Backing In

BackingIn

I was recently listening to one of my favorite podcasts, “Planet Money.”  The show was entitled, “Tips from Spies.” The folks at Planet Money talked with a former spy, a former C. I. A. employee, and a journalist who isn’t a spy, but covers spy-related activities for the media.

One of the tips that the journalist gave is something that she has learned by talking with intelligence personnel: she always backs into parking spots. Her reasoning is simple: “So that you can get out of a bad situation fast.” In acknowledging her practice, she laughed when admitting that she “never once been called to make a running getaway. But I wait for the moment.”

This is a helpful illustration of how to be ready for temptations that come. Paul writes, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). What a great promise! God tells us that no temptation comes our way without a provided way of escape.

That escape may be through the Scriptures (see Matthew 4:1-11). It may be through the warning of others. It may be through the convicting work of the Holy Spirit.  But it is incumbent upon us to be ready and aware of the escape route. We may need “to get out of a bad situation fast.” It’s good to have a habit of “backing in.”

Perry’s Eclipse

EclipsePerry

As a little boy, I remember visiting my uncle Perry (or more properly, my father’s cousin). We loved to visit him because he had a swimming pool poured right into the foundation of his house! That means that we got to swim in his basement! He was a very successful and forward-thinking man, always full of stories.

There was one story that captured my attention more than all of the others. It was a story that I heard every time that I visited him. It was the story of his plans for his hundredth birthday. He said that there was going to be a solar eclipse on that day and that he was inviting the entire family to come and watch it with him.

He had the party all planned out. All from the family who wanted to come were welcome. He was planning to reserve some rooms for all who showed up. He was also planning to rent an airplane just in case it was overcast on that day. He wanted to take every precaution possible to see the eclipse. He delighted in telling that story. Perhaps that’s why he told it so often.

Perry was born on August 21, 1917. The solar eclipse that he was telling us about all those years will take place this Monday, on August 21, 2017. I have known about this eclipse for more than forty years! To me and my family, this is “Perry’s Eclipse.”

Sadly, Perry’s life came up short. He passed away when he was 93 years-old. So he won’t be able to see his eclipse. But I will remember him on that day. I will also tell the story to my children of how Perry was longing to see what we see on that day.

There is a future event that is far more spectacular than any solar eclipse. It is the longing and hope of all Christians. It is the appearing of Jesus our Lord. Now, unlike the solar eclipses, we don’t know when he will return. But we know that it will be glorious. Jesus told us that his coming would be like lightning across the entire sky (Matthew 24:27). He said that he would come “on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30).

Those who are his children will see that day and rejoice in that day. The apostle John wrote, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Those who are his children will prepare for that day. “Everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:3). What a day that will be!

 

 

Our Daily Food

Autumn

We have a cute little white dog in our house, named Autumn. She is a maltese bichon, who loves everyone she has ever met. You can read the story about how she came into our home here.

Every morning, her breakfast routine is exactly the same. My wife prepare her an egg, a spoonful of yogurt, an omega supplement, and one scoop of dry dog food. And every day Autumn’s response is the same. She watches intently as my wife prepares her food for her, licking her chops. Then, she gobbles it down. You can check out a video of the event here.

As I recently watched this taking place, I reflected upon how she is totally dependent upon us. She looks intently at us because we are her provider. Without our provision, she would surely perish.

Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). These aren’t mere words. This is reality. We are just as dependent upon the Lord every day to provide us with our daily needs as our dog is. Without the daily provision of the Lord, we too would perish.

 

If he should set his heart to it
and gather to himself his spirit and his breath,
all flesh would perish together,
and man would return to dust (Job 34:14-15).

Veneer

 

veneer
Veneer can make sub-quality wood look great. The wood itself may be unattractive plywood or particle board, but glue a thin (1/8 inch) strip of oak on the outside and the wood looks like solid oak.

Many people live as if they were veneer-covered plywood. Whenever they are in public, they put on their good face. But in private they live otherwise.

The Pharisees of old lived like this. Jesus called them “white-washed tombs,” which look beautifully clean on the outside, but inwardly are full of decomposing bodies (Matthew 23:27). Jesus described them as cups that were clean on the outside, but on the inside were full of greed and self-indulgence (Matthew 23:25). To such people, Jesus said, “Woe to you.”

Over my years of pastoral ministry, I have discovered that people can hide their true selves pretty well (for decades, even). But eventually, their hypocrisy will be exposed, either during their lives or during the final judgment.

The good news is that we don’t need to be clean to be received by God. Neither do we need to cover our lives with a veneer of righteousness. The opposite is true. We must confess our uncleanness. God will take the old wood and transform it into something beautiful that doesn’t need to be hidden.

I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. (Psalm 32:5).

Our Public Prayer

PublicPrayer

Perhaps the most famous prayer in all of the Bible is called, “The Lord’s Prayer.” It is better named, “The Disciple’s Prayer” as it is the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to pray. Here is the prayer, …

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
You kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but delivers us from evil.
(Matthew 6:9-13)

If you know this prayer, you have probably prayed it hundreds of times. Have you ever noticed the pronouns in the prayer? Jesus taught us to pray in the first person plural (i.e. “our,” “us,” and “we”).

Certainly, it is very appropriate to pray this prayer alone in your closet. It’s helpful to focus your attention upon the character and kingdom of God before asking for your needs. But Jesus didn’t give this prayer for us to use alone. He gave it to us to use in public. It is a prayer to be prayed with others. This is our public prayer.

Let God Work

Snow1

Above is a picture of my driveway shortly after I shoveled the snow that fell last night. It looks like I didn’t do such a good job, as there are patches of snow still left on the driveway. Given the time (and effort), I could have scrapped the driveway clean, so that no snow would remain. However, today is one of those cold, sunny days in the Midwest where the sun sparkles off the snow to create a beautiful scene. I know that the sun on my black driveway will melt the snow and do a far better job clearing away the snow that I will ever do. Here’s a picture of my driveway I took about two hours later.

Snow2

Notice how the sun has done it’s work! My driveway is practically snow free! Look closely and you can see the water draining down the driveway. By the end of the day, I’m sure that all of the snow will be gone, without me lifting a finger. The lesson is clear: let the sun do the work.

There are many times in this life when we try to do all the work ourselves, as if all depended upon our effort. But God is working in our lives far more than any of us realize. It is better (and more efficient) (and more glorifying to God) to let God do His work. Sometimes we simply need to “be still, and know that [He] is God” (Psalm 46:10).

When the Egyptians were pursuing Israel by the Red Sea, Moses said, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will work for you today. … The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent” (Exodus 14:13, 14). Jesus said, “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ … Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all” (Matthew 6:31, 32). When worried come your way, “Cast all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Give your cares and concerns to God and let Him work.

 

Paint Job

I recently happened upon a house that was being painted. Half of the house was was painted and beautiful. The other half was scraped up and looked very bad.

I reflected upon the untold numbers of people who attend church each weekend who are like this house. Though their lives are full of sin and sadness, they dutifully make themselves up to look good when morning worships rolls around. They put on nice clothes and bring their smiles as if all is OK when all is not OK. Such was the life of the Pharisees. On the outside, they were like whitewashed tombs. But, on the inside, they were full of dead men’s bones (Matthew 23:27).

Let’s be real. Let’s not hide our sin. But, let us rejoice in the cleansing that is in Christ!