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What comes next?

I’m going to share something about me that most of you do not know.

I used to be in a chess club. (I’m sorry if you were expecting something more shocking or exciting). You’ve probably never heard me speak about it, because it was a long time ago (middle school/junior high at Skycrest Christian School) and I don’t have any good stories. Although I enjoyed the game, I was never that good. No matter how many matches I played, it seemed that there was always someone one step ahead of me. In fact, in the middle of matches that I thought I had figured out, I would be rudely awakened by the reality that my opponent was seeing things I had missed. (Checkmate!)

Perhaps checkers is more your game. You know the feeling of a successful move. You eye the board’s layout. You spot the unprotected piece of your opponent. Confidently picking up your marker, you jump your opponent’s, and smugly pick up his captured piece.

Uh oh. Why does he have a grin on his face? Before you know what’s happened he is click-clacking another piece across the board picking up your pieces as he goes. Who knew that many consecutive jumps were even possible?

You never saw it coming!

And, thus, you learned the importance of looking ahead to your next move.

Imagine the situation facing the disciples. At Easter, we examine the reality and importance of the resurrection from our perspective of history. We read the Scriptures and examine the evidence. He rose from the dead. By faith, we accept it as fact. However, for the women who came to the tomb on the first day of the week, the experience unfolded moment-by-shocking-moment. For Peter and John, they first acted only on the testimony of those women. For Thomas, it was all hearsay for a while.

Plans were turned upside down. Fear seemed to strain at their faith. Doubts nagged at their hearts. Excitement was tempered by a measure of uncertainty. Sights and sounds wrestled with feelings and emotions.

For us, it is easy to read the Gospel narratives.

Resurrection. Appearances. Meals & conversations. Promises & assurances. A Great Commission. Ascension.

For those disciples, many of their next steps were unknown until they arrived. They were left to believe and obey what they had in any given moment. The same thing is true for us. We cannot see tomorrow. While we rest confidently in the promises and directions of God, there are still unknowns throughout life. Our is to trust and obey.

What’s next for you?

You made it to church on Easter. Great. Keep it up and make it a part of your regular schedule.

You’ve been challenged about the reality of the resurrection and the need for others to hear it. Super. Now share it with someone. Watch what God will do with your obedience.

There is something on the horizon that introduces a bit of fear or doubt to your life. Tackle it with the confidence that wherever God directs you in this life, He also equips you and goes with you!

That’s Good News for God’s children.

Ring it out!

Last week, Maribeth and I had the opportunity to attend an orchestra concert at Carnegie Hall that we enjoyed very much. During one piece, I noticed one of stan_head_1the performers in particular. He sat on a stool in the corner of the back row along with the other percussionists. However, for most of the song he did nothing. Finally, his moment came and he picked up his triangle and struck it several times in rhythm. It lasted for but a few measures of the lengthy song, and just as soon as he had started – the piece was finished.

In contrast, the percussionist in the center of that top row had five timpani before him. His part began in the first measures and lasted throughout the song until its thunderous conclusion. He was responsible for producing the percussive foundation for every other instrument that was being played. You could not help but notice him as his arms rose high above his head and the mallets came crashing down rapidly. At some points, his arms appeared as just a blur, and the sound of the drums hit you in the chest (even in the balcony). Others in that back row had bells, snares, cymbals, and even a gong.

And on the end was the tiny triangle. “Ting, ting, ting…”

One of the things you’ll discover is that percussionists interchange instruments for different pieces. The performer who begins on the bells may smoothly transition to drums or cymbals on the next song. So, our overlooked triangle ringer was fully capable of performing skillfully on any of the other instruments, and did so throughout the night. But for that one piece he had what was arguably the least important job of the entire orchestra. (I apologize to anyone who only played triangle in your school’s orchestra.) Perhaps overlooked and underappreciated.

But not by the composer.

As he crafted the music, a concept was in his mind. He labored expertly to transfer mood to melody, convey ideas through tempo and rhythm, and voice emotions in instrumentation. For the composer (and later, the conductor) each part for each instrument is important. If it is missing (or performed thoughtlessly or with little effort) the entire piece suffers. The music does not accomplish what the composer intended.

And so it is in our Christian walk and ministry for the Lord. He is the one who calls us and assigns our parts. He equips us and instructs us. He is the One with a plan to accomplish His purposes. He adds us to His church and orchestrates our service.

Sometimes, that includes work that is full of flourish and fanfare. It is recognized by almost everyone, and we receive heavy doses of appreciation and thanks. Other times, it is a job that is noticed by only a handful of people, and esteemed by even fewer. We feel like an overlooked and underappreciated triangle player in an orchestra.

