Archive for February, 2012


When faced with a trick question from His detractors Jesus gave a most insightful answer – “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what belongs to God” (Mt 22:21). When I read that I marvel at the cleverness of Jesus’ answer in trapping the Pharisees.  However the real punch in this statement are two powerful truths that His answer illustrates.

Jesus acknowledges that there is a role for human government in our lives. He also endorses the collection of taxes by that government. The Pharisees seemed to think that Jesus would somehow implicate himself as “anti-government” in His answer, but He did no such a thing. Instead He affirmed that government had a right to some portion of payback because it was theirs. In Jesus day the government in Rome had established roads throughout the empire, it provided stability and security in many areas that were once lawless, it brought a level of opportunity in trade and education that many areas had never known before, it brought a common currency. In short the Roman government provided benefits to the communities where they held sway and it was appropriate for those who benefited to pony up and pay taxes. That does not endorse everything they did nor all the methods they used in bringing about those benefits but it does provide a legitimate basis for the collection of revenue for services rendered.

Jesus’ statement does not address the issues of how much tax, what level of benefits, etc. It only touches on that fact that the government was due payback. As I study Jesus’ life He comes across as the least political, high profile person ever. In fact in one sense it can be argued that His lack of political manuevering resulted in His untimely death (from a human perspective).  A little wheeling and dealing probably could have saved His life from the political machine at work in his day… but then we all would still be lost in our sins.

This brings us to the second half of Jesus’ statement which I hold up is far and away the more important point of the exchange – “give to God what belongs to God”. If the government provides a few roads and some military protection for the entire population then a combined group offering to pay for these benefits is due.  But Jesus’ action is ultimately a personal act.  Jesus action is intensely personal.  He saved MY Life.  He radically altered it for the good while I am living here on earth and He has promised an eternity in heaven with Him. This is way more than roads and a tenuous security, it is life that rich and full. In a very real sense Jesus bought me with His love and sacrificial death on my behalf. I belong to Him so my only appropriate response is to give Him all of me.

What does it mean to give Him all of me? Well I have figured out a few things that seem to fit into the definition of all.

First off all my finances less what He said I owed to the government is rightfully His. But if we take scriptures as a whole we see that God gave a guideline of a tithe, 10%. While He rightfully can ask for it all, He allows us to begin at 10%. I recognize that the rest is also His so when He asks for more I seek to be in a position to give more. I won’t go there today, but this speaks to being financially responsible with the remaining 90%.

Next there is my time. Since I belong to Jesus then all my time is His.  Obviously my quiet time with God is a blessed shared time with Him.  He speaks through His Word and by His Holy Spirit He breathes life into me during these times of sweet communion.  But when the quiet time ends, my time is still His.  Some persons have postulated that we give God 10% of our time.  Setting aside 2.4 hours each day for dedicated alone time with God CAN be achieved by a few and I don’t doubt that it can have benefits, but I honestly believe that God’s expectation for our time is not the tithe but the total.  Brother Lawrence, a monk in the middle ages, penned a devotional called “Practicing the Presence of God”.  In it this humble man identified that He was able to commune with God while peeling potatoes and performing the most mundane of tasks.  I believe the same concept is captured in 1 Thessalonians where we are admonished to “pray without ceasing”.  We are to live with a constant awareness of God and respond immediately to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. These promptings can be to pray, to perform a kind act, to give a word of encouragement, to provide an appropriate word of correction, to speak or sing or shout or wait – any number of God-directed acts that fit within the plan that only He sees in its entirety.  I would like to say I have achieved this… or that I have made significant progress, but the truth is while I have matured and I do better than I once did, I still have a long way to go.  However I believe this to be God’s call to me, to live fully in Him and give Him all my time in this manner.

Lastly I want to speak to those relationships and possessions that we call ours.  It naturally follows that if I belong to God, then everything that I call mine belongs to God as well.  Holding back anything falls short of the total surrender that Jesus calls us to.  He gave us the perfect example in His obedience to the Father. In leaving heaven to become a human, born in the most humble of circumstances, raised in relative obscurity and meager provision, Jesus surrendered more than any of us can imagine. But He did not stop there. He willingly submitted to a mock trial, accused of false charges He did not even defend Himself, but He accepted a punishment that He did not deserve. He truly gave everything to God… and He did it on our behalf. With Jesus as our model and inspiration we can offer every relationship and every thing in our lives for His use. For things I have learned this means not to hold on too tightly. For relationships I have learned this means to love with all the intensity that we have and hold them up to God for Him to do what He knows needs to be done.

