My First Car

Do you remember your first car? Mine was a 1976 Plymouth Arrow. It was a reddish-orange beauty with "wing" windows on the back that were reminiscent of the porthole windows on the 1957 T-Bird! The license plate number, in case you were interested, was 1-88-AY. 


My Dad found this car for me in the Summer of 1978. It was a repo at the bank he worked at and it was truly bargain priced at $2,000. He said if I was interested, he would co-sign a note for me so that I could buy it. After one look, I was interested and the deal was made. Since I was beginning college at the end of that summer, I worked extra hours to get it paid off. I think it was an 18 month note, but I got it paid down in four or five. I worked at Kentucky Fried Chicken in Casper, Wyoming during the oil boom years, so getting the extra hours was no problem.


When I finally had a day off, I would load up the car with a sleeping bag, grab the family dog, and head out on the 45 mile trip that took me to Paradise on earth - a ten mile strip of canyon that connected two nearby lakes. This canyon road was a strip of two-laned, asphalt pavement that wound back and forth with curves and peaks and valleys that were irresistible for an 18 year old with a new car. I can remember running the car as fast as the law would allow (I already had a few tickets and they were expensive) both hands on the wheel and windows wide open (no air-conditioning). My left elbow would be hanging out the driver side window and my dog would have his head out the passenger side window, ears flapping in the wind. 


This was pure exhilaration and joy! It was, in fact, freedom!


It was also responsibility on four wheels. It gave me incentive to earn enough money to pay my own expenses. I learned how to change oil and tires and to set the points at tune-up time. I learned to check the fuel gage (but we won't get into that). And, with the help of local law enforcement, I eventually learned how to go the speed limit. I also got into more than one accident that taught me how to pay a bit more attention than I had previously been used to.


I had that car for about four years. By the time I was through with college, the old Arrow was also through. It had an overhauled engine that just didn't take. It had a pooched out fender on one side and a long, deep scratch on the other. The driver's side door no longer worked and the gas cap door and rear hatch also were "sticky". It was this car that showed me that my future wife really was a keeper, for on one of out first dates the oil cap actually blew off from the foresaid overhaul that didn't take. When the oil cap blew off it hit the underside of the hood with a loud "bang" and then rattled around in the fan before falling to the ground. Instead of being embarrassed, the love of my life got out of the car and helped me find that elusive rascal. 


I think we can all remember our first car, especially if it was one we had to purchase with our own money. I know a lot of kids haven't had that privilege, but those who have will likely see it as a blessing. It is the very things like this that teach us a sense of responsibility that all kids need as they are making the transition from teenager to adult, and I am grateful that I had the opportunity to learn that particular lesson. Thinking about it makes me realize how fortunate I was to have parents who helped me have such opportunities that would allow me to grow and mature in ways that are so necessary in helping a child become an adult.


When you thin about it, this is exactly what God does for us, only on a much more important level. He gives us the opportunities and experiences that He knows we will need in order to someday become mature in our service to Him. Sometimes these experiences are expensive, and sometimes they are inconvenient. Always, they come with hard work. But in the end it is these experiences that bring the exhilaration and joy and freedom we all need in life. And, if we are wise, we will be grateful to the One who has allowed us to grow up by trusting us enough to give us these responsibilities in the first place.

The Greatest Sermon Ever Preached

Can you imagine what it must have been like for the men and women who actually were present when Jesus taught here on this earth? Think about it. To have the privilege of listening to the only begotten Son. To listen to the words of the One who was with God in the beginning, the One whom we are told that all the world was created through. When God said, "Let Us create man in Our image", it was Jesus to whom He was talking to. 


This is the One whom people came to to be healed. Once the healing was completed they then stayed to hear what He had to say. I can only imagine the intensity with which I would have listened to someone who had just healed my child, my spouse or myself of some terrible disease for which there had been no hope of recovery. Think of the time that Jesus fed the 5,000 with just a few loaves and fish. Then He did the same with the 4,000 who were gathered a short time later. We call to mind these great miracles, but we also remember that they needed to be fed because they had been listening to Jesus for so long that they lost track of time and were now faint with hunger.


