Sacred Cows Make Good Hamburger

17 Oct
Moses' bronze serpent is still used as a symbol of healing today

Moses’ bronze serpent is still used as a symbol of healing today

Throughout the story of the Exodus, the Israelites were famous for complaining. “Why have you brought us out into the wilderness?” “We have no water.” “This food is terrible” and much worse. On one such occasion, as they set out from Mt. Hor skirting the land of Edom, and

Numbers 21:4 the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.

That got their attention!

Numbers 21:7 And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.

What I wonder about is what became of the bronze serpent after the snakes left? Apparently someone kept it for hundreds of years. Perhaps it was proudly displayed as we might do with something put in a museum. It might be that children took field trips to see this relic from the past. However, over time, something happened. The bronze serpent began to take on a legacy of its own. Hundreds of years later, it might be someone claimed they looked on the snake and were healed. From there it would be an easy step to ascribe healing power to the image. I can picture the light from an oil lamp dancing over the bronze image and frightening children. The snake was given the name “Nehustan” (which in Hebrew sounds like both the word “bronze” and “snake”). Before long, what had been a link to Moses and the Lord became an evil idol of itself for we read how good king Hezekiah:

2 Kings 18:4 [Hezekiah] removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan).

I wonder if we have any traditions that have outlived their usefulness? Is it possible that we do some things simply because we have always done it that way? I remember my grandfather telling me about the great “communion shroud” controversy. It seems in a little country church, it was their custom to put a white cloth over the bread and wine on the communion table to keep the flies away. Over time the ladies took great pride in starching and ironing that pure white cloth. It was an honor to be asked to prepare it. People began to think about the cloth as a funeral shroud and it added a new symbol to the communion celebration. Then, one day, someone brought in a new shiny communion set that held the cups and the bread protected by a tray with a fly proof lid. The cloth was no longer needed so someone served the communion without the “shroud.” A holy war broke out in the congregation. “We’ve always done it that way!” someone shouted. “The cloth is the shroud of Christ!” someone else explained quoting John’s Gospel (20:6, 7). My grandfather shook his head sadly and observed, “Johnny, that silly tradition nearly split the church.”

On occasion we need to think about the things we do and ask ourselves why we do them. It could be that sacred cows do make the best hamburger.


Buddy the Happy Hamster

14 Oct

I don’t always write serious blogs. This one is just for fun!

Thursday was “Kid’s Day” for Sally. Every year her father’s company invited their employees to bring their children with them to work. It was a very special time and Sally could barely sleep the night before. She looked across the room and talked to her little black hamster “Buddy.”

“Gee Buddy, I’m so excited to go to work with my Daddy!” she said. Buddy started climbing up his water bottle like excited hamsters do.

“Wow! I wish you could go with me. That would be so much fun! There is so much to see and daddy’s office looks like your hamster hotel. There are lots of little rooms and passageways. You would fit right in. Why I bet they would even give you a job. Daddy says he works with a mouse all day and his boss, Mr. Winter, looks kind of like Lisa Tilley’s ferret.”

Buddy started getting very excited and Sally drifted off to sleep thinking about Kid’s Day and Buddy.

“Sally! Sally! Wake up! You’re going to be late! Don’t make your father wait,” mother said. Sally jumped out of bed, washed her face and brushed her teeth and auburn hair. Her freckles were so cute! She chose a pretty red dress with white lace trim and as she was getting ready to run down the stairs she remembered Buddy. “Buddy! I can’t leave you! Do you promise to be good?”

Buddy wiggled his nose and whiskers like good hamsters do and then smiled a big yellow hamster smile that told Sally Buddy was going to be the best hamster that ever went to Kid’s day. Sally put Buddy in her pocket and away they went.

There was a big sign in front of a huge parking lot that said, “Outtasight Industries” and a little banner that said, “Welcome to Kid’s Day.” Father parked the car and they all went into the modern building. A nice lady met Sally and gave her a badge. Buddy didn’t get a badge, but he was being very good hiding in Sally’s pocket. They all pushed through the revolving door and suddenly there was a giant maze of cubicles. Sally’s father worked across the way and they wound their way around the little hallway till they found Sally’s father’s “cube.”

