What Are You Afraid Of?

Sadie and Joey in Kansas

Our dog, Sadie, hates thunder, and we are in the middle of a series of thunderstorms in Illinois. She will even abandon her greatest love – playing fetch – at the first flash and boom and run for grandma’s room to hide behind her vanity. The cat, Joey, isn’t too concerned but worries about Sadie, so we often find them both in their “hidey hole.” (Although sometimes I wonder if the cat isn’t just laughing at the dog, I like to think Joey is consoling Sadie.)

There is something visceral about booming thunder. “As Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to attack Israel. But the LORD thundered with a mighty sound that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion, and they were defeated before Israel” (1 Samuel 7:10). On the other hand, in John chapter 12, just a few days before Jesus was crucified, God spoke from heaven. Some declared it was just a natural phenomenon like thunder and nothing to pay attention to. Others suggested the sound might have been an angel speaking to Jesus, while some of the disciples indeed heard the words and heard the very voice of God.

The storm has passed. Sadie has crawled out from behind the vanity, denying she was afraid. She was just a little sleepy. The cat doesn’t believe her, but what does it matter? Life is full of phobias. Kendra Cherry posted an “A to Z” list of phobias. [1] Here are just a few from the A category:

Achluophobia: Fear of darkness

Acrophobia: Fear of heights

Aerophobia: Fear of flying

Algophobia: Fear of pain

Agoraphobia: Fear of open spaces or crowds

Aichmophobia: Fear of needles or pointed objects

Amaxophobia: Fear of riding in a car

Androphobia: Fear of men

Anthropophobia: Fear of flowers

Anthropophobia: Fear of people or society

Our fears can protect us, but in my experience, fears can often prevent us from enjoying the life God has given us. Our Christian hope helps us overcome our fears and celebrate life!

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18)

  [1] Downloaded August 3, 2022, from https://www.verywellmind.com/list-of-phobias-2795453

Worn Out for Good

Photo by Yuri Kim

There is something immensely satisfying about hard, physical labor. For example, when you have finished mowing the yard, you can stand in the shade, covered in sweat, drinking an ice-cold glass of tea, and see what you have accomplished. It feels good! Sadly, church work is rarely like that. Yes, it can be exhausting and turn your brains to mush, but there are few times when you can see what your lessons and sermons have accomplished. No one applauds (or even says amen anymore). You might get a handshake and a “good sermon preacher,” as people walk out the door, but you are just as likely to have Brother Curmudgeon gripe about something that rubbed him the wrong way. It can be exhausting.

Paul told the Thessalonians to “to respect those who labor among you” (1 Thessalonians 5:12). The word “labor” means “work that wears you out.” He is talking about all Christian leaders from preachers, to teachers, to elders, and deacons. We rarely think about “church work” as real work but trust me. It is! Why is that?

First, the care of souls is serious business. The consequences are not inconsequential! Eternity may hang in the balance. Leaders will give an account to God for their work! Paul told the Ephesian elders:

You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ … I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:18 – 27).

Second, the work is never done. In this same passage, Paul said, “Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.”

Third, the task of ministry depends on your spiritual maturity, patience, wisdom, and often loving the unlovable. The rewards are often intangible. (Someone recently told me as a preacher, I had a great retirement plan. Unfortunately, you must die to claim it!)

That is why Paul concludes his first letter to the Thessalonians by encouraging them to 

Respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work (1 Thessalonians 5:12).

The word translated “respect” by the ESV is also translated as “know” by the KJV, ASV, D-R, ERV, and the first English Bibles, Wycliffe, Tyndale, ad the Geneva Bible. How well do you know your leaders? They answer to God for your souls, shouldn’t we “show your appreciation” (GW, ISV, NASB, and NCV translations)? The GNB, RSV, and NRSV read “show your appreciation” while the GNB, RSV, and NRSV remind us to “pay proper respect” or “give recognition” (HCSB). The Contemporary English Version tells us to “be thoughtful” and The Message tells us to “honor” them.

Caring for souls is hard work – work that causes sleepless nights, exhaustion, and indescribable joy. It is the greatest work in this world – and the next!

A Matter of Perspective

Photo by Johnny Mckane

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind (1 Peter 3:8 ESV).