While I would love to continue, my time is again about up. Remember to give to God what belongs to God. You were bought with a price. The precious blood of Jesus covered your sins and made you part of God’s family. You are His. Live fully for Him today and always.

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When Lisa came home from the hospital one of the challenges was getting sleep. I was reminded of the days when we had little ones in the house because every night was a series of short naps broken by tending to various needs Lisa had. When she spoke with the doctor he said the mind protects itself after a major trauma by not allowing you to get into the deepest sleep where you might dream and relive the trauma. He recommended that we get some “white noise” in the room to help calm Lisa’s mind. So I bought a white noise machine.

The machine I brought home simulates many different sounds – an ocean crashing against the shore, a waterfall, a summer night with crickets chirping, a rain forest with birds calling, a steady rain, etc. Lisa latched onto the steady rain and she (and I) have gone to sleep with a steady rain falling every night for the past 4 weeks.

I have to admit the sound is rather calming when I just relax and accept the sound as the reality. But sometimes I can’t do that. One of my tasks is to make sure the dog is put up. When I step inside from a glorious winter night with no clouds in the sky and then climb into bed with a steady rain falling, my mind will sometimes begin an analysis of the obvious deception we are playing on ourselves. Perhaps even worse is the morning when I am trying to get up. Rising early has never been a big chore for me. Somehow when it is raining or at least when my mind perceives it is raining the waking is much more difficult. And in the first moments of morning consciousness I struggle to distinguish that the rain I hear is not the truth, but only a manmade “reality”.

Listening to our noise machine is not the only time that I am faced with deciding what is truth. Every day we are bombarded with hundreds, perhaps thousands of messages proclaiming things as truth. Advertising is predicated upon convincing us that a particular product is right for us so we buy it. We are in a political campaign and the candidates are seeking to convince us that they are persons who understand what is true and will fight for that truth. Okay in the political campaigns they may spend more time trying to convince us the other guy doesn’t have a clue about the truth, but the point is we have so many messages out there that it is hard to distinguish what is the ultimate truth.

There is also a mindset that all truth is relative, that there is not ultimate truth.  Perhaps it is because of my background as an engineer but I have never had much of a difficulty with the relativistic mindset.  I know that 2 + 2 = 4 and will not = 5.  There are things that are ultimate truth.  Admittedly that makes me stubborn at times about things that I have accepted as truth and I am wrong about, but I am convinced that my occasional inaccuracies about the truth does not change the veracity that ultimate truth exists.

The questions then is how do we know truth and how do we avoid all the deceptions that exist?  There are a few things that I have found helpful in this regards that I can share.  I am also interested in what others have to say so please sound off in the comments.

First as I mentioned above I am convinced that there is ultimate truth.  It begins with God and it is revealed through His Word – the Bible.  Now God chose to reveal himself through a book written over more than 1000 years by approximately 40 different authors so it does provide some interesting challenges to interpretation.  The Bible was written to be taken within the context of the whole and interpreted with Holy Spirit guided understanding.  John 16:13 says: “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes He will guide you into all truth.”  I have found guidance and comfort in the Word of God countless times.  It has never failed to provide reassurance for me in trials I have faced and questions that I have had.  This reliance upon the Word has been a trait that has been cultivated since I accepted Jesus as my Lord in 1983, so it is not necessarily a flip-the-switch action that automatically makes truth so much more clear.

Another help I have found is to hold onto times when Life Truths were clearly communicated to me.  In many cases these have become family stories that we frequently share.  As I sit and ponder this point I can easily picture a dozen times when God has showed up in our lives in real and tangible ways.  These Life Truths reinforce that 1) God is, 2) that God cares for us, 3) that God’s timing is perfect, 4) that God is more than enough to meet our needs, 5) that God has a sense of humor, 6) that God has a plan for every one of us… I could go on and on with truths that God has reinforced through direct interventions in our life.  I expect I will get to share a few of these stories over the coming weeks.  The point is if we ask God to get involved in our lives He will.  And each of those interventions becomes a touchpoint where we can say God taught me this truth… He is faithful, He is Love, He is Great beyond measure, He is!