On the walls there were books and pictures of Sally and Buddy. On father’s desk was a big phone and a computer. Sally liked computers and her father told her to sit in his big chair while he went to get them some orange juice. Sally was being very good when Buddy decided to have a look too. He climbed out of her pocket and down her dress then hopped up on the key board. Buddy’s feet started pushing buttons and the computer came to life! It was very exciting! Sally had no idea Buddy was such a wonderful computer programmer. Buddy liked the sound of the keys and began to do a little hamster dance. The computer must have liked it because all kinds of numbers and pictures flashed by. Sally laughed and laughed at Buddy’s dance.

Then father returned with the orange juice but Buddy jumped into Sally’s pocket in just the nick of time. He was exhausted for all his work!

Father took one look at the screen and fainted. He must have been overjoyed with Buddy’s work because three nice men in uniforms came running in and carried father away with pretty silver bracelets. Buddy and Sally just smiled and drank their juice.

Leadership Communication

1 Oct
My grandmother who gave me such great advice

My grandmother who gave me such great advice

Communication and miscommunication seem to be universal issues among churches. People need to be informed, but the word often doesn’t get out. Leaders are misunderstood and members feel out of touch. How does this happen?

A common mistake is for leaders to believe that because they know, everyone else knows. At elders’ meeting issues are talked about over and over and over again. The shepherds know about issues and activities amongst themselves, but they fail to inform the congregation. An item might be put into the bulletin – but not everyone reads the weekly newsletter. Something might be announced, but announcements often fall short because people are thinking about what they are going to do after church rather than paying attention. What we need is what marketing people call “buzz.” A few people are excited and share the news repeatedly in every forum and in every format.

Unfortunately, most buzz is like a Twitter feed or a marketing pitch: it must be attention grabbing and especially short. Buzz doesn’t work well for complicated issues, issues that require education, or items that must be reviewed in depth. Here the “key man” concept may help.

In every church there are certain outspoken individuals that others listen to. If an idea can be effectively communicated to them, they will communicate it to the rest of the congregation. People naturally listen to what these people have to say and respect their conclusions. “If Brother Jones thinks it’s a good idea, I’m all for it.” Unfortunately, those key individuals, in my experience, are rarely the elders. Why?

It could be because elders only have a limited amount of time and that is generally spent with the other elders. The group becomes closed off from the rest of the congregation. This isn’t the case when the elders are leaders of smaller groups in the church like a Bible School class or a small group or they are diligent in exercising hospitality. But if the elders are only talking with other elders, a disconnect occurs.

Have you ever been to a store where the employees are all talking with each other and ignoring the customers? Do you feel like an outsider or like you are intruding if you try to interrupt them? Unfortunately, church leaders can be like that with their congregations. So how can we change that sad situation?

Paul says one of the qualifications for serving as an elder is “hospitality” (1 Timothy 3:2). That term includes being friendly and serving others, but it is much more familiar than that. When an elder and his wife open their home to others, it changes relationships from superficial social banter in the back of the church; it changes politeness into transparency, intimacy and love. No wonder the very first Christians met daily in the Temple and “in their homes” (Acts 2:46)!

However, whenever I have suggested this, the idea is met with a great deal of resistance. I think that’s because modern Americans have forgotten the difference between entertaining and hospitality. Entertaining mean setting out a formal dinner party that requires a great expenditure of effort and money. It means setting the table with the best china, polishing the silver, and arranging entertainment. Good old fashioned hospitality doesn’t care about clean houses and gourmet fare. TV trays and pizza are perfect! Laughing and telling stories is the stuff of intimacy and the foundation of hospitality. It also is the perfect setting for sharing dreams and visions and honest communication which raises another point.

Communication is a two-way process. Putting something in the bulletin or making an announcement involves only one direction and may or may not get the job done, but when you listen to what people think, it involves two directions and communication is much more likely to occur.

Maybe we should all listen to my grandmother’s advice: “God gave us two ears and one mouth Johnny so we need to listen twice as much as we speak.” The foundation of good leadership communication is listening as well as speaking.


