In Denver it’s illegal to drive a black car on Sunday.
In Ohio it’s illegal to run out of gas.
In Alabama it’s illegal to drive blindfolded.
In Arizona it’s illegal for a donkey to sleep in a bathtub.
In Hawaii it’s illegal to place a coin inside your ear.
There are several laws that most have never even heard of and there seems to be no shortage of ridiculous laws that definitely have a good story for their origin. The Jews had over six hundred laws and would often debate over which commands and laws were superior over the others. Was there an ultimate law that reigned supreme?
Jesus would echo the words of Moses in Matthew 22.37-40 and according to the Son of God, the ultimate command is a summary of faithful living. So the entirety of our purpose in life can be summed up in this one sentence,
“you shall love the LORD your God with your— everything.”
If you love God with everything; every area of your life will be in submission to His will. Your mental power and your strength must be combined to serve Him in unison, and even Paul recognizes how much easier said than done that concept is. In Mark 12.22 Jesus wraps it all together by linking the heart, soul, and strength together. This trifecta of our being can be tamed with discipline and utilized as a powerful force against evil. This is the key to loving Him with our everything.
Ravi Gandhi, the CFO of United Auto Credit Corporation, carries on an interesting routine every morning. When he gets to his desk at work, he puts three pennies on the left side of his computer. They are reminders for him to look for people to encourage, thank, and recognize. If he gets up from his desk, he puts the pennies in his left pocket. Each time he succeeds in blessing someone in these ways, he moves the penny from the left to the right side. Keeping up with the “three penny practice” reminds him that we live in a world filled with people deprived of encouragement, and it reminds him of what he can do to practically make a difference (Kouzes and Posner, The Leadership Challenge, 253-254).
Encouragement is an intentional rather than an accidental exercise. In other words, we have got to be looking for ways to do it. I am not sure that it comes naturally to everyone. I believe some have the gift of exhortation and encouragement (Rom. 12:8), but how many cannot be sure for lack of trying? It requires a certain amount of discipline and selflessness to look for people, often outside the spotlight, who are wearily struggling along life’s road.
The word translated “encourage” in the New Testament is, to me, one of the most beautiful words in the Bible. It literally carries the idea of coming alongside someone and putting your arm around them, “to ask to come and be present where the speaker is, call to one’s side” (BDAG, 764). Louw-Nida defines it as causing “someone to be encouraged or consoled, either by verbal or non-verbal means” (305).
Back to Mr. Gandhi’s mission, there are always people to encourage, thank, and recognize. What about the custodian, the office administrator, the intern, or the new hire? What about the person who delivers food? What about the introverted, hard worker who’s always prompt and dependable but apt to be “invisible”? There’s the lunchroom employees, the teacher’s aids, the bus drivers, teachers, administrators, and the security personnel at school.
This is a fantastic practice in our church life, too. Look for the new Christians, new members, those who are alone, the elderly, little kids, the socially awkward, the singles, the widows, and, of course, the visitors. Find a tangible way to express gratitude and recognition. Perhaps something like placing three pennies in your pocket or three rubber bands on the fingers of your left hand will keep this necessary work at the forefront of your mind.
Yes, the Scriptures command it: “Encourage one another and build up one another” (1 Th. 5:11), “encourage the fainthearted” (1 Th. 5:14), “encourage one another day after day” (Heb. 3:13), and “encourage one another” (Heb. 10:25). But, it may surprise us how rewarding and satisfying it is to bless people with some simple, sincere encouragement.
Do you have three pennies? Why not pocket them, then pursue people you can lift with a simple word of joyful cheer? Three such acts a day amounts to over a thousand acts of kindness a year. If we all did that, it would revolutionize our world! Three pennies might not buy much in the world, but they might change a life!
Tasmanian devils are named for their chilling shrieks that can be heard when the sun goes down on the island of Tasmania. The sound of the devils crying in the night reminded the early colonists of the mythical hellhounds. Despite their terrifying calls, these creatures aren’t as much of a danger to humans as they are to themselves. Not so long ago a vicious cancer began killing these animals and the cause of the disease was a mystery. As scientists began to study them, they discovered that the cancerous tumors were self-inflicted. It’s not uncommon for the Tasmanian devils to fight and bite one another over a carcass or the rights to a female. A devil’s ears will burn a bright red color when they become upset but by lashing out at one another they further their own extinction. The bites they inflict on one another are likely to develop into the mutating cancer that will grow until they succumb to the disease itself, or starvation. You won’t see the ugly side of these animals in Looney Tunes, but there are some valuable lessons to be learned from this. At times we can be guilty of destroying one another through gossip or complaining and, sadly, the church isn’t immune to this disease. It’s no wonder that God warns us about the dangers through His New Testament authors.
