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It’s in the News

30 Oct

Read: 1 John 4:1-6

“These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”

Acts 17:11 KJV

 

Information.  Our world is full of it and, unfortunately, it isn’t always accurate.  (Just ask any college student who has used Wikipedia as a source for a term paper!)  While we may be quick to point to politicians, academics, and the news media as prime examples of truth twisters, they aren’t the only parties who are sometimes guilty of manipulating information.  Intentionally or not, Christians often fall prey to the same temptation to slant a story to elicit a specific reaction from others.  And in few places is this as evident as in the world of politics and government.

I won’t pretend that I was surprised at receiving calls urging the Senator to vote against bills which would result in the arrest of anyone carrying a Bible in public or fines for those who quoted its words.  I was, however, deeply surprised at the frequency of such calls… especially given that no such bill was ever considered either on the floor of the Senate or in committee. Perhaps even more surprising was that, when asked where they had received their information, nearly every constituent named a usually reliable Christian source!

It didn’t take long before I was checking the named sources for myself and, sure enough, many of them did warn of the threats posed by current legislation. Unfortunately, few of them took time to explain what the bills currently under consideration were actually designed to accomplish or how they were presently worded.  Indeed, without an extensive series of events (often involving the complete reworking of the English language, the passage of successive legislation with blatant malicious intent, and/or the abolition of our present form of government), the prophesied outcomes were unlikely to ever take place.  In failing to clarify their concern over the legislation (or the path by which they arrived at their concern), these “reliable” sources had created a panic.  And those acting upon their information rather than taking time to read the bill for themselves, looked more like fools than concerned citizens.

Perhaps it is for this reason that the New Testament writers took such care to commend the early Church for seeking truth in the original source documents.  While many pastors and teachers are both competent and faithful, there will always be a few who are not.  Only when we take time to confirm information for ourselves can we be certain that our words and actions represent truth and honor Christ!

Challenge:  This week, commit to discovering the truth.  Make a list of beliefs you consider to be “fact” then take the time to research them for yourself.  You may be surprised at what you discover!

The Requisition List

23 Oct

Read: John 16:23-27

 “And this is the boldness which we have towards him, that if we ask him anything according to his will he hears us.”

1 John 5:14

One of my minor duties as the Senator’s Staff Assistant was to help with the requisitioning of supplies.  Keeping a close eye on our consumption of paper clips and printer paper, I would carefully assemble a list of our needs.  Then, when a sufficient number of items had made their way onto that list or we were nearly out of something with which our office simply could not function (like the aforementioned paperclips) our Regional Director would make the requisition.  Before placing each call, she would turn to me from her office and enquire, “Is there anything else you need?”

While the question was intended to stimulate my memory of any last-minute additions, it instead opened to the door to a wide range of less-than-relevant responses.  My smart replies covered a variety of “necessities” ranging from a disco ball (for all of our wild dance parties) to gigantic blow up elephant to step on staffers who got out of hand.  I was quick to point out that the quality of our work would be vastly improved should each of us have access to a vibrating, heated lazy boy and didn’t hesitate to suggest that the addition of a video arcade might improve hand-eye coordination for those tasked with answering the phones.

My suggestions, of course, were not entirely limited to the impractical or downright fantastical.  A combination coffee maker/fax machine that gave a personal voice greeting every morning also made it onto my list, as did haz-mat suits for those opening the Senator’s mail.  I never got what I asked for, but this didn’t stop me from trying, and I was delighted when our Regional Director finally did concede to at least one of my requests and added a box of colored paperclips to our order.

Sadly, many of us approach God with a list of wants and desires which are not that far removed from my own bizarre additions to the requisitions list.  Seeking what we have deemed to be the “perfect” life, we ask for things that fulfill neither our needs nor God’s plan.

Scripture, however, portrays a different approach.  Instead of assembling a jumbled list of everything we want, Christians are instructed to draw close to God, learning His ways and walking according to His commands.  When we do, the things which we pray for begin to take on the form of His desires rather than our own.  According to the Bible, these requests will always be granted.

Challenge:  Are you praying in God’s will or are you asking Him to fulfill your own?  This week, take some time to carefully consider your prayer life.  Then commit to drawing close to Him!