24 Sep

boatyardI stood there in front of our storage unit with my hands on my hips and said it again, “We’ve got too much stuff!” Jan and I are changing jobs and all our worldly belongings were crammed into storage. Just eight years ago, we had disposed of everything (save a few family heirlooms) and moved onto a 40-foot boat. It felt so clean and unencumbered. Now we were wondering where we were going to put all this stuff we had accumulated.

The garage sale was a success, but, honestly, the most fun was giving it all away. People dreaded coming to my office because I sent them packing with double arm loads of books. We left the parsonage nearly furnished as we walked away from our living room furniture. The phone rang off the hook when Jan posted ads on Craig’s List for “Free Stuff.” They carted it all away and still we had too much stuff.

“I’ll need my table saw when we build the cabin,” I said. “I’ll need an outfit for our job interviews, and clothes for the island and the boat,” Jan replied. And there it all was – dining room table, grandma’s chest, lamps, box after box of kitchen equipment, dishes, office equipment, camping gear and clothes, sewing table, boat parts, TV trays, chest of drawers, beds and mattresses — boxes reaching back into the dark recesses of the storage unit. Things stacked floor to ceiling and not an inch to spare. Too much stuff!

So just how much do we really need? I desperately need the love of my wife. Without her, I would just be an empty shell. I need the love of my children and my grandchildren, but often they seem so far away. I need my friends for without them to share with, life wouldn’t be nearly so sweet. I need to walk in nature and feel the hand of God on my shoulder, but this stuff? No, Paul was right, “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content,” (1 Timothy 6:6-8). The stuff I really need fills my heart and not my pockets – or a storage unit.

Authentic Friendship

1 Sep

My dear friend, Gordon Gower, preaching in Colorado

Nothing hurts more than to have a “pretend friend.” Often we don’t know who our true friends are until trouble comes our way. My dear friend, Gordon Gower, recently reminded me, “Your REAL friends are coming in the door while the others are going out.”

Today let’s look at taking the 7th step up Peter’s Eight Rung Ladder:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love, (2 Peter 1:3-7).

In this passage of Scripture, Peter tells us to take the next step up from godliness to “brotherly affection.” Many English Bibles read “brotherly love” here. So what does “love” mean to you? I love apple pie. I love my grandmother. I make love to my wife and I love my Lord. Hopefully each of those loves has a different meaning, but they are actually related to each other. The love that we learn from our mother and father teaches us to love our friends and the love of our friends teaches us to love unselfishly. Here is another series of stepping stones!

I like to think about 2 Peter 1:3-7 as an eight rung ladder. Each step leads to the next. We began this series with the step of faith which led to excellence (virtue) and excellence led to understanding (knowledge) which led us to self-control and endurance (steadfastness), then godliness and now we begin to learn to love. Here Peter starts with friendship (brotherly love) which will teach us in our last lesson about the greatest love, agape.

As has been said many times, there are several Greek words that are translated “love” in English. There is a word for the love of possessions and there is a word for the love of family, but the two that are most often used in the New Testament can be translated “friendship” (“brotherly affection” in the English Standard Version) and a powerful, transcendent, godly love, Agape. In learning to love, we need to begin with friendship. From there we can climb the last step of our eight rung ladder and learn to love like God loves.

Paul told the Romans, “Love one another with brotherly affection,” (Romans 12:10). This too is an interesting progression for he begins with the word for “family love”* and then moves to “brotherly love.” Notice the Holman Christian Standard Version: “Show family affection to one another with brotherly love.” This is the only place in the New Testament where this word translated “family love/affection” is used. It is the kind of love we find mothers having for their children and then children having this love for their parents and siblings. In this sense, it is the most natural love. The ancients believed it was possessed even by animals. When family love is absent from a person, it is an anomaly – even a tragedy – but its presence is nothing extraordinary, so Paul moves on to describe a higher love that should be present in the Christian family: brotherly love.

One of the greatest losses of our modern age is the loss of friendship. Unfortunately, friendship is no longer necessary for survival. It is nice to have friends, but it is not necessary. C.S. Lewis once observed, “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.”