When I was attending Abilene Christian University, we lived in a house with a gray, gravel driveway. Gravel is the most ordinary of materials. We might glance at it and never give it another thought, but to my toddler son, gravel was the stuff of magic. When he got out of the car, he squatted down, picked up a stone, and turning it over and over in his tiny hands; he was lost in wonder. Was there anything so wonderful as a little gray rock flecked with sparkles? I put down my books and sat down beside him. He laughed and held out one of his treasures. Have you looked at the world through the eyes of a child? It becomes a world full of magic.

As the Apostle Peter is closing his first letter, he encourages Christians to cultivate a way of thinking and feeling. He encourages us to change our perspectives. He lists these five virtues: “unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” The series begins and ends with how we discipline our thoughts. First, we are to think alike, and finally, we are to be humble in our thoughts.

Today, let’s focus on the first virtue: “have unity of mind.” There is more to this virtue than appears at first glance. This virtue encourages us not only to think and reason the same way but to feel the same too. Peter has chosen to begin this series with a word that only appears here in the New Testament. It is a compound word combining homos (ὁμός – think of the English word “homo-genized”) and phren, (φρήν – in English, like in Greek, the stem phren– refers to “the seat of the intellect, feelings, and will; the mind”). So when we join them together in Peter’s special word, homophron, we have the meaning “like-minded, united in spirit, harmonious.”

A quick look at the various translations reveals: “be ye all of one mind” (KJV). Many English Bibles stress the idea of Christians being in harmony with one another (NASB, LEB, NET). The Complete Jewish Bible takes it one step further: “be one in mind and feeling.” It gets to the heart of the matter.

How can we think the same thoughts? How can we feel the same way? By learning to see the world through God’s eyes instead of our own. Lost in the busyness of everyday life, I only see the world through my eyes. Peter challenges us to take up a new perspective and see the world with the same eyes: God’s eyes.

Thinking About Sin  

Photo by Maruxa Lomoljo Koren


Yesterday I wrote about “Silent” Cal, Calvin Coolidge the 30th president of the United States. He was a man of few words, and one Sunday his wife was ill and stayed home while Calvin went to church by himself. When he returned, his wife Grace, asked, “What did the preacher talk about?”
 
“Sin,” was Calvin’s short reply.
 
“Well, what did he say about it, Calvin?” she asked.
 
“He was against it.”
 
Sin is a huge subject. The most common word for sin is hamartia (αμαρτια) which means “missing the mark,” and thus “failure, sin.” The Apostle Paul observed, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23, but there are many ways we can miss the mark. 
 

  1. We can sin out of ignorance (agnoma αγνοημα) Hebrews 9:7. On a quiet Sunday morning, with no traffic for as far as the eye could see in any direction, I made a U-turn in the middle of the street. A nice motorcycle patrolman informed me of the error of my ways but pointed out “ignorance is no excuse.” I atoned for my sin in traffic school.
  2. Some children of the 60s were “born to be wild.” They delight in being “lawless” sinners (anomiaανομια) Matthew 7:23; 13:41; 23:28; 24:12; Romans 6:19. They want to “do their own thing.” The problem with this kind of sin is God’s laws are not arbitrary. He is a loving God and wants us to have the most fulfilling life. If we chose to disobey God’s law, we are hurting ourselves. Think about it. Two people might jump out of an airplane, but if only one of them is wearing a parachute, who do you think will enjoy the experience more? Good laws are liberating!
  3. Many people have no time for God or religion. Paul calls them “ungodly” (asebia ασεβεια) in Romans 1:18; 11:26. Theirs’ is a double sin. Not only are they actively sinning, but their impiety also interferes with others’ faith. They are guilty of “suppressing the truth.”
  4. If we believe God loves and provides the best life for us, sinners have something missing. As a result of sin, they are “defective,” something is missing from their life (attama ηττημα) Romans 11:12; 1 Corinthians 6:7.
  5. Let’s go back to our definition of sin as “missing the mark.” That can happen in many different ways. For example, the arrow can fly over the target and go too far. This is called a “transgression” (parabasisπαραβασις) Romans 4:15; 5:14; Galatians 3:19; Hebrews 2:2. Likewise, we can also fall short of the mark. This too is sin.
  6. We might miss the mark because we weren’t paying attention. We weren’t listening (parakoa παρακοη) Romans 5:19; Hebrews 2:2.
  7. Sin can also be described as a “misdeed, false step, blunder” (paraptoma παραπτωμα). Sin often “trips us up” or we might “trespass” Matthew 6:14, 15; Romans 5:15 ff.

