Monday, March 31, 2014

Dealing with "moral midgets" (Psalm 36:11)

SCRIPTURE: Psalm 36:11 (TM) – larger reading Psalm 36
Don't let the bullies kick me around, the moral midgets slap me down.

Edward Gibbon, author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, has attributed the fall of the Empire to:
1. The rapid increase of divorce; the undermining of the dignity and sanctity of the home, which is the basis of human society.
2. Higher and higher taxes and the spending of public monies for free bread and circuses for the populace.
3. The mad craze for pleasure; sports becoming every year more exciting and more brutal.
4. The building of gigantic armaments when the real enemy was within, the decadence of the people.
5. The decay of religion -- faith fading into mere form, losing touch with life and becoming impotent to warn and guide the people.

The moral decay is ever increasing throughout the world. Those choosing the easier way through this world are nothing more than the “moral midgets” spoken of by the psalmist. It is much harder to press on to the higher ground and take a stand.

I can assure you from personal experience it will not be popular. The names that will be wrapped around our shoulders can cause much heartache. The initial response will be an attempt to defend ones position. Painfully I’ve learned the lesson that the minute you start to defend or justify a particular position you have lost the footing of the moral high ground.

Simply stating what you believe and why is all that is needed. Let those “moral midgets” attack and wag their tongues. In the full scope of the spiritual journey that is all that is necessary.

A case in point has been over the issue of gun control in America. On Facebook I simply asked for someone, anyone to explanation why we are so in love with guns. I got responses of various degrees, but no real explanation. I really don’t believe that there is a real explanation… a true explanation… an explanation that comes from a moral and God centered high ground.

As The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire reminds us, lessons from history if not learned will end up to be our undoing. For me at least, Lent is a time for taking inventory of the moral issues which govern and guide us. It is a time of measuring ourselves and our positions against those placed before us by God through Jesus Christ.

It is either that or just continuing to allow the “moral midgets” to kick us around.


We are guilty Lord of moral creep. We’ve allowed the influence of our society and our desires to shape who we view life and our relationship with you. Shake our foundations. Disturb our sleep. Do not allow our spirit to rest until we find our rest in you.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Friday's Inspirational Story - Push-ups