I can tell you from brutal experience that I have been faint with hunger on countless occasions when some man was preaching, but I never lost track of the time.


In fact when such instances occurred, I thought of little else than the length of time they had been speaking. This was not so with Jesus. When He spoke it seems that people were more than willing to stay for as long as He preached. We are told that people marveled at His teaching. That they freely admitted they had never heard anyone speak in such a way. And why not? They were listening to the Son of God!


And then there is the Sermon on the mount! It is widely considered to be the greatest sermon ever preached. While it's topics seem to vastly differ, they are bound together by the common themes of perspective, duty, and responsibility to God. In this sermon Jesus addresses the heart of the great issues that rule men's lives. Within it, He gives both great promises and serious warnings. He gives hope to those who may have forgotten what hope was. He pointed out to a crowd filled with the same daily concerns that we possess that they had no need to worry because God would take care of them. 


And He spoke about love.


I can only imagine what it must have been like to have been present at the feet of the Master when He spoke these words. This sermon must have forever changed the lives of those who were present. The people must have gone away from this sermon filled with a sense of pride to be a child of the King, as well as a determination to begin living as a child of the King should live. Yes, these people who got to hear Jesus preach were a blessed people indeed! 


But what of us who weren't there? Isn't it true that we can still experience this same sense of wonder and appreciation? We can do so each time that we pick up the Word of God and read the things that the Creator deemed worthy of being included within the pages of the Holy Bible. We can not only read the greatest sermon ever told, but we can read of everything else that the Father and the Son want us to know for our daily lives. And while we may not have been present for those wonderful moments when Jesus healed and fed the multitudes, we can experience the great spiritual healing that His words still bring and we can still have our souls fed by His great truths contained within the pages of the Bible.


We are a privileged people indeed to have such an opportunity. We just need to be wise enough to see it, and then to take advantage of this great blessing!



Can Your Faith Stand Up to Testing?

Consequently, faith comes by hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.     Romans 10:17, NIV

Without faith it is impossible to please God.    Hebrews 11:6, NIV

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 

James 1:2-3, ESV


How strong is your faith? Can it stand up to testing, or will it crumble at the first sign of opposition? Paul reveals in Romans 10 that our faith is based upon the Word of Christ, so it is vital for us that our faith be formed from a deep familiarity with the truths contained in the Bible. Otherwise, our faith may not be much more that superstition. The writer of Hebrews takes it to another level entirely. He reveals that we cannot even begin to please God in the absence of faith. He uses numerous examples of men and women throughout history whose faith was proven by the stands they took when the going got tough. Then James comes along and, through inspiration, tells us that the testing of our faith is required for us to be steadfast before God. It is true that these trials can come by physical tests, but it is equally true that these trials can also come from the times when our understanding of God's Word is challenged in some way or other.


While we don't often combine these three Scriptures, their combination gives a fuller picture of faith than many may have. Its source is the Word, it will have to be tested to be proven genuine, and a failure of this test will reveal a faith that cannot endure.


Now to the next point: Can your faith stand this kind of testing? When people challenge what you believe, can you meet that challenge or do you crumble? I have seen too many people over the years who cannot stand up under the pressure of their beliefs being challenged. When anyone questions those beliefs, they will often go into a defensive mode and then lash out, or they will become so shaken that their very faith becomes in question. This should not be, but we see it too often. So, what is the solution? Is it simply to never expose yourself to situations where you might have your beliefs challenged? Is it to meet with anger and bitterness anyone with the audacity to disagree with your understanding of the Bible? If so, then what you might be calling faith might not be faith at all.


One of the things that has strengthened my faith as I have matured is, oddly enough, the same thing that used to weaken it when I was younger: Those times when my beliefs were challenged. How could that be, you might be wondering? It is because in the past that which I thought to be faith was simply something I believed. Now you might be thinking that these two things are the same and while they can be, in this instance they were not. I simply believed what I believed because I believed it. Maybe it was because my parents had taught my that belief, or maybe it was because they taught me the opposite and I was in a defiant mood. Perhaps it was because a religious leader had said something, so it must be true - right? More often, it may have just been that someone said something about God that I wanted to believe, so I latched onto it with all my might.