Do you remember a time in your life when you had a buddy or a best friend? For most us of, we’ll need to go back to grade school or to our time in the military to remember when we had one. Paul said the Thessalonians were masters of the art of friendship: “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia,” (1 Thessalonians 4:9, 10). The Hebrew writer says brotherly love is a characteristic of all Christians (Hebrews 13:1), but it is in our current context of 1 Peter that we are given the key to learning this virtue:

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, (1 Peter 1:22).

Spend some time meditating on this text for a moment. Let the Holy Spirit instruct you. What do you see?

  1. Brotherly love must be “sincere.” Literally, it is not-hypocritical. Friendship can be faked. It happens all the time, but it must not be so with Christians! In Christ we become authentic – especially so in our friendships.
  2. The true source of brotherly love must be from a “purified” soul. In days gone by, that required cultic cleansing in the Temple (John 11:55; Acts 21:24, 26; 24:18). Today, figuratively we can cleanse our hearts (James 4:8) and our souls (1 Peter 1:22).
  3. Cleansing comes through “obedience to the truth.” That comes by drawing near to God (James 4:8).

Isn’t that interesting? We become genuine friends by becoming genuine Christians! As we learn to live under God’s rule, we become authentic Christians and thus we can become true friends. By cleansing our hearts and our hands, we rid ourselves of ulterior motives and so we elevate friendship through sincerity. Brotherly love means not seeking friends for what they can do for us, but simply because we sincerely want to be friends.

Christian friends are the best friends!

The Power of Preaching

25 Aug

Recently, one of my former elders called me and asked, “How’s the job search going?” I know he meant well, but we’ve gone round and round in the past about the difference between a “job” and a “calling.” A job pays the bill. In High School I cut fish for a living. It was my first job and, since I don’t have a sense of smell, I was ideally equipped for it. On the other hand, it was never my intension to spend the rest of my life hacking up halibut. I felt God had something else in mind for me.

My Grandfather, John D. McKeel

My Papa, John D. McKeel

My earliest memory is holding my Papa’s hand and climbing the stairs to Sunday School at the old 12th and Drexel church of Christ in Oklahoma City. Dad was in the Army in Korea and mom and my baby brother and I were living with my grandparents. I still have the card K.C. Moser gave my parents when I was born. From the earliest age, I wanted to be a preacher. Ministers were my heroes. Still I was mesmerized by those giants of old who so authoritatively preached the word. That’s what I wanted to be when I grew up! That was what God was calling me to do.

“I’m sending out resumes,” I answered, but what I am really doing is listening to stories – the stories of congregations around the country and I am worried. Not that I won’t be called to another church, but I am worried about the church itself.

“The average age here is 70,” he said as I listened. “We’re all getting up there so we need to do something quick!”

“And what do you feel like you need at X street?” I asked.

“Well, we’re going to hire a youth minister and we’re looking for a young man with a family to fill the pulpit,” he answered. I sighed and resisted the urge to ask, “And how many young people are there for that Youth Minister to minister to?”

Congregation after congregation believes the key is to hire someone young. “That’ll attract young families!” I hear over and over again. “If we add a contemporary service, the young people will come back!” They conclude. I had a vision of a bunch of 70-year old rockers with electric guitars and pounding drums – and shuddered.

Changing the music is probably a good idea in a lot of churches, but I don’t believe adding a band or a Youth Minister for that matter is the key to growing a church.

“Well, Brother McKeel, what do you think the key is?”

“Please, just call me John.” I said.

It’s no more about adding music and changing the role of women than it was about Pre-Millennialism, Cooperation, Speaking in Tongues or the Discipleship Movement in days gone by. There will always be a new program and there will always be a new controversy that threatens to divide us. A new program or a new method will not “save the church.”

“The Bible is the key,” I replied. “Jesus warned the Scribes, ‘Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge.’ (Luke 11:52) The Bible is the key!”

I got a puzzled look and he stammered, “But we preach the Bible!”

“Yes, but do you make it come alive?” I asked. “No one has the right to make the Bible boring! I know a lot of preachers who try, but the Word must be ‘living and active’ not ‘dead and dull.’”

“Our preacher works very hard to have a lesson that is strong on application,” he protested.

