearls! But you can have Princess. She’s my favorite toy horse.”

“That’s okay, Sweetheart. I love you. Good night.”

He kissed her cheek and turned out her light as he left the room.

This exchange was repeated every night for a few weeks. Each time, the young girl offered something other than her pearls, and each time her daddy patiently declined, kissed her goodnight and left the room. Then one night, her daddy entered her room to find her sitting up in bed. Her chin trembled, and a tear rolled down her cheek as she held out her pearl necklace to him.

“Here, Daddy. These are for you.”

With tears in his own eyes, her daddy reached out and accepted her dime store necklace. Then, he reached inside his pocket and drew out a blue velvet case and handed it to her. When she opened the case, she found a beautiful strand of genuine pearls.

———-

The story is such an accurate description of the exchange our Daddy wants to make with us. Tight-fisted, we hang onto our garbage. It seems so important to us. Sometimes it seems absolutely vital. We’re not sure how we can do without it. Patiently, God continues to ask us to give it up. Patiently, He listens to our excuses. He waits for us to come to the point where we love Him more than we love our stuff and our sin. When we do, He shares His plan for us, and it’s always “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think…” (Ephesians 3:20, KJV).

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