The last help that I rely upon is the counsel of those I know to be persons of humility, integrity, and truth.  There are authors that I put in this category such as CS Lewis and Chuck Swindoll.  I put our pastor in that category.  My father is another that I look to with a high degree of regard.  I meet with my brothers and we often discuss different topics.  I have come to value their input in helping me to clearly see the big picture.  And being the father of adult children, I have learned that they have wisdom to share that often illuminates the truth better than if left to my own devices.  And finally the greatest human help in identifying truth is my wife.  Lisa knows me better than anyone now.  She understands how I think (and she loves me anyway), she understands my moods (and loves me anyway), and she knows my blind spots.  Because of this she is in a unique position to help me see situations and questions outside my normal paradigm.  Yes it takes tact and humility, but when we walk in love this becomes more the norm than the exception.  And the benefits in terms of seeing situations more clearly are amazing.

My time is up this morning, but I hope I have shared a few things that can help you in your search for truth.  As a parting thought, I encourage you to ask God to show you truth.  He loves it when we ask for this and then diligently seek to know truth, because the first thing we find is Him.  He is the ultimate truth.  When all else fades away, and all else will one day fade away, God remains.  If you do not know God it does not really matter because He knows you and if you want truth you will meet Him.  Just keep looking for truth and you will find it and you will find Him.  God bless you.

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I had a bit of a strange dream last night. I was with the soldiers that captured the mansion where Saddam Hussein resided. But instead of his escaping to hideout for several months as happened in real life, he was there and we captured him. He was a broken man, defeated and powerless in the face of the strength of the righteous army that had swept in and broken his tyrannical dictatorship. We left him and quickly moved through the house providing humanitarian aid and help to the wounded, broken, and naked people throughout the house. Although I am not sure why it seems important at this time, one of my main tasks was to find weapons and destroy them and find clothes for people to put on. It seemed that more than half the people were either without clothes or dressed in rags.

I do not remember fighting perse, but I do remember being dressed and equipped as a fighter. My main mission, and I was the leader, was to help people. After removing all the weapons we could find and getting people stabilized and dressed we began talking with them. Many were cautiously appreciative, others told stories of terrible abuse and mistreatment, but a few appeared to be as in a trance. I remembered that we had left Saddam in a room upstairs so I went to get him and bring him down and take him away. As I slipped in the room from one direction I caught sight of him leaving the room from a door on the other side. Somehow while we were gone he had cleaned up, dressed in a fresh uniform, and amazingly appeared 20 years younger – a vital, strong, proud man. I watched with horror as he marched down the stairs and began to interact with the people we had recently liberated. Various reactions from terror to disbelief to adulation were recorded. The young Saddam for his part did not seem to have a recollection of being recently captured or deposed, but he knew clearly that HE was in charge. I realized at that point what a huge mistake we had made in treating him kindly and underestimating his power.

As this thought came to me my alarm went off. As I awoke my first thought was, “That is how we often deal with sin in our lives. We push it aside saying it is defeated and get busy with other things only to have it rear its ugly head strengthened and more entrenched the next time.”

The scripture for this morning is from Ephesians 6:10 – 12.  “Finally be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

In my dream I made a huge tactical mistake.  As a fighting unit we correctly pinpointed and subdued the leader of the opposition.  But we did not deal with him in a way that totally eliminated the threat, we did not take away his ability to come at us again.  I mentioned above that I my main mission was to help people.  I was eager to get to the part of giving aid but that was compromised by my failure to address the most pressing threat to their long-term safety.

Many who call themselves Christians struggle with achieving the abundant life that Jesus offers.  One of the reasons, perhaps the main reason, is because they fail to deal with sin in their life.  I know that the early days of my walk were full of identifying and casting off habits and attitudes that the Holy Spirit showed me were sinful.  But even today closing in on 29 years later, I still have to be attentive to the Holy Spirit as He points out areas where my heart can be lured away to sin.  Two situations last night came up that could very easily be traps for me.  Yet this morning I know that I must decisively deal with the potential sin in my heart so I can wisely deal with the situations at hand.