But, knowing what we know about Paul's inspired comment in Romans 10:17, we realize that these things are not the source of faith at all, for genuine faith can only be revealed by the sacred Word of God and Christ. When you look at it this way, you realize that the type of faith that God is talking about is a belief that is based on the knowledge of what He said rather than what we end up believing from any source outside of Scripture.


Now, to bring some semblance of closure to this discussion. When our faith is tested, it is actually our knowledge of what we have come to believe from the Inspired Word that is being tested? If we find that our faith cannot stand up to the test, it is likely because the source of our faith is from outside of the Bible's teachings. Should that prove to be the case, we need to shift our loyalty back to God's Word instead of the many sources that tend to unduly influence us. At that point our faith truly does become faith because those things we believe about God have a provable source - the very words of God and Christ! And when our faith does not stand up to the revealed Word of God, it is then that we know we have a problem that must be remedied.


And that remedy can only be an adjustment of our beliefs to comply with God's Word. When we find ourselves looking forward to these tests of faith because we know that they will have the effect of bringing us in harmony with the will of God, it changes us. It strengthens us and it gives us confidence because we are no longer relying in preconceived and preferred notions of what we wish God's Word said, but instead are now getting our faith from the only real, faith giving source! And that gives us joy!  

A Pain in the Neck

A man who remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed - without remedy.

Proverbs 29:1, NIV


As I write this article, I have a heating pad draped around my neck. I have had a pinched nerve that has bothered me for about two weeks now, and it got so bad last night that it woke me up with the pain. It has limited my mobility to the point that I have even had to stop picking up my sweet grandchildren as much as I am accustomed to doing. It has slowed me down from my work and it has made my leisure time less enjoyable. It's getting better now, but it has truly been a pain in the neck.


Have you ever had anything like that? You were going along just fine and then slowly and gradually one of your body parts just stopped working as well. It may have been a part that you hardly ever gave a moment's thought to, but now it is hard to do anything without being reminded how much you use it and how much you depend upon it. Anyone who has ever had back, hip or knee issues can relate.


During this time of pain and inconvenience (pity me!) I have begun to have a new appreciation for God's use of the phrase "stiff-necked" in relation to His children down through the ages. He expected them to be productive, but like a stiff neck, their productivity became vastly reduced. He expected them to enjoy and appreciate the wonderful blessings He had given them, but instead they received these blessings with something less than the thankfulness they should have displayed. In short, instead of being effective and grateful servants, they would become sluggish, ineffective and ungrateful.


And like my stiff neck, these stiff necked people began to take far more time in maintenance than they did in being useful for the purposes they were created. However, unlike my stiff neck, these stiff-necked people got this way out of sin and rebellion. They wanted to live their own life without any interference from God. They wanted to take part in sin without regard for His warnings. They critiqued His blessings and used His resources for their own selfish pursuits and sinful pleasures. And though God warned them time and time again that He would punish them, their response was all too often to chastise God's servants who would bring those messages of warning.


So God gave would eventually tire of their unchecked wickedness and send them a punishment that was so severe that it was without remedy. We can call to mind events like the great flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the destruction of the northern Kingdom of Israel and the southern Kingdom of Judah to name but a few.


So what does all this have to do with us today? Just this: We are placed here on this earth to serve God - to the best of our ability and by using the resources that He has provided for us to do so. But we often forget the purpose of our existence and we begin to use all of His gifts and blessings for our own selfish pursuits and our own wicked pleasures, all the while complaining and murmuring about the quality and quantity of these blessings. And though God gives us sufficient warnings within His Word as to what will happen to us if we continue these foolish pursuits, our stiff necks often prevent us from turning our heads towards Him long enough to hear His pleas for our repentance. 