PUSH-UPS - author unknown
There was a certain Professor of Religion named Dr. Christianson, a studious man who taught at a small college in the Western United States. Dr. Christianson taught the required survey course in Christianity at this particular institution. Every student was required to take this course his or her freshman year regardless of his or her major.
Although Dr. Christianson tried hard to communicate the essence of the gospel in his class, he found that most of his students looked upon the course as nothing but required drudgery. Despite his best efforts, most students refused to take Christianity seriously.
This year, Dr. Christianson had a special student named Steve. Steve was only a freshman, but was studying with the intent of going onto seminary for the ministry. Steve was popular, he was well liked, and he was an imposing physical specimen. He was now the starting center on the school football team, and was the best student in the professor's class.
One day, Dr. Christianson asked Steve to stay after class so he could talk with him.
"How many push-ups can you do?"
Steve said, "I do about 200 every night."
"200? That's pretty good, Steve," Dr. Christianson said. "Do you think you could do 300?"
Steve replied, "I don't know... I've never done 300 at a time."
"Do you think you could?" Dr. Christianson asked again.
"Well, I can try," said Steve.
"Can you do 300 in sets of 10? I have a class project in mind and I need you to do about 300 push ups in sets of ten for this to work. Can you do it? I need you to tell me you can do it," said the professor.
Steve said, "Well... I think I can...yeah, I can do it."
Dr. Christianson said, "Good! I need you to do this on Friday. Let me explain what I have in mind."
Friday came and Steve got to class early and sat in the front of the room. When class started, the professor pulled out a big box of donuts. Now these weren't the normal kinds of donuts, they were the extra fancy BIG kind, with cream centers and frosting swirls. Everyone was pretty excited it was Friday, the last class of the day, and they were going to get an early start on the weekend with a party in Dr. Christianson's class.
Dr. Christianson went to the first girl in the first row and asked, "Cynthia, do you want to have one of these donuts?"
Cynthia said, "Yes."
Dr. Christianson then turned to Steve and asked, "Steve, would you do ten push-ups so that Cynthia can have a donut?"
Steve jumped down from his desk to do a quick ten. Then Steve again sat in his desk. Dr. Christianson put a donut on Cynthia's desk.
Dr. Christianson then went to Joe, the next person, and asked, "Joe, do you want a donut?"
Joe said, "Yes."
Dr. Christianson asked, "Steve would you do ten push-ups so Joe can have a donut?" Steve did ten push-ups, Joe got a donut.
And so it went, down the first aisle, Steve did ten pushups for every person before they got their donut. And down the second aisle, till Dr. Christianson came to Scott. Scott was on the basketball team, and in as good condition as Steve. He was very popular and never lacking for female companionship.
When the professor asked, "Scott do you want a donut?"
Scott's reply was, "Well, can I do my own pushups?"
Dr. Christianson said, "No, Steve has to do them."
Then Scott said, "Well, I don't want one then."
Dr. Christianson shrugged and then turned to Steve and asked, "Steve, would you do ten pushups so Scott can have a donut he doesn't want?" With perfect obedience Steve started to do ten pushups.
Scott said, "HEY! I said I didn't want one!"
Dr. Christianson said, "Look, this is my classroom, my class, my desks, and these are my donuts. Just leave it on the desk if you don't want it." And he put a donut on Scott's desk.
Now by this time, Steve had begun to slow down a little. He just stayed on the floor between sets because it took too much effort to be getting up and down. You could start to see a little perspiration coming out around his brow.
Dr. Christianson started down the third row. Now the students were beginning to get a little angry.
Dr. Christianson asked Jenny, "Jenny, do you want a donut?"
Sternly, Jenny said, "No."
Then Dr. Christianson asked Steve, "Steve, would you do ten more pushups so Jenny can have a donut that she doesn't want?" Steve did ten, Jenny got a donut.
By now, a growing sense of uneasiness filled the room. The students were beginning to say "No" and there were all these uneaten donuts on the desks. Steve also had to really put forth a lot of extra effort to get these pushups done for each donut. There began to be a small pool of sweat on the floor beneath his face, his arms and brow were beginning to get red because of the physical effort involved.
Dr. Christianson asked Robert, who was the most vocal unbeliever in the class, to watch Steve do each push up to make sure he did the full ten pushups in a set because he couldn't bear to watch all of Steve's work for all of those uneaten donuts. He sent Robert over to where Steve was so Robert could count the set and watch Steve closely. Dr. Christianson started down the fourth row.
During his class, however, some students from other classes had wandered in and sat down on the steps along the radiators that ran down the sides of the room. When the professor realized this, he did a quick count and saw that now there were 34 students in the room.
He started to worry if Steve would be able to make it. Dr. Christianson went on to the next person and the next and the next. Near the end of that row, Steve was really having a rough time. He was taking a lot more time to complete each set.
Steve asked Dr. Christianson, "Do I have to make my nose touch on each one?"
Dr. Christianson thought for a moment, "Well, they're your pushups. You are in charge now. You can do them any way that you want." And Dr. Christianson went on.
A few moments later, Jason, a recent transfer student, came to the room and was about to come in when all the students yelled in one voice, "NO! Don't come in! Stay out!" Jason didn't know what was going on.
Steve picked up his head and said, "No, let him come." Professor Christianson said, "You realize that if Jason comes in you will have to do ten pushups for him?"
Steve said, "Yes, let him come in. Give him a donut"
Dr. Christianson said, "Okay, Steve, I'll let you get Jason's out of the way right now. Jason, do you want a donut?"
Jason, new to the room hardly knew what was going on. "Yes," he said, "give me a donut."
"Steve, will you do ten pushups so that Jason can have a donut?"
Steve did ten pushups very slowly and with great effort. Jason, bewildered, was handed a donut and sat down.
Dr. Christianson finished the fourth row, then started on those visitors seated by the heaters. Steve's arms were now shaking with each pushup in a struggle to lift himself against the force of gravity. Sweat was profusely dropping off of his face and, by this time, there was no sound except his heavy breathing, there was not a dry eye in the room.
The very last two students in the room were two young women, both cheerleaders, and very popular. Dr. Christianson went to Linda, the second to last, and asked, "Linda, do you want a doughnut?"
Linda said, very sadly, "No, thank you."
Professor Christianson quietly asked, "Steve, would you do ten pushups so that Linda can have a donut she doesn't want?"
Grunting from the effort, Steve did ten very slow pushups for Linda.
Then Dr. Christianson turned to the last girl, Susan. "Susan, do you want a donut?"
Susan, with tears flowing down her face, began to cry. "Dr. Christianson, why can't I help him?"
Dr. Christianson, with tears of his own, said, "No, Steve has to do it alone, I have given him this task and he is in charge of seeing that everyone has an opportunity for a donut whether they want it or not. When I decided to have a party this last day of class, I looked at my grade book. Steve, here is the only student with a perfect grade. Everyone else has failed a test, skipped class, or offered me inferior work. Steve told me that in football practice, when a player messes up he must do push ups. I told Steve that none of you could come to my party unless he paid the price by doing your push ups. He and I made a deal for your sakes. Steve, would you do ten pushups so Susan can have a donut?"
As Steve very slowly finished his last pushup, with the understanding that he had accomplished all that was required of him, having done 350 pushups, his arms buckled beneath him and he fell to the floor.
Dr. Christianson turned to the room and said. "And so it was, that our Savior, Jesus Christ, on the cross, said to the Father, 'into thy hands I commend my spirit.' With the understanding that He had done everything that was required of Him, he yielded up His life. And like some of those in this room, many of us leave the gift on the desk, uneaten."
Two students helped Steve up off the floor and to a seat, physically exhausted, but wearing a thin smile. "Well done, good and faithful servant" said the professor, adding "Not all sermons are preached in words."
Turning to his class the professor said, "My wish is that you might understand and fully comprehend all the riches of grace and mercy that have been given to you through the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who spared not the only Begotten Son, but gave Him up for us all for the whole Church, now and forever. Whether or not we choose to accept His gift to us, the price has been paid. Wouldn't you be foolish and ungrateful to leave it laying on the desk?"