The Label Maker

16 Oct

Read: Acts 16:22-31

“Anyone who is willing to hear should listen to the Spirit and understand what the Spirit is saying to the churches.  Everyone who is victorious will eat of the manna that has been hidden away in heaven.  And I will give to each one a white stone, and on the stone will be engraved a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it.”

Revelation 2:17 NLT

 

It was a dull afternoon.  All of the pages had finished their tasks for the day and were shut up in the “page cage.”  We were busy debating what to do with the rest of our day, when someone pointed out that we had several label makers available to us.  And what good were label makers if they weren’t used to label things?

Picking up one of the guns, one of the pages quickly printed out the word “door” and attached it to the door of our tiny office.  Passing it on, another page typed out the word “window” and immediately affixed it to the windowsill.  The next thing to receive a label were the chairs followed by the bookcases. We labeled the ceiling, the lights, the walls, and a paperweight… even each other.  And when we ran out of things to label?  We started all over in Spanish!

The Bible has quite a bit to say about the labels that each of us bear and none are more important than our names.  Given to us by our parents, they serve to identify both us and (at times) some of our unique characteristics.  They are labels which say something about who we are or what our parents hoped we would become.

Unlike the labels that the pages placed on the items in the room, these names may be more or less accurate and each of us knows someone who fails to live up to the name they were given.  This will all change, however, when we finally see God “face-to-face”.

Scripture tells us that at the end of time, God will give each of us a special name which He has chosen for us and which will describe us perfectly.  These labels will not be based upon what He hopes we will become, but upon what we actual are through the sacrifice and renewing power of His Son.  There’s only one catch if you want one of these perfectly accurate labels… you have to belong to Him.  Unlike pages, He doesn’t label other people’s property!

Challenge:  Have you accepted God’s gift of Salvation?  If you haven’t, consider doing so.  A little step of faith will lead to great rewards!

The Moving Party

9 Oct

Read: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

“This is a revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him concerning the events that will happen soon… God blesses the one who reads this prophecy to the church, and he blesses all who listen to it and obey what it says.  For the time is near when these things will happen.”

Revelation 1:1a, 3 NLT

 

It was exciting.  The tiny page cage was being redecorated and we were the ones tasked with performing the renovations.

The first thing to go was the two ton, solid wood, desk which blocked the doorway.  Built sometime during the eighteenth century, we speculated that it had been used by George Washington, himself, and carted across the country by wagon train.  An arduous journey, perhaps, but not too much for a piece of furniture built to survive an atomic blast.

The catch to moving the desk was that it was on the third floor of the capitol building.  We needed to get it down two flights of semi-circular stairs and onto the first floor where it would later be placed in storage.  Like pallbearers, eight pages and our Sergeant at Arms lined up to lift the enormous hulk, directing it cautiously through doors of the House chambers.

Finding it somewhat heavier than anticipated, we stopped to rest at the top of spiral staircase and began to debate what we ought to do next.  After some discussion, it was determined that we would maintain our formation with the strongest pages at the bottom and the rest of us relieving the weight from the top.  Then, lining ourselves up, we slowly began to make our way down the flight.

There wasn’t really enough room on the staircase for both the desk and the cadre of pages and we soon found ourselves in a very dangerous position sandwiched between the heavy piece of furniture and the cool marble wall.  With only about six inches between the desk and the railing/wall, we were all inhaling as deeply as we could and praying that we’d make the rest of the journey intact.

It was at the moment when we realized our danger that it happened: the top fell off.  The large piece of dark wood went flying down the stairs as if it had been aerodynamically gifted and landed in the entryway with the smack of a gunshot. Within seconds, the entire Capitol security compliment jumped into action, guns drawn and ready for a showdown. What they found instead were eight flustered pages and an apologetic Sergeant at Arms.

After His resurrection, Christ gave His followers a little insight into what would happen during the end times.  While the picture He painted was one of war and danger (not unlike the one envisioned by the Capitol guards when they heard the effects of our mismanaged adventure), it came with promise of redemption.  In the end, those who love Him will be part of a far more successful moving party as we relocate from earth to our eternal home in Heaven!  What a blessing to know that some renovations are guaranteed to end in success!

Challenge:  Are you worried about the future?  Take your concerns to God.  You may be surprised to discover just how many of your worries are truly unfounded… and just how much control our loving God really has over both our eternal destiny as well as our lives today!

The Future Governor

2 Oct

Read: Luke 12:4-7

“So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God.  There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it.”