Consider the following verses:
“Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.” James 5.9
“But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.” Galatians 5.15
“We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.”
I Corinthians 10.9-10
While there’s much to be said about the damage that the tongue can inflict, it’s more productive to discuss solutions to the problem. Ironically, it’s a lack of productivity that often spawns gossip and complaints. As the old adage goes,
“When there’s nothing to see and do, there’s much to hear and say.”
Sadly, the darker side of closeness, history, and intimacy can be the breeding ground of gossip. The wounds inflicted and the trust that’s broken can be difficult, if not impossible, to repair. A song we teach to small children should be modeled by adults.
O be careful little ears what you hear
O be careful little ears what you hear
For the Father up above
Is looking down in love
So, be careful little ears what you hear
O be careful little tongue what you say
O be careful little tongue what you say
For the Father up above
Is looking down in love
So, be careful little tongue what you say
Three Ways To Fight The Bite
Avoid being a spreader. It will build your integrity and trustworthiness.
Make it a point to speak highly of the person being slandered.
Offer biblical solutions instead of contributing to the gossip. This assumes the person spreading the gossip is genuinely concerned about the person(s) they’re talking about. Have they confronted the subject of their gossip (Matt. 18.15-20)? If they’re unwilling to act but willing to talk— avoid them.
On the last night of His life Jesus prayed the following,
“I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” John 17.20-21
If unity was on the mind of the Savior even as He faced the cross, it must be important.
Unity: without it there’s pain but with it there’s unlimited power.
I wonder if Kathy felt like she was living with Briscoe Darling and the boys (imagine them if they were talkative) through the years they were growing up. She is refined and genteel, words that are not usually connected to our three sons and me. One thing she impressed upon us was the importance of timely, thoughtful thank you notes. Gratitude, though it can be expressed with very little time and expense, is telling. It acknowledges the kindness and generosity of the giver.
One of the elements of worship, generally, and prayer, specifically, is thanksgiving. Our songs call for it: “Give Thanks With A Grateful Heart,” they express it: “Thank You, Lord,” “For All That You’ve Done,” “How Great Thou Art,” “10,000 Reasons,” and “He Has Made Me Glad.” Though that songwriter, Leona Von Brethorst, apparently wrote the song from Psalm 100, she includes a line from Psalm 118:24: “This is the day that the Lord has made.”
Five times in Psalm 118, the psalmist says “give thanks” (1,19,21,28,29). He urges others to do so, but also expresses his resolve to do the same. Why?
GIVE THANKS FOR HIS GOODNESS (1-4)
“Good” is a general word that takes in pleasantness, desirability, and beauty. The good quality specified here is His everlasting mercy (lovingkindness). The writer moves from the broad to the specific–Israel, house of Aaron, those who fear the Lord. Everyone is the object of God’s lovingkindness. The righteous freely express their thanks for it.
GIVE THANKS FOR HIS DELIVERANCE (5-13)
There is a sudden, dramatic shift in tone in verse five. From an upbeat, positive tone, he turns to thoughts of trouble and difficulty. Distress, hatred, being surrounded, and violence threatened him, but God was there for him as protection and help. This kept him from fearfulness. It gave him refuge.
It is an amazing thing to think of all the ways and times God has been with me, but those are just the instances I’m aware of. How many trials has God spared me from, disasters has He caused me to avoid, and troubles has He averted for me that I won’t know about on this earth? Just what I do know humbles me, and it should fill my heart with gratitude.
GIVE THANKS FOR HIS GREATNESS (14-17)
The writer turns to the Giver. He is strong, a Savior, valiant, and exalted. Summarizing God’s qualities, the writer says, “I will not die, but live, And tell of the works of the Lord” (17). Awareness of who God is for me, physically, materially, and spiritually, will drive me to grateful thanks.
