What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Colossians 3:17, ESV


I remember when my wife Carolyn was teaching Sunday school to our toddlers. She would sing a song that went something along these lines: "If I'm a farmer when I grow up, I'll be a Christian farmer when I grow up." She would find out what all of the kids' parents did and then she would adjust the song to their occupation - father, mother, oil field worker or even real estate appraiser, it was all the same. Whatever the occupation, they would be a Christian first and foremost. 


It was a great lesson for kids, but even a better one for adults. This perspective will keep us engaged and purposeful throughout our lives if we will just keep it. Understanding that we are a servant of God before servants of men makes all the difference. It allows us to keep the goal in mind, but it also allows us to do something else that I am convinced is an absolute necessity in life: It allows us to dream.


We all need dreams. I know a man whose dream was to get to the point in his career that he could leave that occupation and own his own farm and ranching operation. Your own dream may differ in the specifics, but they all have the same thing in common. They come with a lot of forethought, advance planning, and tons and tons of hard work. It's the very "bulk" of the effort needed to make a dream a reality that can separate us from God if we are not careful. The reason for this is easy to understand: Dreams need tremendous amounts of our time to come to fruition, and sometimes the scarcity of time will crowd out our service to God.


This is where we can take a lesson from my wife's song of encouragement to her children, and to the gentleman with the dream of ranching. The song encourages us to remember that our primary identity comes from our being a servant of Christ, and not from our occupation. The rancher I have in mind has also done an impressive job of keeping first things first, as he begins every day with prayer and devotion time with God. He also goes with his family to worship with the church on the first day of every week. By doing so, he has been able to put in the hard work that dreams and reality require, while committing himself to placing his service to the Lord first and then taking God with him through his work day.


In other words, if he is a rancher now that he is grown up, he is determined to be a Christian rancher now that he is grown up.


I am convinced that this is the way life must be lived in order to get the full satisfaction out of it. Our dreams can sometimes dim a bit as the uncertainties and challenges of life take hold. But, if we are Christians before anything else, then everything will be made better. Our families will become more precious, our relationships will be enhanced, and our dreams and realities will be all the sweeter when viewed through the lens of our service to God. Why is that, you may wonder? It is because we are all just servants of God on our way to heaven. With that in mind we can endure hardships and enjoy success all the more. 


Again, why is that? It is because including God in our daily routines and giving Him pre-eminence while doing so reminds us that all of our experiences, setbacks, and dreams are but incidents along the road to heaven. This life can be quite a ride at times. Sometimes its a smooth gallop across green fields and sometimes it will buck you off, but including God at the forefront of all of these experiences will make our lives richer, not poorer. What kind of a person are you? Whatever it may be, if you are a Christian person, then you are well on your way to achieving your dreams.

Allowance Day!

Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again: Rejoice!

Philippians 4:4, NIV


Was there anything like allowance day when you were a kid? For one who grew up in the 1960's, allowance day was a joyous, weekly observance that I will never forget. Each Saturday I would receive 25 cents - an entire quarter of a dollar! Though the allowance was strictly on a grant basis from the benevolent dictators who raised me, it was pretty much a sure thing as long as I had done the few small chores required of me - such as making my bed and feeding the dog. Since as a small child I loved money, I made sure that these chores were always given first consideration. Plus the fact that I would have received a spanking in the place of my allowance had my responsibilities not been acceptably fulfilled, I had all the more incentive.


Now for the dividing of the money.


Since my parents understood that I was a covetous child, the contribution always had to be taken out first. That nickel would be faithfully dropped in the contribution plate on the next day, so this left two lovely dimes to be spent in any way I deemed appropriate. During baseball season this meant the purchase of two wax packs of baseball cards. Since sales tax was about 4%, I could get two packs as long as they were purchased separately. Buy them together and you would trip the sales tax and have to come up with an extra penny, something that I was loathe to do. It probably drove the saleslady crazy to see this little boy come up to her register twice instead of in one convenient trip, but I was well on my way to understanding high finance by then and was a big believer in Ben's "a penny saved is a penny earned" philosophy of life.


The offseason was more difficult because they didn't sell baseball cards once the season was over. I tried some specialty cards a time or two (like football cards) but found them to be largely unsatisfying. This left candy as the only viable option and I must have tried every variety in the five and dime that I frequented as a child. I can remember when a 7-11 came to town and I could buy a coke slurpee! That was living the dream as far as I was concerned.


Looking back on things, I think I understood the Apostle Paul's encouragement to rejoice better than did most adults. I confess that the part about that rejoicing being in the Lord took a few more years to get a firm grasp of, but I sure had the hang of the joy part. And I wonder if that's a part of why Jesus was so insistent on our having to become like little children in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. Kids understand the necessity of obeying the rules without question if they are to receive the desired reward. They understand the need for giving to God first, even if it cuts into their much loved funds. And, perhaps as much as anything else, kids know about joy.


These are all things we tend to forget about when we are adults, but it is good to call them to mind. We Christians have the privilege of being called children of God! It definitely will require that we recognize that He is our authority but, accepting that, we can then be free to rejoice in the Lord always. Dare I say it again? Rejoice!