“I’m sure he does,” I answered. “But Preaching ‘Six Steps to a Happy Life’ isn’t going to change the world. Many of the sermon outlines I see look like a kidnapper’s ransom note,” I observed. “Six points with six Scriptures cut out of different contexts to prove a point. That’s not listening to God. That’s just cutting out passages and pasting them into your outline to prove your point. Your preacher may make a wonderful point, but he needs to let the text dictate the outline instead of using the text to illustrate his conclusions.”

[Think about that for a moment. On the one hand we begin with God (observation), study very hard to know what the text is saying (interpretation) and then apply it (application). On the other hand we begin with our application in mind and try to find supporting quotes for it from different, often unrelated, passages of Scripture. Those are two very different approaches to my mind.]

I got a sharp glance down a very long nose. “And what is preaching in your opinion?”


I let that sink in. “A rabbi once said, ‘God loves a good story. That’s why He created people.’”

Think about it. The first rule of good preaching is “Never yawn during your own sermon.” I’ve learned the way to hold people’s attention is by telling a good story and no story is better than the ones that come from the Good Book. First are the Bible Biographies. Yes, everyone may have heard the story of David and Goliath, but who tires of it let alone the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the Beggar at the Golden Gate; the Philippian Jailer – the prophets, the apostles – the list is nearly endless and the lessons are just as applicable today as they were when the Holy Spirit chose to include them in the Bible.

But suppose we do tire of those stories. We can move on to the stories Jesus told: the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the Story of the Soils. And what happens when you get bored with those? Then let’s open up a text and make it come alive! Preachers need to learn the art of exegesis again. People are spell-bound and lives are changed when the letters of Paul, Peter, James and John are opened. When was the last time you heard a book brought to life from beginning to end? That’s preaching!

And the beautiful part of this plan is: The Bible touches everyone – old and young alike! Preaching on current events is divisive. Preaching pop psychology or even common sense won’t touch everyone. Using multi-media is clever, often entertaining, but it doesn’t begin to change lives unless it is used to open up the Scriptures.

Let’s get back to the Word of God. Let’s stand in awe and listen! If we are going to survive, much less grow, we need preachers.

Godliness: Living in Awe of God

22 Aug

Climbing the Eight Rung Ladder, 2 Peter 1:5-7

2 Peter 1:3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.

In front of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem

In front of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem

“Godliness” is a word we don’t hear much anymore, and that is a shame because godliness sets a standard of excellence for us. Like all good goals, this one will always be out of our reach, but rather than discouraging us, the standard of godliness should cause us to always keep stretching, keep growing, keep reaching.

In this series, I’ve pointed out that each virtue builds on the previous one. First comes faith, but faith requires action which leads us to excellence (virtue). Excellence in turn produces understanding (knowledge) and understanding results in self-control. The goal is always growth and that requires endurance (steadfastness), but how does endurance lead us to godliness?

Our usual picture of godliness is a little cherub with folded hands looking towards heaven, but let me suggest this virtue is made of grittier stuff than that. It’s a manly quality. The Apostle Paul told Timothy to “train yourself for godliness,” (1 Timothy 4:7). He compares this spiritual discipline to working out in the gym: “for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”

So what is “godliness”? One lexicon describes it as the “awesome respect accorded to God.”[1]  Notice: this respect comes from the heart. It’s not just a matter of appearing to be pious. Again, Paul told Timothy there are people who have “the appearance of godliness, but deny its power. Avoid such people,” (2 Timothy 3:5). Did you catch that? Genuine godliness is a source of power. The early Christian Clement understood this when he admonished the Christians in Corinth: “Therefore let us unite with those who devoutly [our word] practice peace, and not with those who hypocritically wish for peace.”[2]

Many people think of godliness as synonymous with performing godly acts, but it is imperative we recognize godliness is more than that. In Peter’s last letter he asks, “what sort of people ought you to be as you live your lives of holiness and godliness?” [my translation] We shouldn’t think, “Today I’ll do something godly.” Rather, we must pray that we will be godly every day because a life colored with the awe of God is a life of focus and power.