GIVE THANKS FOR HIS DISCIPLINE (18)
Though it is almost a parenthetical phrase in the middle of this song of thanksgiving, it is important and an additional reason for gratitude. He writes, “The Lord has disciplined me severely, But He has not given me over to death.” Who is brave enough to say that with the psalmist? He implies gratitude for God’s severe discipline. Hebrews 12:7-10 tells us that God disciplines those He loves and calls His children. It is for our good and allows us to share His holiness. Can I thank Him for the trials and challenges that refine me and grow my dependence on Him? Or do I just plaintively ask, “Why?”
GIVE THANKS FOR HIS PROVISION (19-29)
He uses the imagery of a city here–gates, stones, and chief corner stone. Then, he ends with a temple analogy, with the house of the Lord, festival sacrifice, and the horns of the altar. Saved inside God’s walls of protection, we are free to offer worship which He accepts. We marvel, we rejoice, we are glad, we prosper, and we extol. He has given us light. The primary thrust is not material, but spiritual. However prosperous or impoverished you are, financially, however strong or weak you are, emotionally, we have the greatest provision of all in Christ. Eternal salvation, the hope of heaven, fellowship with God and the saved, the church, strength to endure, the list is endless.
Today, as you go through the day, why not stop and spend time in prayer to God thanking Him categorically: physical blessings, relationship blessings, emotional blessings, national blessings, and spiritual blessings. No doubt, there are things in your life right now that are dissatisfying and disappointing. You may be struggling mightily. Perhaps those are ways God is disciplining you in His love. Whatever is happening in your life, choose to give thanks and know God is trustworthy! It’s more than polite. It’s righteous!
Today was a momentous and somber day for me: I am now bald. After removing my hat – a constant companion – I saw that the battle was lost and shaved my head. ‘Twas a truly humbling moment; I now understand what the greatest youth minister of all time – Brett Petrillo – felt when he, too, bid a final farewell to his hair. We never know what we have until it is but a wishful yearning for yesteryear.
Being a minister in a family of ministers, I must allegorize this milestone before the tombstone. I fought to keep something that was not only lost, but that should have been let go long before now. Instead of seeing the writing on the wall I thought, “Maybe I can keep it.” Or, “Maybe no one will notice.” Or, “Maybe I can make it seem like something it isn’t.”
We do this a lot in our spiritual lives, too. We might hold onto grudges, bad attitudes, sin problems, past hurts, pet peeves, or guilt. Holding onto these is hopeless and counterproductive.
Are we holding onto a grudge? Jesus said in Matthew 5.23, 24, that we shouldn’t even worship if we have something against a brother/sister or if they have something against us. Matthew six tells us that forgiving others is a condition of receiving forgiveness.
Are we nursing a bad attitude? Paul, writing to Euodia and Syntyche in Philippians 4, addressed their attitude problem bluntly. The first part of chapter two commands them to embody traits such as encouragement, consolation, affection, and compassion. He gives an example of the selflessness of Jesus – something driven by His attitude. He put others above Himself, even though He didn’t have to. In Philippians 2.12, Paul even states that attitude can determine where we will spend eternity! If we have a bad attitude, we need to shave it.
What about guilt? Perhaps nothing is so tragically difficult to let go of as guilt. Sometimes guilt is necessary to help us see our faults and seek forgiveness. Just as often, if not more so, guilt is a weight that holds us back from spiritual growth. We must understand, internalize, and have gratitude for the gift of grace. The whole purpose of Jesus’ sacrifice was to give us grace and access to God. I John makes it very clear that a forgiven Christian who continues to live his/her imperfect life in pursuit of God is perfect in His eyes. If guilt while under grace is present and weighing us down, we need to shave it. It is one of Satan’s most powerful weapons against the Christian. It will hamstring any effort we make to grow spiritually, as our minds focus more on our past than on our infinitely more important future.
Certainly more could be said on the subject but while we have some time on our hands, we might do a little introspection and see what we can let go of. It will be uncomfortable, it will be uncertain, and it will be worth the effort. Shaving what we needn’t hold onto will not only bring greater joy, it will also bring a healthier relationship with God and our Christian family.
There’s a part in Sleeping Beauty where the Prince slays a fire breathing dragon with his sword. This is at the climax of the movie, so this entire time the story has been building up to this one, final moment. It’s pretty epic. In our lives, we have many “Fire Breathing Dragons.” At this moment I would like to talk about three of them and how to “kill” them.
First, notice with me the “dragon” of lying. If you look at Colossians 3:9, it says, “Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old evil nature and all it’s wicked deeds.”