A few biblical thoughts should help us with this. First, in everything we do, our service is ultimately done toward God. Second, He never misses even the least aspects of ministry done for His sake. Third, He is the great rewarder. Finally, although the job may seem insignificant, it can be a part of His masterplan for our lives, His church, and its work on this earth.

Colossians 3:23–24 And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.

So, if all you have to offer is a cup of water, share it with someone in the name of Christ. If your audience is just one person or a full stadium, give them the Gospel with prayerful enthusiasm. If you serve “behind the scenes” while others labor in the spotlight, do it for the Savior’s sake, and know that He is pleased.

If all you find to play is a triangle…Ring it with all your heart!

Where Rock Stars Go to Die

I don’t repost or link very often.  However, I found Ted Kruck’s article thought-provoking and believe others would appreciate it also.  Check it out here.

I am convinced that too many believers are confused about the nature of worship and many churches, musicians, and ministries are simply blurring the line even more.


Why or Why Not?

I recently rediscovered Jon Acuff’s blog Stuff Christians Like.  I spent several minutes laughing heartily at a few of his posts.  Most were skewering curious facets of American Christianity that have become entrenched in today’s churches and ministries.  It seems that a lot of us do a lot of things without asking “Why?”  At times, we do what we do simply because we have always done it that way.  If we do claim to have a motive, it is occasionally held exempt from scrutiny.  Too often, this is because it is weak or indefensible.  We never established a proper foundation, so we do not want others poking around in that territory.

In fact, sometimes our reasoning sounds like we developed it in the fifth grade.  “Everyone else is doing it.”  Has that ever really been a sufficient reason?  Lately, it seems that this mindset has reached epidemic proportions among American Christianity.  Churches pick up practices and traits because other groups have used them with a measure of success.  Individual Christians adopt standards, habits, and even beliefs, because a celebrity speaker has espoused them or a popular book is making the rounds.  Certainly, we would be wise to learn from the behavior and practices of godly people.  However, there must always be a higher standard than simply what we glean from others.

After having a good chuckle at Acuff’s site, I came to a conclusion; “I like the way this guy thinks.  He really pokes holes in some deserving targets.”

Then it dawned on me.  Eventually, he was going to wax satirical about something that is significant or meaningful to me.  (He probably already has, and I have not seen it yet.)  What happens at that point?  Will I be willing to step back and thoughtfully examine why I cling to certain things.  Are they firmly rooted in a biblical standard or simply in the comfort zone of my preferences?

The experience was a great reminder to consistently examine the reasons behind my decisions.  With similar self-inspection, the Psalmist said, “I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies.” Psalm 119:59

The next time someone scoffs at what you do or recommends you try something new, head straight for your Bible.  May our conclusion be that of the prophet Jeremiah:

“Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord.” Lament. 3:40

Super Sundays

One of the storylines coming out of this week’s Super Bowl hype is the Focus on the Family ad featuring Tim Tebow. The underlying story is that his mother rejected advice to have an abortion and delivered a healthy future quarterback. Certainly, that is not always the comforting outcome for every family’s situation. However, the message is that God is always in control and human life is precious, no matter the outcome.

The cultural discussion has centered on whether it is proper, or even tolerable, to broadcast this 30-second ad. Never mind that there will be more than 30 minutes of commercials during the game, including a variety of beer commercials and others filled with risqué themes and not-so-subtle innuendo. This week USA Today published a debate about whether the ad should even be allowed to air during the game. Writer Michael McCarthy pleaded, “Can’t we enjoy family, friends and football on our unofficial national holiday without debating abortion?”

I enjoy football, but struggle with the elevation of this event, or others like it, to such a level of reverence. Don’t forget the origin of the word “holiday” is a holy day, an occasion to recognize a significant spiritual event. Apparently, the sanctity of the day will not be spoiled by commercials featuring animated squirrels and a “little people KISS tribute band.”

I’m thankful that we have a compelling reason to recognize the first day of every week with special significance. The Gospel writer records the account this way:

Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulcher…And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre. And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus. Luke 24:1-3

This Sunday I want to remember the reason that believers gather to study, worship, and celebrate. God loved us and sent His Son, the risen Savior. Long after I forget the score of this week’s game, I will still have a purpose for living and an eternal hope.

Loud and Proud

After yesterday’s baseball game between the Red Sox and Angels, the umpires filed a formal complaint against the Los Angeles coaching staff. It seems the coaches were upset about a few close calls that went against them, and their conduct as the umps left the field was described as “unprofessional and unbecoming.” We are left to imagine what choice words were hurled at the officials. Rather than a noteworthy event, this becomes another in a growing list of ill-mannered incidents.