Hebrews 4:16 NLT

 

It had been a long morning on the State Affairs committee and, wrapping up my work somewhat later than anticipated, I decided to head out for some food.  As I exited the House chambers, I noticed that instead of grabbing lunch, the majority of the other pages had hung back and were now leaning over the railing of the rotunda, mouths agape.  Curious, about what had attracted such a crowd of admirers (and, more importantly, distracted them from their meal) I too, leaned over the rail.

There, beneath us was the Governor.  I had been collecting the signatures of each elected official in a special volume I’d obtained prior to the session and, seeing the opportunity to add another to the collection, took off at top speed.  Rushing down the curved, marble stairs, I made a b-line across the slick floor and came to a stop just in front of where he stood.  “You don’t know me, Sir,” I began, “but I’m the future governor of Idaho.  May I have your autograph?”

The approach worked better than I expected.  A week later, all of the pages were formally introduced to the Governor.  As I entered the office, he pointed and, shaking his finger announced, “I remember you!”

While most of the pages were horrified by my initial boldness, the result was that I was able to acquire the thing which I was after: the Governor’s signature.  And Scripture promises similar results when we exhibit boldness in approaching God.  Bought with the blood of His Son, we too now have the right to approach Him with both confidence and candor – anytime, anywhere, and for any reason.  What a blessing to know that we always have His ear!

Challenge:  Do you talk with God about everything or do you save your prayers for the “big” issues?  Scripture tells us that God is intimately concerned with the details of our lives… even those details that seem unimportant to anyone other than us.  This week, make a concerted effort to share all that takes place in your life with the One who loved you enough to send His son!

The Great Huckleberry Debate

25 Sep

 Read: Titus 3:1-11

“But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.”

Titus 3:9 NASB

 

It was the debate of the century and I had a front-row seat!  Perched atop my chair at the front of the House chambers, I could see the face of every combatant and hear every resonating word.  At times the conversation was so heated that the thermostat had to be turned down.  The face of each delegate was set with passion as they defended their side… and threw huckleberries at the other.  No, the debate wasn’t about taxes or healthcare.  There was no mention of State schools or road repairs.  The question at hand was one of even more vital importance: would the huckleberry henceforth be the State Fruit?

A simple question on the surface, it was surrounded by much deeper issues.  Not least of which was the fact that the measure had the potential to cost the State $1,000,000 or more as textbooks were redesigned to include this new addition to the approved State symbols.  (It is for this reason that the “syringa” remains our State Flower after all these years.  A mistake in taxonomy led the legislature to pass a measure making the lilac our state flower… yet the actual flower which appears alongside the title of “syringa” is a mock-orange of the species “philadelphus”.)

Science and finances aside, the opposing side argued that it was worth the cost of making the recommended revisions for the sake of the classroom of third graders who had proposed the legislation in the first place.  After all, how many young people have the opportunity to not only participate in the legislative process, but to actually see some “fruit” from their labors?

Eventually, the bill passed, but I had to laugh that anything so little could cause so much tension in such an august body.

Such tension isn’t limited to the halls of government.  As believers, we too get caught up in debates over relatively “minor” issues… and when we do, it has the power to split churches and do damage to the name of Christ.  Too often, the color of the carpet in the foyer becomes more of an issue than whether we’re funding missions work in New Guinea.  Debate over the order of service or the instruments played becomes a more central focus than the actual content of our worship.  And concerns over which of two equally appropriate children’s program the church embraces lead to permanent falling outs.  In anger and frustration, we find ourselves unwilling to yield our position and what ought to be a minor issue becomes “the debate of the century”.

Perhaps it is for this reason that the Apostle Paul takes such care to remind young Titus that, as much as possible, such foolishness is to be avoided.  Instead of focusing upon the things which divide us, those who embrace Christ as Lord must focus on the issues which leave us united.  Only then will the Church be free to function as our Master envisioned!

Challenge:  The next time you feel tempted to correct someone for being “wrong” take a moment to ask yourself whether their “error” is a matter of fact or of opinion?  Are you preparing yourself to turn a minor quibble into a major debate?  If God’s Word doesn’t make a big issue of the subject, then you shouldn’t either.  Feel free to express your opinion, but once you’ve done that, let it go.  God will handle the rest… and in the meanwhile, you’ve done your part in ensuring that the Body of Christ stays united and strong!