 
Whether it is from ignorance, accident, or willful rebellion. Sin is at the heart of the human condition!

The Wisdom of Silent Cal  

Photo of Calvin Coolidge aged 52
Calvin Coolidge in 1919


 Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president of the United States, was a man of few words. It was said that Coolidge could be silent in five different languages. There is an apocryphal story about a person sitting next to him at a dinner party who once said, “I made a bet today that I could get more than two words out of you.” Coolidge replied, “You lose.” Here are some of my favorite Calvin Coolidge quotes:

  • “It takes a great man to be a good listener.”
  • “Don’t expect to build up the weak by tearing down the strong.”
  • “We cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once.”
  • “I have noticed that nothing I have never said ever did me any harm.”
  • “No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave.”
  • “Prosperity is only an instrument to be used, not a deity to be worshipped.”
  • “Don’t you know that four-fifths of all our troubles in this life would disappear if we would just sit down and keep still?”
  • “If you don’t say anything, you won’t be called on to repeat it.”
  • “You don’t have to explain something you haven’t said.”

Finally, Coolidge was a man of faith. It would do well for us to think for a moment about these words:
 
“Our government rests upon religion. It is from that source that we derive our reverence for truth and justice, for equality and liberality, and for the rights of mankind. Unless the people believe in these principles they cannot believe in our government. There are only two main theories of government in our world. One rests on righteousness and the other on force. One appeals to reason, and the other appeals to the sword. One is exemplified in the republic; the other is represented by despotism.
 
The government of a country never gets ahead of the religion of a country. There is no way by which we can substitute the authority of law for the virtue of man. Of course, we endeavor to restrain the vicious, and furnish a fair degree of security and protection by legislation and police control, but the real reform which society in these days is seeking will come as a result of our religious convictions, or they will not come at all. Peace, justice, humanity, charity—these cannot be legislated into being. They are the result of divine grace.”
 
“It is hard to see how a great man can be an atheist. Without the sustaining influence of faith in a divine power we could have little faith in ourselves. We need to feel that behind us is intelligence and love. Doubters do not achieve; skeptics do not contribute; cynics do not create. Faith is the great motive power, and no man realizes his full possibilities unless he has the deep conviction that life is eternally important, and that his work, well done, is a part of an unending plan.”
 
I was going to say something else, but, perhaps considering the subject matter, I’ve said too much already.

Prayer of an Anonymous Abbess

Here is one of my favorite prayers. It comes from the German children’s book author Margot Benary-Isbert (1889-1979). She moved to the United States from Postwar Germany in 1952 and became a United States citizen in 1957. While Benary-Isbert wrote for children, I especially like her “Prayer of an Anonymous Abbess,” which was written for those of us with “silver hair.” – John

QUOTES BY MARGUERITE DE ANGELI | A-Z Quotes
Margot Benary-Isbert

Lord, thou knowest better than myself that I am growing older and will soon be old. Keep me from becoming too talkative, and especially from the unfortunate habit of thinking that I must say something on every subject and at every opportunity.

Release me from the idea that I must straighten out other peoples’ affairs. With my immense treasure of experience and wisdom, it seems a pity not to let everybody partake of it. But thou knowest, Lord, that in the end, I will need a few friends.

Keep me from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point.

Grant me the patience to listen to the complaints of others; help me to endure them with charity. But seal my lips on my own aches and pains – they increase with the increasing years, and my inclination to recount them is also increasing.

I will not ask thee for improved memory, only for a little more humility and less self-assurance when my own memory doesn’t agree with that of others. Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally, I may be wrong.

Keep me reasonably gentle. I do not have the ambition to become a saint – it is so hard to live with some of them – but a harsh old person is one of the devil’s masterpieces.

Make me sympathetic without being sentimental, helpful, but not bossy. Let me discover merits where I had not expected them and talents in people whom I had not thought to possess any. And, Lord, give me the grace to tell them so.

Amen

Margot Benary–Isbert

Grudges, Gossips, and Slander

Photo by Keira Burton

I honestly believe more people will go to hell for the sin of gossip than all the other sins combined. Gossip must be guarded against zealously because it is such a delicious sin. Proverbs says:

      The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels;
they go down into the inner parts of the body (Proverbs 18:8; see also 26:22).