For those reading this who may not be of the faith or perhaps you are a new Christian, let me take just a moment to put things into perspective.  God dealt with the ultimate consequence of sin – separation from God, through the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross.  God who is holy could not allow sin to reside with Him.  God who is just said the penalty for sin was death and separation from God.  God who is love said He would pay the penalty in our place.  He sent His son Jesus to stand in our place when the judgement for sin was carried out.  Jesus was the only person who has ever lived who was without sin.  For this reason His sacrifice is able to cleanse us all from all unrighteousness.  God’s only requirement is that we come to Him in faith accepting Jesus sacrifice on our behalf and making Him Lord of our life.

These two steps capture the essence of what it is to be a believer.  And following these two steps will result in abundant life.  Not a pain-free or challenge free life, but an abundant life.  Let me say that making Jesus Lord of your life is all encompassing.  One of the primary tasks we must undertake is to identify and deal with sin in us whenever and wherever we find it.  Sin left unchecked will prevent access to the abundant life Jesus offers.  It will ruin our witness for Christ.  It will hurt us and those around us.  And Jesus wants to help us deal with it, but we must respond to Him with faith in action.  When He points out sin in our life, or we come to a situation where the potential for sin exists, we must act decisively by saying NO to sin and yes to grace, truth, and love.  Temptations will come, but God who conquered death, hell and the grave is more than able to help us say No to every temptation if we put our trust in Him.

Have a blessed day!

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This morning as I lay thinking about how good God is, the thought came to me – “I wonder if many other people become overwhelmed by how good God is to them?” Sometimes it just amazes me how real, loving, and good God is, despite all my shortcomings. Even in the midst of difficulty, in fact I would say especially in the midst of difficulty, God shows up with mercy and grace in tangible ways. I have written briefly about my wonderful wife’s unfortunate accident where she broke her leg in the post Broken Legs, Mended Hearts. Well the list of positives from that painful event is long – a strengthened bond between Lisa and I, a deepening of each of our individual walks with Christ, a real and tangible change in our attitude and approach to fitness, a cleaning out of some of the “junk” that had built up in both our emotional closet and our bedroom closet, better communication with each other and within the family, flourishing relationships that had once grown cold… all of this as a direct result of God using a broken leg to shift our focus to Him.

So back to the question – is this rising up of gratitude within a commonly shared trait with others?  My best guess at this point is that it depends upon whether we are alike or related.  Let me explain.  As humans trying to make a life in this current day we share many things… the same weather, traffic, interpersonal relationships, TV commentators, restaurants, robocalls, work demands, etc.  In essence we all have a long list of things in common that alternately challenge us or make us happy.  Now overcast skies for days on end or snail pace traffic are two things that I struggle to appreciate.  And I believe in a poll these would generally fall into most people’s “DO NOT LIKE” list.  For these and many other LIKES and DISLIKES I believe that most of us share common feelings.  Because we are alike we generally respond to similar negative things with dislike or disapproval and positive things with approval and appreciation.

But what about this feeling of joy and gratitude when dealing with something that really isn’t on everyone’s “Favorite Things to Do” list like breaking a leg?  Well I believe this is more a factor of who your Father is, it is more an attribute of being in the family of God than it is anything else.  As I think back over my life I can picture those times of serious difficulty and see a distinct difference between my life BC and AC.  Before Christ I got myself into a few problems in addition to the normal issues we all face.  I can remember the stress of painful decisions, tough actions, and the lingering after effects.  One of the most troublesome aspects of all is the second-guessing of myself that invariably takes place.  Some for getting into situations that I shouldn’t have gotten into in the first place and others for making choices that negatively affected others.  But After Christ things have been much different.  For one the problems that I generate are much fewer.  By striving to obey God’s revealed Word and honoring authority, I have fallen into fewer troubles of my own making.  However, that by no means ensures a trouble-free life.  Issues still arise (we do live in a fallen world) and the consequences of others actions still impact us.  In some cases trouble finds us with no tangible cause that we can name.  Yet in my life since becoming a child of God, the attitude I once had has disappeared and a new attitude and approach has taken its place.