Just as important, our stiff-necked attitudes that result in refusing to serve the Master here on earth, even though we have the guarantee of manifold blessings for doing so, will be the same stiff-necked attitudes that could eventuate in losing the right to serve Him for all eternity in the paradise of Heaven. And if we are not careful, this stiff-necked posture before God will also result in the same loss of heaven for our loved ones some day. Instead, that Day will bring about the sudden and permanent destruction that has no possible remedy.


It's odd how something as simple as a stiff neck can wreak such consequences in our physical lives. But it does help us to see how important it is for us to not be stiff-necked in our response to God's invitation to His service. I know I have thought a lot about my stiff neck in recent weeks, and it has made me realize how important it is for me to rid myself of that particular ailment in my own service to God and Christ. How about you? 

The Importance of Not Quarrelling

Better to live in a desert than with a quarrelsome and ill-tempered wife.

Proverbs 21:19, NIV


Solomon, the author of most of the proverbs, had a great many wives and he knew something of which he spoke. In addition to that the Proverbs are inspired by God, so the truth contained in this verse is well worth our exploring. Before you men get too cocky, the truth is just as relevant for a wife living with an ill-tempered husband. Regardless of which side of the equation you are on, we all know that living in a desert is generally a miserable experience and something to be avoided by all sane people.


So to start, please do not miss the truth this passage reveals: Living in a dry, often snake-infested region, subject to the ravages of wind and heat and thirst is preferable to living in the quarrelsome environment created by a bad marriage.


Over the years, I have had the privilege of performing a few marriages. Prior to the wedding day, I try to sit down with the loving couple and go over some of the relevant passages from God's Word relating to marriage. The Bible indicates that these inspired passages are commandments, but some couples prefer to look at them as suggestions - a type of advice that can be considered and used at their own discretion. Though I always teach the former in these pre-marital counseling sessions, the naturally bright often view this part as the latter.


One of the things I always try to stress is the truth contained in the passage we read above. I tell them that if they ever disagree, that whatever they do they must never, never, never win an argument. The reason for this advice is quickly apparent to everyone who has ever been married for more than two weeks, but I will state it plainly, here, for the benefit of those who have yet to be married for that long. It is incredibly insightful advice, so you may want to commit it to memory. I say this without a trace of  pride, but as a public service. Are you ready? Here it is:


If you win an argument with your husband or wife, you will lose.


God knew this, and He has tried to spare marriages from the consequences of argument. It's not that there will never be righteous stands that the husband or wife will be required to take, for should a spouse ever go astray from the commands contained in God's Word, such sinful behavior should not be tolerated. Correcting sinful behavior is not what it means to be quarrelsome and ill-tempered. 


James chapter four has a great explanation on what causes quarrels and it wouldn't be bad to take a few minutes to look it over when you have time. While space does not permit a full discussion now, I can tell you that a selfish pursuit of pleasure is at the heart of all such quarrels, and it is this very type of selfishness that is a cancer to any marriage. But to wrap up this conversation I will simply say don't quarrel and don't be ill-tempered. I will also point out that if you have a potential husband or wife who is currently fond of quarreling and subject to bad temper, then don't marry them!


"But I may never get married", some might say, but I assure you that this would be better. If you are still tempted to not accept this advice then at least first do this before your wedding day: Take a canteen of water and hike into a desert for a week's stay. Don't select a desert up in some mountain retreat or at a resort hotel, but choose a genuine desert. If you survive the week then you can sit back and reflect on whether you ever want to go through something that our Lord has indicated to be an inferior choice and you will begin to get the idea.


And, should you find yourself in a marriage that is currently plagued with bad tempers and arguments, then stop it! To be clear, I am referring to stopping the arguments, not the marriage. If you will cease from your side of these bad tempered fights, you will likely find that your spouse will too. And then you will discover another of the great truths contained within the Bible: Without fuel, a fire soon goes out. And when the fires of these foolish conflicts are finally extinguished, then you and your spouse can get to the work of serving God together in a way that will be pleasing to Him and to you.


It's something worth considering, wouldn't you agree?