It’s no wonder why Peter concludes his Spiritual Weight Loss program telling us to “put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” (1 Peter 2:1). What gives slander and gossip their enticing flavor? Everyone loves a secret. It makes us feel powerful, “in the know.” That is why the supermarket gossip sheets sell so well. We all want to know the rest of the story. But, strangely, gossip also makes us feel better about ourselves. If the other person isn’t so great, we must be a little bit better. The standard isn’t quite so high.

The early Christian Hermas gives this sage advice:

“First, speak evil of no one, and do not enjoy listening to someone who does. Otherwise you, the listener, will be responsible for the sin of the one speaking evil, if you believe the slander which you have heard, for by believing it you yourself will hold a grudge against your brother. In this way you will become responsible for the sin of the one who speaks the evil. Slander is evil; it is a restless demon, never at peace but always at home with dissension. So avoid it, and you will always have success with everyone.” [1]

Unfortunately, you can hear otherwise good Christians slandering other Christians. In hushed voices tinged with concern, they begin:

“I love brother Smith dearly, but….”
“If they were my children….”
“You know the trouble with ….”
“It’s so sad. I really want to help….”
“If I were in his shoes….”

One of my favorite authors, William Barclay, describes:

“The word that James uses for to speak harshly of, or, to speak evil of, is the verb katalalein. Usually this verb means to speak evil of someone else in that person’s absence, to criticize, to insult, to slander someone when he is not there to defend himself. This sin of slander and of insult and of evil-speaking is condemned all through the Bible…In the Pauline letters katalalia, the noun, is translated back-biting.… Katalalia is the sin of those who meet in corners and gather in little groups and pass on confidential tidbits of whispered information which destroy the reputation and good name of those who are not there to defend themselves.… People are slow to realize that there are few sins which the Bible so unsparingly condemns as the sin of irresponsible and malicious gossip.”

No sin is so universally condemned! God condemns it, “Whoever slanders his neighbor secretly I will destroy” (Psalm 101:5). Paul condemns it (2 Corinthians 12:20), Peter condemns it (1 Peter 2:1), and James condemns it (James 4:11-12).

How can we guard against gossip? By asking yourself three questions before you open your mouth:

1. Is it true?
2. Is it kind?
3. Is it necessary?

But before I close today’s devotional, did you hear about ….

[1] The Shepherd of Hermas, II, 2 in Holmes, M. W. (1999). The Apostolic Fathers: Greek texts and English translations (Updated ed., p. 377). Baker Books.

Envy: The Sour Aftertaste of Sin

Photo by Govinda Valbuena

Envy is not simply a longing to have the same kind of thing the other person has; the envious person wants to strip another of something in order to possess it completely and solely (Proverbs 14:30). Apostle Peter’s spiritual weight loss program tells us to “put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” (1 Peter 2:1).

Christians are not immune to envy. Ananias and Sapphira saw the praise Joseph the Levite received when the apostles changed his name to Barnabas (Acts 5), and their envy led to their deaths. In our time, one preacher envies another minister’s success and begins to slander him because he is eaten up with envy.

Henry Stein wrote, “A convincing case can be made that the entire free enterprise system is fueled by envy.”[1] Anne Morrow Lindbergh observed, “We worship success, but we really don’t like the successful. We are envious of them.”

Sometimes it is easier to understand the meaning of a word by looking at its opposite: light/dark, heavy/light, fat/thin. The Greeks considered “envy” (phthonos, φθόνος) the opposite of “the love of people” (philanthropia, φιλανθρωπία). [2]

Envy expresses itself in all walks of life. Children want other children to envy their toys. Adults engage in “conspicuous consumption.” People marry a “trophy spouse.” Envy often leads to overspending and consequent marital conflict. (Disagreements over money are the most frequently cited cause for divorce.)

Early Christians saw envy as “the end result of all human sins.”[3]. As such, envy – our fundamental dissatisfaction – is the fruit of all the other sins. Envy is like the sour aftertaste of sin. It is a fundamental problem for us all and is considered one of the Seven Deadly Sins. [4]

Think about it. Envy is a major cause of unhappiness and self-contempt. The man who covets another man’s wife becomes dissatisfied with his own. The student who envies another’s grades underestimates his own abilities. The woman who envies another woman’s appearance becomes a supporter of a cultural system that diminishes her own value and encourages her own unhappiness. Envy diminishes people’s enjoyment of life because they cannot be content with what they have.