Fitting In?

18 Sep

Read: 1 John 3:1-3

“If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.”

John 15:19 NASB

 

I have never been fond of formal dress.  Tight and constricting, I usually prefer the freedom of jeans and a pair of cowboy boots.  This, however, was a big event and called for something more.  As a newly elected official, I would be expected to appear in something that outshone my Sunday best.

After careful consideration, I settled upon a black evening gown and a pair of two-inch heels which, though classy, made me walk a bit like a duck.  A few practice “runs” up and down the hallway reduced my waddle a little and I departed the house feeling confident (if not entirely comfortable).

This confidence was bolstered almost instantly upon my arrival at the venue.  Having no direct association with most of the participants, I was free to sit anywhere I liked.  When I was offered a seat at the same table as the Senate Majority Leader and the Representatives from my district, I jumped at the opportunity… and the honor.

At eighteen, I was still a bit out of place and my awkwardness showed as I adjusted my position, doing my best not to kick the purse I’d tucked beneath my seat.  The conversation was casual, a stark contrast to how I felt settled in amongst these august men.

I was reaching for my water glass when someone (I believe it was the Senator) asked me a question.  The attention was a surprise and I quickly turned to face him, knocking the glass in the process.  I believe I did a poor job of concealing my horror and both the vessel and its icy contents slid across the table and into the Senator’s lap.  My face reddened and the Senator let out a good laugh as a young man (the Governor’s son) appeared to clean up the mess.  “Don’t worry about it,” he reassured me.  “It’s just a bit of water.”  Truth be told, I was ill-fitted to the evening’s formal setting.  As embarrassing as it was, my awkwardness that night was not unwarranted.

Jesus’ words in the final chapters of John, warn believers of a similar awkwardness.  In the world, but not of it, we frequently find ourselves in situations which leave us feeling “out of place”… and this isn’t a bad thing.  As followers of Christ, we were meant to stand out, making a difference in the lives of those around us.   It may be awkward at times (and may even occasionally leave us a bit red in the face), but we can be guaranteed that God has a special plan for all of us who find ourselves in places where we just don’t quite seem to fit!

Challenge:  Do you feel out of place?  Don’t worry!  God has a plan and a purpose for your life… and it extends far beyond the confines of this world.  The next time you find yourself embarrassed because you don’t fit, remind yourself of this purpose and press on.  You’ll be glad you did!

The Kitchen

11 Sep

Read: Hebrews 4:14-5:10

“Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he?  Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he?  If you then, being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”

Luke 11:11-13 NASB

 

It was taboo and we all knew it.  The House kitchen, emitting the seductive aromas of fresh-brewed coffee, orange juice, and doughnuts, was for the Representatives only.  All non-elected State employees were expected to keep their distance.  It was a rule that our dedicated doorman (at least, according to rumor) was willing to enforce with violence.

Not surprisingly, a few of my fellow pages took the threat as a challenge and spent their early morning hours searching for ways to slip unnoticed past the vigilant warden.  Waiting until he turned his back, they’d glide unnoticed into the forbidden sanctuary and partake of the pleasures that lay within.

While this method was not lacking in intrigue, the rest of us had a better plan.  Having gained favor with the Representatives, we would stand well outside the eight-foot perimeter which the doorman had set, and put on our best puppy dog faces.  Seeing our languid forms, the Reps would take pity on us and, after having acquired their own morning “nosh” would reappear with a little something for the rest of us.

What about the door warden?  When he asked us about our orange juice and doughnuts, we simply replied that Representatives had brought them to us.  We had effectively gone over his head… and he knew it!

Pages aren’t alone when it comes to finding shrewd ways to get what they want.  Many of us spend our entire lifetimes sneaking around trying to acquire those things which we believe will bring us love, wealth, or success.  Unable to simple take what we desire, we spend our days evading the door wardens who would prevent us from achieving these goals and meeting our needs.

Fortunately, Scripture give us a better way.  As Christians, we have been assured that we need only present our requests to our Heavenly Father who knows our needs and has already made provision for each of them.  Like the Representatives, He has the power and authority to go over the “warden’s” head and none who know Him need ever go without!

Challenge:  Are you facing difficulties in life?  If so, how are you handling them?  Are you trying to navigate the labyrinth of red-tape or find a way to skirt around the system?  Instead of dealing with repeated frustration, take your trials before the throne of God.  You’ll be glad you did!