The AC approach is pretty simple.  The first step is to take everything to the Lord in prayer.  If the trouble is of my own doing, I repent, seek to make amends if I can, and ask for forgiveness.  The bible says God is faithful and true and He will forgive us our sins if we humbly repent.  As one who has availed himself of this on several occasions I know this to be true.  And not just true in a head knowledge way, but with tangible proof in my soul.

Once I’ve dealt with my complicity in the trouble I then move to asking God what He wants to teach me through the trial.  I have learned to never waste a good challenge or difficulty.  I am convinced I have learned much more in the hard times of life than in the seemingly good times.  God wants us to grow to be more like Him, more aware and supportive of others, more loving in all our relationships, more like Jesus.  The Word contains so much rich material for thriving in tough times.  In addition devotionals like “Jesus Calling” can be very helpful in our faith walk.  It seems like every day since Lisa broke her leg the reading from our devotion has been spot on.

Another very important step is engaging your network of family – the family of faith, to hold you up.  This can take many forms such as providing acts of service when you most need them, giving a listening ear, praying for you and with you, or even holding you accountable in your decisions.  It probably could go without saying, but that family of faith thing goes both ways – when other family members are in the midst of difficulty God will give us the opportunity to minister to them as they have done for us.

The last steps I have learned are to stay in constant conversation with the Lord and allow thankfulness to flood your soul.  Like this morning, I could not help but be grateful for all God has done and is doing in our lives.  He is truly active in bringing about good in and through us.  It is amazing… which is what I was thinking of at 3:31 am this morning when I woke up.  God is so good.  His love endures forever.  Blessed be the Name of the Lord!

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Is it Real?

Some of the things young children innocently come up with can be rather amusing… and poignant too. When our oldest daughter was young she fairly quickly grasped the meaning of the word REAL. However for some reason she got it in her mind that the opposite of real was not FAKE but rather PLASTIC. Her world was divided into that which was real and anything that wasn’t real was plastic. When she was 5 years old we took her and her 2-year-old little brother to King’s Island in Cincinnati. Not too long after we entered the park I heard Rhiannon squeal and shout, “Look it’s a Smurf” To which we all hurried over to meet the Smurf. I have pictures of Rhiannon and Jonathan hugging the Smurf. As the Smurf walked away I heard Rhiannon tell her little brother, “See, I told you we’d see something REAL!”

This morning as I think about that time I still chuckle remembering the earnestness in her voice. In her mind she had just met a REAL cartoon character and that was about the coolest thing ever.  I realize that my perspective as her father allowed me to see the reality of the person inside in a Smurf outfit. What was REAL was the person doing whatever they could to earn a living. Using Rhiannon’s own lingo of the time, the Smurf was really just PLASTIC, a facade of a character put on for an occasion.

You know our Heavenly Father sees perfectly.  He understands that we sometimes put on our Smurf suits to do whatever we can to get by.  We feel we won’t be accepted or taken seriously or loved if we don’t act / look / think a certain way.  We try to become something else other than who we are created to be.  The who we are created to be is a child of the King – a beloved daughter or son of the Lord God.  Unfortunately this truth is often hidden or, if perceived, hard to hold on to.  But it is a truth that God wants us all to know and to share.

As I write this I realize there are two groups of persons who may read this.  First are those who feel this way and struggle to gain an accurate picture of who God is and how valuable they are to Him.  Jesus specifically reaching out to them, speaking to them is hard to believe.  And yet that is the truth of all truths.  God loves you unconditionally.  He willingly died in your place so that you could be made whole.  Second are those who know this truth as a settled fact.  This group is responsible to live out the reality that God is REAL, His love is REAl, and our purpose is to know Him and make Him known.

My prayer today is that you gain and hold a clear picture of God and His transformative love for you.  That God speak to your deepest need and that you respond to the REALity of who He is and what He asks of you.  And that you find yourself wrapped in His love walking out your days in His peace and joy.

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