What does godliness look like? Is a man wearing a cross and carrying a study Bible godly? Maybe, but to really see a godly person, we need to “look under the hood.” Godliness doesn’t consist of actions and deeds. It is something deep within the heart of the believer. Do you remember when Moses came down from Mt. Sinai after seeing God? (Exodus 34:29 ff.) He had the two tablets with the Ten Commandments in his arms and, although he didn’t realize it, “the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.” So it should be with people who have “awesome respect” for God. It comes shining through in their lives and their actions. There is something different about the people who know God. For Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, their godliness resulted in incredible boldness and courage when faced with the fiery furnace. For the quiet, little widow who gave the Lord everything she had, it was serene trust that God would provide. For Isaiah standing forgiven in the throne room of God (Isaiah 6), it was an eagerness to do (and be) anything God required. Like the blood that flows through our veins, godliness animates everything we do and everything we are.

So how can we become godly? W.D. Mounce observes:

The chief means of training oneself in godliness is sound instruction (1 Tim. 6:3) and knowledge of the truth (Tit 1:1), especially knowledge of God (2 Pet. 1:3). While eusebeia leads to a life of contentment and gain (1 Tim. 6:6), it is an end in itself, not a means.[3]

Finally, godliness is not a means to an end. It is an end in itself. We might practice the spiritual disciplines like prayer and fasting to become more spiritual, but godliness is something we are not something we do. Thus, as we climb the eight rung ladder, faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control and endurance create godliness within us and the exciting part of this process is what comes next. Becoming godly allows us to love as God loves and learning to love describes the last two steps on Peter’s eight rung ladder.


[1] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 412). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[2] Holmes, M. W. (1999). The Apostolic Fathers: Greek texts and English translations (Updated ed., p. 45). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[3] Mounce, W. D. (2006). Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words (p. 298). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.


19 Aug

Climbing the Eight Rung Ladder, 2 Peter 1:5-7

2 Peter 1:3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are two words often translated “patience” in the New Testament. The first is makrothumia – often translated “long-suffering” as in the classic King James Version. Sometimes all God expects us to do under trial is hang on. As Winston Churchill admonished, “Never, never, never, never, never, never, never give up!” Like sitting in the dentist’s chair, all we are expected to do is endure for the hour. But the word that is used in 2 Peter is different. Rather than just hanging on, hypomone, encourages us to thrive in the face of adversity. A sponge works best when it is squeezed and Christians are at their best when times are rough.

Think about it. When do we grow the most? It’s not when times are good. Where is the incentive to change? We grow when we are challenged; when times are tough! For a kite to fly the wind must blow. Paul, Peter and James all recognize this principle:

“suffering produces endurance [our word], and endurance produces character,” Paul, Romans 5:3, 4.

“the testing of your faith produces steadfastness [our word]. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing,” James, James 1:3, 4.

“make every effort to supplement … self-control with steadfastness [our word], and steadfastness with godliness … For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful,” Peter, 2 Peter 1:6, 8.

In fact, Jesus goes so far as to say, “by your endurance you will be saved,” Luke 21:19.

We all experience tough times. People may disappoint us. Circumstances may conspire to ruin us. Relationships sometimes fail despite our best efforts, but what counts for the Christian is how we deal with those tough times. Sometimes we can only hang on, but for those climbing the eight rung ladder, tough times are an opportunity to thrive and grow and follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

Marcus the Therapist

14 Aug
The Western Wall of the Temple

The Western Wall of the Temple

Marcus the Therapist sat down with Simon the Zealot. Simon was honing his short sword with a stone, then testing its edge by shaving the hairs on the back of his arm. “Simon, you seem to be a little upset right now.”

Simon rubbed his thumb along the blade drawing a bead of blood as he looked up. He clenched his teeth, narrowed his eyes and spat, “Right about that!”

“Would you like to talk about it?” Marcus asked.

Simon drew a deep breath and then let it out slowly. “Do you think in would help?” he asked.

Marcus smiled knowingly. “It just might.”

“Well,” the Zealot began, “those pansy priests are taking advantage of the poor pilgrims” he said. Marcus cringed at the word “pansy” but nodded and said, “Hmm. Go on.”

“Ya see, the pilgrims walk for hundreds of miles to worship in the Temple,” the crusty Simon observed. “Some of them are leading or carrying precious little lambs they have raised themselves.”