Conspiracy Theorists

4 Sep

Read: Matthew 28:16-20

“And then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ’; or, ‘Behold, He is there’; do not believe him;  for false Christs and false prophets will arise, and will show signs and wonders, in order to lead astray, if possible, the elect.”

Mark 13:21-22 NASB

 

Working in government exposed me to more than my fair share of conspiracy theorists.  I suppose that these people just had nothing better to do with their time than imagine the top-secret testing of WMD’s, UN shadow governments, and plots to kill off large portions of the population.

I have to admit that some of the best laughs I got out of my job were due to the far flung ideas presented by a very small portion of our local populace.  Once or twice a month I got to hear about the UN’s black helicopters operating from their secret base beneath Yellowstone National Park (more often than not, the Vice President had just gone fishing again) or the subversive tactics of extremists either to the left or to the right. Sadly, these conspiracy theorists could easily have uncovered the truth had they just been willing to do a little research.  Instead, their wild ideas had distracted them, drawing them ever farther from the truth.

Truth be told, UFOlogists and those seeking to find the mythical second shooter from the Kennedy assassination aren’t the only ones who enjoy a bit of intrigue.  Christians, too, can find themselves lured into vain attempts to “fit the pieces together” – especially when it comes to the topic of the End Times.  From studies to novels, the shelves of many believers are flooded with fanciful and speculative materials on the topic… and many are waiting for the end to unfold as portrayed by popular authors rather than as portrayed by Christ, Himself.

While it would be exciting to think that the world’s final days are going to unravel just as they do in popular novels, it is the words of God that ought to have our attention.  When we focus on these, we are less likely to be drawn away into a world of fantasy and become distracted from our true mission: that of sharing the Gospel.  And that is what Christianity is all about.

Challenge: The end of the world as a whole may or may not be coming soon, but this doesn’t mean that we aren’t surrounded by many people whose worlds will end today.  Regardless of the cause or the timing, those around us need to be prepared to meet their Maker.  The next time you’re given an opportunity to help prepare them for this meeting, do!  Tomorrow will be too late for someone who needs Jesus today!

The Senator Said…

28 Aug

Read: 1 John 4:1-6

“Watch out for false prophets.  They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.”

Matthew 7:15 NIV

 

One of my tasks with our state’s junior Senator was to serve as a liaison between his constituents and Federal agencies.  After listening carefully to a constituent’s story, I would have them fill out a formal request for our assistance and provide me with copies of any documents pertinent to their case.  I would then send a letter to the agency involved, asking if they had given full consideration to the individual in question.  I was well acquainted with Federal policy and did my job well.  Most of my cases dealt with tax and immigration issues and were easily resolved (usually in the constituent’s favor). 

Some of our constituents, however, were not satisfied to know that I was working on their case.  Instead, they wanted the Senator, himself, to deal with the situation – hoping that he might be able to “pull some strings” and get them off the hook.  It was not uncommon for such an enquirer to alert me to their close family connections (usually with the Senator’s deceased mother or brother).  This failing, I was sometimes informed that they had already spoken to the Senator personally and that he had given them instructions to instruct me to write a letter on their behalf ordering the Federal agency involved to cease persecuting them immediately.

Such letters were not in keeping with Senate policy, but we still took the time to run the names of each “best friend” past the Senator.  On the rare occasion that a constituent had told the truth about their connection, it gave him the opportunity to express sympathy and reassure them that his staff would do everything possible to assist in the resolution of their case.  More often than not, however, the names of these intimate acquaintances failed to even ring a bell.

Regardless of whether the Senator knew each constituent or not, my orders remained the same – and I was smart enough to know that obedience to the law of the land was a better bet than adherence to the directions of someone who simply claimed to be acting on the Senator’s behalf.

Scripture warns us of similar people in our spiritual lives.  Ignoring the clear instructions of God’s Word, these “wolves in sheep’s clothing” do whatever is necessary to further their own interests… even if doing so will harm others.  Followers of Christ must always be on the lookout for such false messengers, alert and ready to defend against their lies!

Challenge:  The best way to defend against falsehood is to know the truth… and there is no better source of truth than God’s Word.  If you don’t already have a Bible reading plan in place, take time to create one.  Just a few minutes a day can make the difference between walking with God or being led astray!

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