This week USA Today reflected on our society’s lack of politeness and civility after a few highly publicized episodes in a variety of arenas. Rep. Joe Wilson shouted down the President in a joint session of Congress. Serena Williams launched a profanity-laced attack on a line judge at the US Open to contest a call. Kanye West hijacked the stage during an awards show acceptance speech to redirect recognition away from the winner to his favorite nominee.

Every day we encounter arrogance and impoliteness that go unpublished. A driver shouts, gestures, or drives aggressively because of a perceived slight on the highway. High school athletes “trash talk” like the professional heroes they watch on television each week, rather than proving their mettle on the court or field. Children on the playground berate each other to make themselves feel and look a little better. Pick your favorite venue. It’s likely you will find a famine of humility and a surplus of self-importance. If we are not disciplined, we will find ourselves on the delivery end of such pride and incivility.

The prevalence of such conduct has also made us expert at justifying pride and rude behavior. While explaining the grievance against the Angels’ coaches, the spokesman for the World Umpires Association stated, “We recognize that in the heat of competition folks get heated up and make mistakes.” The Dallas Morning News opined that “passion can be used as a flimsy excuse for shameless self-entitlement.” Our list of excuses goes on and on. Perhaps we should address the heart of the matter instead of defending our misconduct.

David Brooks, a columnist for The New York Times, wrote that humility has come under attack in recent decades and describes the prevalence of “expressive individualism.” Today, “instead of being humble before God and history, moral salvation could be found through intimate contact with oneself and by exposing the beauty, the power and the divinity within.” One result that he notes is that “immodesty is as ubiquitous as advertising.” Instead of recognizing God, we are consumed by self.

Apparently, this is not simply a contemporary problem. The Scriptures speak often of the destructive nature of pride and the blessings of humility. Priests and kings were prone to self-promotion. Even the Lord’s own disciples struggled with putting others first (Matt. 18:1; Luke 22:24).

The answer? More than just teaching good manners and politeness to our children, we must remember the biblical instruction concerning a proper attitude. The unchanging truth is that just as God hates pride and punishes it, He values humility and promises reward. “Though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly: but the proud he knoweth afar off” (Psa. 138:6).

As believers, it is our responsibility to lead the way and model Christlike humility. The world has no hope of seeing meekness in action if we do not provide the example. Fight the temptation to promote self and instead prefer one another (Rom. 12:1). The Lord promised, “whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Luke 14:11). What better incentive do we need?

Today, I placed a small card that reads “Before Honour is Humility” (Prov. 15:33) on the dashboard of my car. This silent memo reminds me of the need to demonstrate the mind of Christ in my daily life and the reward that God has promised when I do.

Wring Our Hands or Bow Our Heads

On most days the newspaper publishes articles about teenagers who commit a senseless crime against someone else. From theft to violent attacks and even murder, nothing is outside the scope of possibility. While I believe that the news media should report these facts, it breaks my heart to think of the strong bonds of sin that would compel teens to commit such acts. I shake my head and wonder what kind of future they will live out. Even worse, I question what the future holds for our society that produces such young people. We often wring our hands and wonder, “Is there any hope when mere children act in such a fashion?” If we are not careful, we can become discouraged to the point of despondency.

Then I look at the big picture and thank the Lord for His work in our lives. After a week at junior camp, I am reminded of the potential of those young children. What a privilege to see boys and girls trust Christ as their Savior and others dedicate their lives to serving Him. I am convinced that God can protect them from evil influences and set them on a course for an honorable and rewarding life.

I witnessed the hard work of our teen workers who generally serve without reward, or even much recognition. “Move those coolers. Unload that trailer. Set up the equipment so our kids can compete in a game.” Nothing more was needed to set them into action. No paycheck. No rewards from the campers who would benefit. Just a week’s full of humble service – and a lot of bug bites. I am convinced that God kept an accurate record of their labor and will reward far better than we ever could. I also believe that unselfish service is something upon which you can build a fruitful life.

Finally, this morning I sat around a table in the café with three young men. Each is between fifteen and seventeen years old. Each woke up on a Saturday (and a holiday) to attend a monthly prayer breakfast. Each bowed his head and spoke with the Lord, interceding for the needs of others. Each recognized with gratitude the freedoms they enjoyed and the Lord’s provision of them. Each mentioned the spiritual needs of others, either rejoicing over someone’s salvation or requesting that another would respond to the gospel message. In my heart the Lord replaced discouragement with a strong sense of confidence and expectation.

If only a newspaper reporter would have been there to write about them. I could provide him with dozens of similar subjects and hundreds of headlines. I simply would like the world to discover what I was reminded of again this morning. There is always hope – for an individual, a community, or the world – as long as our God is involved.