Marcus rolled his eyes. “How will we ever mature as a race if these bloody sacrifices continue?” he thought to himself.

“Well, think about it Doc. The people love those little lambs, but they hate their sins. They are consumed by guilt …” At the word “guilt” Marcus perked up. “That precious lamb will be their sacrifice to atone for their sins. Can you imagine?” he asked.

Marcus shuddered. He could hardly believe this was the first century! Hadn’t mankind progressed past such barbarity? “Continue,” the therapist nodded.

“When the poor pilgrim and his lamb get to the temple, the bleeding priest looks at the pilgrim’s sacrifice, shakes his head and points to some so-called ‘blemish’ on the little lamb. The sacrifice isn’t good enough. Then the priest points the pilgrim to one of the official lamb dealers where he can buy a ‘pre-approved’ lamb – mangy beasts,” Simon spit. “Naturally the priests are getting a kick back on the deal, but that’s not all!” Simon stood up gripping his razor sharp sword. “The pilgrim can’t even use his money – it being tainted foreign money and all. He has to exchange it – at a fee – for so-called Temple money. Only it ain’t even real Temple money. It’s a Tyrian shekel it is!” The Zealot raised his sword in holy anger. “I could just run somebody through!”

Marcus took a deep breath. “I see,” the therapist began. “Why don’t you sit back down and breathe deeply for a moment. That’s right. Try breathing in slowly and letting it out in one big exhale.”

With Simon sitting down again, Marcus continued. “Life’s not fair Simon,” he started. “Sometimes things don’t always go the way we think they should. That’s no excuse though for your losing your temper. You have a choice. You can choose to become angry and lash out and hurt others, or you can be in control. By not reacting to other people’s choices, you are really winning! Doesn’t that feel better?”

Marcus looked down at his sundial. “Well Simon, I think you’ve made good progress today.” He stood up, looked out the window and wondered, “Who is that Galilean with a whip over at the Temple?”

The 85 Year Old Giant Killer

9 Aug

raising the sailThe metal rolling door to the storage unit slammed shut and I fastened the lock. Even though we gave away half of the books in my library and most of our furniture — even though we had the garage sale to end all garage sales. It still seemed like we had way too much stuff. How much do we really need? For that matter, what do we really need? Pondering that question we said good-bye to our little dog Charlie, (He’s staying with our daughter Holly in San Diego) and dropped our old sailing cat, Phoebe, at the kitty hotel. Then we drove north and pulled in to a beautiful country house to stay with friends and collect our wits for a week.

I know God has an exciting life planned ahead for us, but it would sure be comforting to know a little bit more about it. However, I suppose that wouldn’t be “walking by faith” would it? Still some details would help settle my anxious mind. I’m sure Abraham and Sarah had similar thoughts on their way to the Promised Land.

Please pray for us — now more than ever! Some exciting possibilities are unfolding and I’m always up for a good adventure and that reminds me of the story of Caleb (Joshua chapter 14).

After six long years of war, it was time to divide the Promised Land. The people were looking forward to a time of peace and settling on their land, their inheritance. The Israelites gathered at Gilgal, their center of operations about a mile from Jericho and five miles from the Jordan River. There they would be assigned their new homes, but after six years of war, the hill country still wasn’t conquered. The giants (Anakim) lived there in “great fortified cities.” No one wanted to live on the mountains.

Just then Caleb appeared among the people. It was his birthday! He and Joshua were the only two people to cross over the Jordan River of those who had begun the journey over forty years before. By rights, he should have had the first choice of the land and what would the old man choose? A shady glen where he could finish his days in peace? No! Listen to his speech to the people:

“And now, behold, the Lord has kept me alive, just as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness. And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old. I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming.” (Joshua 14:10-11)

And then Caleb’s fiery request, “Now therefore give me this mountain!” (verse 12, KJV)

Why? Why would an eighty-five year old man ask for such a challenge? Because Caleb wasn’t done yet! Caleb knew growth comes during difficult times and in the midst of foreboding challenges and Caleb never stopped growing. Besides, Caleb trusted God – the Giants didn’t have a chance!