Betcha can’t eat just one!

BetchaCantEatJustOne

In the 1960’s the Frito-Lay company introduced it’s famous slogan, “Betcha can’t eat just one!” They popularized it by a very successful advertisement campaign both in print and on television.

We all have experienced it. We eat one potato chip and it tastes so good that we crave another one. This often leads to many more chips being consumed. There’s something about the fat and the seasonings on the chip lead us to crave more and more. Even when we aren’t hungry, once tasted, the chips can seem irresistible. It’s called “hedonic hyperphagia,” eating for pleasure.

The same is often true with sin. Rare is the time that we only commit one sin. Sin will often lead to more sin, either because we desire the pleasure or because we are forced to deal with the consequences.

This was the case with Adam and Eve. She sinned by eating the forbidden fruit. She further sinned by enticing her husband. They both sinned by trying to hide their sin from God. You can read about it in Genesis 3.

This was the case with king David. He sinned with Bathsheba. It didn’t stop there. It continued on with his cover-up plan. When Uriah didn’t go along with the plan, he ended up having him killed in battle. Then, more and more deceit as David refused to acknowledge his sin. You can read all about it in 2 Samuel 11-12.

The solution is to be aware of this tendency of our hearts and confess our sin quickly. David explained his trouble. “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long” (Psalm 32:3). But when he confessed his sin to the Lord (Psalm 32:5), he found great blessing (Psalm 32:1-2).

Tumbleweeds and Trees

TumbleweedsAndTrees

Tumbleweeds and trees are as different as can be. Tumbleweeds are short. Trees are tall. Tumbleweeds are blown about by the wind. Trees stand their ground. Tumbleweeds have no roots. Trees have deep roots. Tumbleweeds are seasonal plants.  Trees undue damage through the seasons. Tumbleweeds plant their seeds for further tumbleweeds.  Trees bring forth fruit.

Psalm 1 uses these sorts of images to describe the righteous and the wicked. The righteous are described as the tree, firm, established, immovable, and fruitful.  The wicked are as tumbleweeds (or more technically, chaff), unsteady and driven about by the wind.

“[The righteous man] is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away” (Psalm 1:3-4).

The righteous have nothing to fear. The storms of life may blow, but they stand secure. The wicked have everything to fear. That’s why they they flee at the rustling of a leaf (Leviticus 26:36).

While this is true of life, it is especially true of the judgement. The righteous have nothing to fear when it comes to facing the Lord. By God’s grace throughly Christ, they will experience forgiveness and the abundant life. They will stand secure. However, not so with the wicked. They will face the wrath of God, apart from grace. They will not stand.

“The Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish” (Psalm 1:6).

Prison Saved My Life

PrisonSavedMy Life

We recently invited Louis Dooley to come and speak at our church. He wrote a book entitled, “Prison Saved My Life: I Recommend It For Everyone.” The book details his life story, from growing up in a life of crime to his life sentence for attempted murder to his conversation to Christ during his first week in prison to his unexpected release to his ministry to prisoners today. I commend his book to you. You can purchase it on Amazon. His message to our church was encouraging to us all.  You can listen to it here: Ambassadors for Jesus.

His story isn’t unique. There are many who have been brought low and turned to God in their distress. Psalm 107 speaks of the prisoners who found themselves in trouble, who cried to the Lord, and found mercy.

Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death,
prisoners in affliction and in irons,
for they had rebelled against the words of God,
and spurned the counsel of the Most High.
So he bowed their hearts down with hard labor;
they fell down, with none to help.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress (Psalm 107:10-13).

The Psalmist continues on by telling those who have been delivered what they should do. He writes, “Let them thank the Lord for this steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man!” (Psalm 107:15). This is exactly what Louis Dooley has been doing. He has been giving thanks to the Lord in churches and in prisons.

“My Church”

MyChurch

Make no mistake about it, the church is the Lord’s. Jesus promised to build his church (Matthew 16:18). We are his people and the sheep of his pasture (Psalm 100:3). And yet, there is a very real sense that the church is ours. “We are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:5).

Over the years of talking with people, I have always been attentive to the pronouns that people use in talking about the church where I pastor. Those on the outside of the church often talk about “your church.” Those on the inside often talk about “our church.” But there are exceptions.

I’m saddened when those attending the church talk about “your church.” It shows that they haven’t embraced the idea that they are a part of what God is doing in this local place. They may attend. They may have some friends at the church. Their names may be in the directory. But, ultimately, they haven’t become a part of the body. It’s still somebody else’s church.

But I love it when I hear people talk about “my church.” It shows that they have taken responsibility upon themselves for the well-being of the church. They have transitioned from being spectators to servants. Ultimately, as believers in Jesus Christ, this is what we are. We are servants of his church.

Turning 50

Birthday50

I am turning 50 years old today (April 5, 2017). On the one hand, I feel no difference. I feel the same today as I did yesterday. My life this week will look much like my life did last week. The rhythm of my life this year will probably match the rhythm of last year: Easter, Summer Vacation, Thanksgiving, Christmas, … (repeat). Some things change from day to day, but not much. Time marches on.