It's a good life that God has given us, is it not? And someday soon, if we are faithful, there will be heaven. When we look at it that way, what is there not to rejoice about? 

It's Not Just One Day a Year that We Honor Christ's Death

On the first day of the week, we gathered together to break bread.

Acts 20:7


Much of the religious world has just finished with Easter, an annual day in which they commemorate the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord. Now I don't want you to misunderstand the things that are about to follow, for in Romans chapter 14 in verses 5-6 we are told that it is acceptable for a man to consider one day as more special than another as long as he is doing so to the Lord. This is between you and God, and no one has the right to tell you whether or not you can observe the annual anniversary of Christ's death as more special in your mind than the other days of the year.


So if I am not criticizing the observance of Easter by anyone (and I am not) then what is the point? The point is that the command to commemorate Jesus' death, burial and resurrection has always been for a weekly observance and not just one special day of the year. In I Corinthians 16:2, we are commanded to give on the first day of every week. This offering was made at the weekly gathering of the church, but the focal point of this gathering was not for the contribution. Nor was the main thing to hear somebody preach. In the passage above from the book of Acts we see that the Apostle Paul was speaking that day. Paul was one of the most prominent men in the church at that time, but the church still did not gather to hear him - they gathered together to break bread. And as I Corinthians chapter 11 points out, this breaking of bread was not referring to a meal, but to the Lord's Supper. This supper was instituted by Jesus Himself when he took the unleavened bread which represented His body, and the fruit of the vine which represented the blood He was about to shed for the forgiveness of our sins.


And as Hebrews 10:19-31 points out, the forsaking of this weekly assembly was tantamount to trampling the body of Christ underfoot, treating his blood as an unholy thing, and insulting God's Spirit of grace (Heb 10:29). So we see that the gathering together to remember the death burial and resurrection of Christ was to be a weekly occurrence that was highlighted by the taking of the Lord's Supper. And while I personally believe there to be nothing wrong with the individual holding the anniversary of our Lord's death and resurrection as special, the specific command is that this be done when the church gathers on the first day of each and every week.


But, do we really have to do this every week?


Maybe an example will help. Over the course of my life, I have mowed lawns for several people on a certain day every week. In exchange for that, I got paid every week. Now suppose that I had unilaterally decided to change that agreement and mow their lawn only on one special day a year. By that time, the lawn was overgrown and a hazard to both man and beast, but I persevered and made that lawn look top notch. Could I then reasonably expect my client to pay me for the whole year's mowing? Do you think that they would have accepted my decision to change our agreement in such a way as to neglect our weekly agreement in the place of my new and improved annual plan? I don't think they would, do you?


A more important question is do we think that God will accept one day of special devotion in the place of His command to gather together on the first day of every week?


And, by the way, it's not that our giving special attention to the annual event is somehow wrong as long as we limit that to our personal lives and do not bind it on the rest of our brothers and sisters. The command is for the first day of the week, and it is our privilege to honor the Lord's will in this area. One of the reasons that we need to be reading the Word of God for ourselves is so that we can make sure that we are doing His will as best as we can. While we may not agree on every specific thing, I believe that we can all agree that it is our duty to do our best to correctly handle His Word. It's something to think about, isn't it?

A Modern Day Parable

Once there was a small community that at first glance did not appear to have much. There was nothing about it that would draw the attention of people from the outside to it and that was just fine with the people who lived there, for the land held a great treasure. The treasure was not of the sort that most people would be interested in for it did not consist of silver or gold or even oil. Instead, the treasure contained within the land was the soil itself. This was important, because the food supply over this entire region was dwindling to the point that people were actually starting to starve.


Now the soil of this community was not necessarily rich or overly fertile. In fact, when you looked at it it was pretty ordinary. Added to the fact that the community lay within an area without an abundance of lakes or streams and even those who might be tempted to try their hand at farming would take one look at this land and conclude that it was just too much work. Even though the world was starting to have trouble getting enough food to feed itself, this community just didn't look all that promising. What these people missed, had they bothered to look a little closer, was that this country had the potential to grow native grass that could accommodate vast herds of cattle and flocks of sheep. To those who knew the secrets of the land, there was an unending supply of food that was more than enough to take care of themselves and many others.


There were some in the community who wanted to share their abundance. After all, people on the outside were literally starving, and those with such blessings should help, shouldn't they? But there were also those within the community who saw it different. They had heard of people who were enemies of the land who would actively seek to destroy the grass and the cattle just to harm its citizens. There were also those who would want to "take over" and run things. Still others might be so incompetent as to accidentally harm the crops and the livestock to the point where the people of the community would have to go without.


And it's not as if these concerns were without merit, for there were always enemies and incompetents and those interested only in power and running things. No, they said, we must protect what is ours from harm. And though there were still a number of people in the community who maintained that they could keep the vigilance needed to protect the land while at the same time sharing its secrets with those who could be taught the responsibility needed to help feed themselves this life giving food, the majority finally won out. The land, after all, was a sacred duty and they had a duty to protect it.


So, the people from outside the community starved to death, while the people inside of this closely watched and well protected community... grew fat.