Lying in Colossians is labeled under “evil nature.” If we have stripped our old ways, why do we continue to lie? Because much of the lying that we do is for personal gain. For example, someone could come up to me and ask, “How much can you bench?” and I might say “850 pounds.” That’s a classic example of lying for personal gain. From now on that person will believe that lie I told them and possibly tell others. We can slay this dragon by telling the truth. Challenge yourself to tell full truths, and not half-truths.
Second, there is the “dragon” of Hate. Luke 6:27 says, “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” The hardest part of this verse is the second half. Trying to love those who hate us is extremely difficult because in our minds they started it so we have the right to hate them back. If you look at Jesus, our example, He says to love those who hate us. How do we do this? It requires a change of vision. We should try to look at those who hate us as a lost soul that needs saving. Looking at them this way might help us to love them more.
Third, and finally, is the “dragon” of Gossip. This one can be very dangerous because it might tear apart a friendship, a person, and the church. If you look at Ephesians 4:29, It reads, “Let no corrupt communication proceed from your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” Instead of tearing down someone or spreading rumors, let’s try to build up one another! To keep from letting something slip about someone, let’s try to practice what our parents told us from day one: “Think about what we say before we say it.”
Now there is one more thing we can use to slay “dragons.” The ultimate Two-Edged Sword is for slaying any kind of “dragon.” This Two-Edged Sword, the Bible, can slay any dragon that Satan sends our way. Today we only looked at three of the dragons that Satan uses against us. There are many more, and we must study Scripture to see what they are, and how we can slay them.
Since being mainly confined to home, we’ve had a lot more time to do outdoor activities. One of those activities (besides mowing and building a chicken house) has been target practice and clay shooting. Not only has it been an enjoyable activity, it has also been a great way to spend time with family and engage in some friendly competition.
After the range is cold and we’re ready to stop, the process of cleaning our guns begins. Some don’t require as much cleaning as others, but all of them get a brush, cleaning rod, and some lubricant. This helps to prevent wear and tear in the long term, but it also prevents build-up from causing malfunctions or damage next time. It’s not always the most enjoyable activity but is necessary anyway.
It’s far too easy to get caught up in the concerns of life (especially now!), to the neglect of our spiritual maintenance. Most of us are currently unable to worship physically with our spiritual family. We have had to cancel many of our church events and get-togethers. We are more-or-less confined to our homes. Financial and health concerns are at the front line of our minds.
If we don’t stay on top of our spiritual maintenance while this craziness is going on, all kinds of nastiness will build up in our lives. While the world is more or less halted, are we continuing to be tools for good? Have we used some of this time to inspect our spiritual well-being? This is such a great opportunity to do a self-checkup using scripture to clean parts of our lives that need to be removed.
As stated earlier, cleaning guns is not exactly exhilarating. It can be painstaking, monotonous, dirty, and time consuming. If it isn’t done, though, it will lead to premature wear and tear and malfunctions.
Breaking sinful behaviors, leaving our uncertainties in God’s hands, confronting our spiritual struggles, resolving doubts in our faith, repairing relationships that we have damaged, and working towards tangible growth in our spiritual lives can be far from exciting or fun. These things require effort, discomfort, confrontation, and dedication. While not the most pleasant in the moment, they will help us to be the best that we can be.
When we do our spiritual maintenance we become better encouragers, better soul-winners, better friends/family, and we develop strong endurance. Our goal in all of this is to reduce the wear and tear of our spiritual lives by living like Jesus. This kind of maintenance will allow us to do more than last a while – properly maintaining our spiritual lives and relying on God’s grace will cause us to last for eternity with Him.
It was my privilege last week to spend an hour or more visiting in my office with Bill Page, a longtime member at Lehman Avenue. He wanted to tell me about his interest and involvement in athletics, and he brought some pictures (including one of him below) to illustrate his interesting stories. There was a theme to everything this 88-year-old Korean War veteran shared with me. It was about routine.
He spoke of how important routine is in his life. Every day, despite being a widower who lives alone, he follows a strict routine from how and when he gets up to his workout regimen to his social calendar. It is not just that he has a routine, but he feels that it is essential to his functioning well physically, mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually. He carries that ethic of keeping a routine into sharing his faith with his neighbors, studying the Bible, and teaching as he is given the opportunity. Though he is modest and unassuming, he has lived anything but a routine life.