Yet, I have crossed a threshold. In all probability, I have already lived out half of my life. I am on the back end. Moses wrote long ago, “The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty” (Psalm 90:10).

I see my strength fading. I can’t run as fast (or as long) as I used to run. I can’t jump as high. My endurance is less. My injuries don’t heal as quickly. I have less hair and more weight than ever before.

Furthermore, I see my time slipping away. The older I get, the faster time seems to fly. I remember when I was in elementary school. Even today, I could take you to my classroom and name my teachers and my friends. I remember my days in middle school and in high school and in college and in seminary. They seem only a few years ago, even though they were decades ago.

Today is a natural time in my life for reflection. Moses (in the same Psalm) prayed for wisdom regarding our fleeting time. He wrote, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).

There is something about all of us all that lets our days pass by unnoticed and uncared for. We move from day to day without a care. Yet, our end is coming. The death rate is still 100%. Moses encourages us to live in light of the end.

I have noticed that ball games are played differently when time is ticking down. Those in the lead take their time. Those who are behind show more hustle. I have noticed that people live differently when a big project is nearing completion. When the project due date is weeks away, people are willing to spend the evenings with their friends. But when the due date is tomorrow, they brew the coffee and burn the midnight oil.

How easy it is to live as if there is no end. How easy is it to eat and drink and enjoy the God-given pleasures of the world. But there is an end. And the end is coming. It is coming fast. I am closer to it than ever before. It’s a call for me to live with a sense of urgency. My prayer to God this day is that I would number my days. Such is the path of wisdom.

But the end of our lives is not the end. Moses began his Psalm with a declaration of eternity, “From everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psalm 90:2). This is why we are to number our days. They are short.

We can number our days, but we cannot number eternity. Eighty years of life are less than 30,000 days. It may seem long, but compared with eternity, it barely begins. The hymn-writer penned these words to put our short life in perspective:

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
bright shining as the sun;
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise,
than when we first begun.
(by Harriet Beecher Stowe)

My life here on earth is only the beginning. It is a very short beginning. In light of eternity, my few years (being more than 50 now) are but a fleeting vapor. James says, “You are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14).

If we truly knew how long eternity was; and if we truly knew how short our lives were, we might just live differently. We might live with a sense of urgency. God has put eternity into man’s heart (Ecclesiastes 3:11). He wants for us to live in light of eternity. And when we do, we will be wise.

Only one life, ’twill soon be past.
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
(by C. T. Studd)

First World Problems

FirstWorldProblems

Those in wealthy nations often experience “First World Problems.” These are problems that come only to privileged individuals, who have no worries of food, shelter, or clothing. It’s the owner of the yacht who bemoans the cost of upkeep. It’s the Porsche owner makes a fuss when a can of soda is spilled in the back seat of his car. It’s those at their vacation home on the lake who complain of the sand that comes into the door from the beach.

Those who complain in this way seem oblivious to their material wealth. They have a yacht! They have a nice car! They have a vacation home! They have things that most of the world could only dream of having. They really have no right to complain at all. Reminding themselves of how good they have it would help them to see how minimal these problems are.

In a similar way, those who know and experience the tremendous spiritual blessings of God would do well to remember the privileges that they possess. Those who trust in Christ have been blessed “in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3). It is the Lord …

who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (Psalm 103:3-5).

Such blessings can easily be forgotten. That’s why David reminds himself to “forget not all his benefits” (Psalm 103:2). That’s why Paul instructs us to remember where we were before trusting in Christ. “Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12).

For a believer in Christ, complaining about the troubles of the world we face is like a wealthy man complaining about his first world problems.

The Genie

Genie

A genie is a magical creature of Arabian folklore, who is imprisoned in an oil lamp. When someone rubs the lamp, the genie is released, willing and able to grant wishes to the one who set him free. All sorts of stories result as wishes are granted by genie.

The magic of the fairy tale is that it easily engages us into thinking of what sort of wishes we might make if we happened to rub a lamp and set a genie free. Would we wish for a new car or a new home or for millions of dollars? Would we wish for success or for health or for world peace? How wonderful it would be to have such a genie! At some point, however, we come back to reality, realizing that the genie is mere fantasy.

Sadly, there are many who treat God like a genie who grants wishes. They pray to God, wishing for some good result in their life like health or wealth. Sometimes they pray in a crisis for a dying friend or for a wayward son or for an ailing marriage. But when God doesn’t act like a genie in granting their every desire, they give up on God, because he wasn’t working for them. Soon they come to deny God altogether, thinking that he is simply a fable.

How foolish this is. It is based upon a faulty understanding of exactly who God is. He is not our servant, compelled to obey our every whim. Rather, we are his creatures, created to love him and obey him. When he does’t answer our prayers, it isn’t because he is inept or imaginary. It is because he has plans that we know not of. Let us submit our will to his.

“You thought that I was one like yourself.
But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you”
(Psalm 50:21).