It's kind of a dumb story, isn't it? So what's the point? 


The point is just this: As Christians, we have been entrusted with the life-giving Word of God - the Bible and its great teachings. We benefit greatly from the proper use of this word and we do have a very real responsibility to its safekeeping and proper use. Within the body of Christ, the church, we have a duty to faithfully protect its teaching so that it will be safe from those who would subvert it, whether out of ignorance or enmity, as well as to keep the church from being taken over by those who simply like to run things and do them their own way. I want to emphasize that this is a true and genuine duty of all Christians and it is not unreasonable to take this duty seriously.


The question is do we then keep the saving truth to ourselves in order to protect it? This is often the desire of some who are part of Christ's body, but what of those on the outside? What of our duty to seek and save the lost? Is that superseded by our joint duty of maintaining the purity of the church? The obvious answer is that we have the responsibility to do both! We can invite others in to share the truth, and we can also be on the alert to those who are enemies of the cross - whether wittingly or otherwise - so we can remain vigilant to that possibility as well.


The fact is that there is always a risk to sharing the Good News with those who are lost, but I think we should keep this in mind: When Jesus was about to be crucified and would be leaving His disciples He prayed. He prayed not that God would remove His disciples from the world, but rather that He would protect them from the world. God was faithful to His part and the disciples were faithful to theirs and the result was a church that has continued to survive 2,000 years of attacks from those who have ill intent towards this holy body of Christ.


The truth is that we cannot let the rest of the world starve to death spiritually while we grow fat. We can maintain our dual responsibility of guarding the purity of the Word and seeking and saving the lost. There is risk, of course. I have never seen anything that promises great reward that does not entail some risk, have you? So let's get to the work that God has given us. We must be cautious, it's true, but we cannot let people die in their sins when we possess the life-giving nourishment contained within the Word of God. For, if we were to try and keep the Good News to ourselves, the news we receive at the Judgment may not be good at all.

Commit to the LORD Whatever You Do

Commit to the LORD whatever you do and your plans will succeed.

Proverbs 16:3, NIV


I have to admit as I get older that I get less certain about the details of just how to go about some things, but at the same time I become more certain about the truth. That's probably about as clear as mud, so I will try to explain. I am convinced that the direction of our country is wrong. Of this I have no question, for I read the Bible and we are doing just about the opposite of everything it commands. But, come down to the specifics as what we should do about it, and I have a whole lot of questions.


Maybe a concrete example will help a little more. About thirty years ago, I came across a radio show hosted by Rush Limbaugh. He was brash and arrogant and often so blunt that it made me uncomfortable. After all, I am a preacher and have always understood the need for preaching the truth in love... or so I thought. But the more I listened to Rush, the more I realized that I agreed with just about everything he said. The way in which he said things still made me uncomfortable, but I knew in my heart that he was very right about the reckless direction of our nation, and I also knew that something really, really needed to be done. I believe that he was secretly admired by the silent majority of America, but many were afraid to associate themselves with his ideas.


What I have observed through the years is that many who have been labeled, "The Silent Majority", are made up of a lot of timid people. The reason that they are in the majority is because they have a brain and can use it. But the reason that they are silent is not as flattering: It is because we are all too often non-motivated and hesitant. A less kind way to put that is that we are lazy and afraid.


So, what is the solution? Do we just allow the nation that we love continue its slide toward Gomorrah? I think nearly everyone would agree that this is a foolish path. So do we then become rude and forceful and meet our opponents with insults and an occasional punch in the nose? This, too, seems to be not quite the right direction. Then do we just hunker down and protect what is our own? A lot of people will opt for this route, but it is a lonely path with few saved but the selfish, and then what kind of a world will they leave behind?


I think there is an alternate path, and maybe you will agree. I think we need to stop being cowards and start speaking up, but I believe that we can do so without a slap in the face for everyone who disagrees with us. This will require both conviction and tact and it will not be easily attained. However, I believe that it is not only possible, but I also believe that it is required by God that we do not just something, but the right thing. Too many people recognize the problems of life but they become so bogged down in the process to correct them that they end up doing nothing. On the other hand, their are some who will compromise both truth and principle to accomplish what they think needs to be done.


And we end up with what we have: A society that is divided between those who are so certain that they are right that they keep their righteousness jealously guarded and strictly to themselves on the one side, and a society that feels that every act no matter how despicable and compromised is justified on the other side. What we need are people who are determined to do the right thing who also love God and their neighbors to the extent that they will also do these right things in the right ways.


And the only way that will occur is if we first seek the counsel of God to know what to do and how to do it, and then pray for His help in doing what needs to be done. The fact is that this nation is, if you will pardon the phrase, sinking into the sewer and we need to do something about it. It will require a combination of determination to speak up and the tact with which to do it. It will also require courage to go along with our convictions and an understanding that we cannot be lazy anymore, but will instead have to put in the hard work necessary to achieve any worthwhile task.


And we will have to commit whatever we do to the LORD, knowing that if we are doing the right thing that our plans will succeed. It's a tall task indeed, but I believe the people of God are up for it. What do you believe?