He played college basketball at Georgia Southern (then, Georgia Teachers College). Then, he was a marine who stayed to play in Japan and Korea in the mid-1950s. His civilian career was as a school administrator, where he served in public schools locally in addition to many years working with Christian high schools in Houston, Texas, and Miami, Florida. He also maintained his love for sports, coaching basketball. But, as a lifelong member of the church, his routine has almost always included teaching, preaching, and sharing his faith with the non-Christians he has built relationships with.
I could say much more about the great attitude and outlook Bill has, but it’s that commitment to consistency that is so remarkable. What is the road to greatness and achievement? It necessitates a certain amount of talent and knowing what that talent is, but the difference is almost always made by those who have sticktoitiveness. The unwillingness to give up and to keep plugging away is such a difference-maker in success and failure.
Solomon said, “Poor is he who works with a negligent hand, But the hand of the diligent makes rich” (Prov. 10:4). Likewise, “The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage, but everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty” (Prov. 21:5). Again, “In all labor there is profit, But mere talk leads only to poverty” (Prov. 14:23). Over and over, Scripture lauds this ethic of steadfastness. Yet, the area where it is most important is the spiritual (Acts 2:42; 2 Tim. 2:15).
Do you want to be an exceptional Bible student, servant of Christ, person of prayer, spiritual leader, soul winner, etc.? Establish a routine and stay with it. It will lead you to extraordinary results! Thanks for the reminder and the example, Bill!
…But I won’t ever treat you the same
…But I will make sure you never forget it
…But I don’t think you should serve any more
…But I will keep my distance from you
…But I will tell others about your sin
…But I will make you feel like a pariah
The very word “forgive” means to dismiss or release something from one’s presence, to let go and send away and to release from moral obligation or consequence (BDAG, 156). That sounds very different from some of the substitute offerings mentioned above. Have we ever considered all the Lord has to say about our forgiving one another?
But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions (Mt. 6:15).
If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother (Mt. 18:15).
The moral of the parable of the man forgiven much who refused to forgive the one who owed him little: ” And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart” (Mt. 18:34-35).
Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him (Luke 17:3-4).
Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you (Eph. 4:32).
Bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you (Col. 3:13).
Perhaps in our zeal (or defensiveness) to remind the offender that their sin has consequences, we add to those consequences through choices we make in response to their repentance. A penitent sinner is already struggling with guilt and accepting God’s forgiveness. The last thing we should do is make it harder for them to overcome. When they do try to put their spiritual lives back together again, we should rejoice for them and help them any way we can. Whether their sin is known to only a few or to everyone, we must handle it the way the Lord teaches us to. Jesus teaches that we can be guilty of sin ourselves by mishandling the challenging discipline of forgiving. May He help us as we strive to do it.
The Son of God gives specific instructions for what to do when a spiritual family member sins. Jesus clearly says, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Notice the Divine pattern.
Perpetration (15a)–“If you brother sins.” This is what initiates the situation.
Presentation (15b)–“Go and show him his fault in private.” Paul would teach this later (Gal. 6:1). Notice that this is to be done privately.
Aspiration (15c)–“If he listens to you, you have won your brother.” Ideally, this is where the matter should end.
Escalation (16-17)–Jesus tells one what to do if a sinner refuses to listen. Start by taking one or two. If that does not work, then tell it to the church.
Repudiation (18)–If all three of these approaches fail to win the sinner, then you reject them.
Tragically, we very often disobey Jesus’ instructions about this and fail to understand that rebelling against His commandment then makes us a sinner, too.How often does it happen that a person, rather than dealing directly with the sinning brother, tells someone else? Then, that someone tells another. Soon, a whole group or even the whole church knows about the sin. Often, something that was private and even between just two people is made public by gossipers who continue to spread the matter. In some cases, those who hear and spread the matter never even speak to the offender. This prevents the sinner from being aware of who knows about it or being able to reconcile. It can even be the case that the sinner has repented and handled the matter with the original offender, but now others are brought into the matter after the fact. Those who have come to hear about the situation treat the sinner “as a Gentile and a tax collector,” without ever once speaking to them about it. Rifts form and relationships are affected.
When we fail to do things God’s way, we will make matters worse. May we consider passages like Mark 7:21-23, where Jesus places “big” sins like “fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness” alongside “little” sins like “deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness.” Jesus’ analysis is that “all” these things are “evil” and “defile the man.”