Peter, help us! How can we strip away our envy? This might sound strange, but the root of envy is doubting God. We need to understand that God wills the very best for us! We may think we need something, but the Lord knows what we really need! Therefore, I believe the best way to counter envy is to cultivate an attitude of gratitude!

[1] Henry Stein, Ethics (and Other Liabilities), 1982

[2] See Demosthenes, “Against Leptines” 165. Cited in Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). In A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 1054). University of Chicago Press.

[3]Didache: “ἔσχατον τῶν ἀνθρωπίνων ἁμαρτημάτων”

[4] PEWSLAG: Pride, Envy, Wrath, Sloth, Lust, Avarice, and Gluttony

The Hypocritical Christian

Photo by Liam Charmer

Hypocrisy is a complex topic because we all are hypocrites at some point in our lives. Even the Apostle Paul confessed his struggle to the Romans:

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15). That sounds a little bit like hypocrisy, doesn’t it? It’s a struggle we all have, so Peter, in his spiritual weight loss program, tells us to: “put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” (1 Peter 2:1).

Do you remember Jesus warning his disciples about “wolves in sheep’s clothing”? (Matthew 7:15). I wonder about them. Do they know they are wolves or do they just believe they are sheep with an insatiable taste for mutton? The key is to examine our actions – our thoughts can deceive us and make excuses. If you have wool stuck between your teeth, chances are you’re not a sheep!

Likewise, James, the brother of Jesus, warns of Christians who are “double-minded.” They have two souls (James 1:8). Those poor people want to be citizens of the new world, but they also want to continue to live in the old. The early Christians pointed to Lot’s wife as the perfect example of a double-minded person. She desired to stay in Sodom, but she also wanted to be saved, so she fled with her family. Unfortunately, there was a war going on in her mind. She was trying to hold on to two different values, and, ultimately, she was turned into a pillar of salt. What’s the cure? James tells us to “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8). Notice how James links both actions, “cleanse your hands,” and thoughts, “purify your hearts.” Purifying your heart means learning to focus. In James’ words, “Draw near to God.”

Finally, my grandmother was right. As repulsive as hypocrites are, “Johnny if you’re letting a hypocrite come between you and God, he’s closer to the Lord than you are!”

Speech with Hooks


 
Today, we’re continuing our spiritual weight loss program. In our last lesson, we learned about ridding ourselves of “malice.” The second sin Peter refers to is deceit: “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” (2 Peter 2:1).
 
In elementary school, I loved going fishing with my father in Louisiana. First, we’d stop at the bait shop, and I was dazzled by all the bright, shiny lures. Dad would laugh and remind me, “Most lures are designed to catch fishermen.” Lures are, by their very nature, deceitful!
 
Some people would argue our entire economy is based on deceit. The ad men work hard to convince us to buy things we don’t need to impress people we don’t like. I love my Alexa device. No more flipping switches to change the channel or turn on the lights. Who needs a “clapper”? But I also suspect Alexa is listening to our conversations. Ads begin mysteriously appearing on my phone and computer for items Jan and I mentioned privately the night before! Peter is warning us about being deceitful in our speech and actions. Men often exaggerate their accomplishments, and even ministers are guilty of using a “preacher count” when recording attendance.
 
How can we cultivate honesty in our speech? First, don’t talk so much! James told us to “let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation” (James 5:12). My grandmother used to say, “Johnny, God gave you two ears and one mouth so you should listen twice as much as you talk.” Those are wise words, but they are hard to follow.
 
Likewise, the New Testament warns against “smooth talk” and “flattery.”
 
“For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve” (Romans 16:18).
 
The word the ESV translates as “flattery” can also be translated in a good sense as “praise, blessing, or generous gift.” It becomes evil when it goes too far. The ancients used this word to describe “words that are well chosen but untrue, false eloquence, flattery.” It’s “an argument that sounds good but is false.”[1]
 
In the garage, I have a rusty old tackle box; sometimes, I open it to remind myself to beware of speech with hooks.

 Be a Blessing,

[1] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). In A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 500). University of Chicago Press.