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Lent - dealing with the "ugliness" of our reality (Isaiah 53:3-4)

SCRIPTURE: Isaiah 53:3-4 (TM) – larger reading Isaiah 53:1-12
He was looked down on and passed over, a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand. One look at him and people turned away. We looked down on him, thought he was scum. But the fact is, it was our pains he carried - our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us. We thought he brought it on himself, that God was punishing him for his own failures.

C.S. Lewis: For a long time I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life--namely myself. . . In fact, the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things. Consequently Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. . . But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is in anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere, he can be cured and made human again.

There is no other way to say it – sin is ugly, it distorts reality, twists the soul and leaves one ugly mess where once there existed something good. Little wonder that Isaiah describes the Messiah as one from whom “people turned away” from because he had taken on our ugliness.

We kid ourselves into believing that no one will know, that we are better than others, that we have nothing to confess, that we live above the fray, that our faults are not so bad, that we haven’t done anything for which we should ask for forgiveness. We are just one ugly mess of confusion.

Sir Walter Scott said it best: “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive! Deceive? We deceive ourselves into thinking that we can just move on, that everything will just continue like it always has, that nothing really changes, that it will be business as usual. Truly, oh what tangled web we weave…

Our Lenten journey takes us on a long introspective journey where the cobwebbed encased corners of our souls are brought into the light of Christ. We are exposed. Uncomfortable? Oh, my yes. We don’t like looking at ourselves. We would much preferred to cover up our ugliness, our sinful tendencies, our real selves. We start believing the outward picture we show the world keeping the ugly part buried in the deeper recesses of our spirit.

Maybe that’s why we don’t like silence. Silence plays with our psychic inner being. Yet, it is in the silence that God’s whisper speaks the loudest. It is in the solitude that we face our real self and our ugliness is revealed.

Lent is meant to be a time where we are alone with God. It is a time of silence… a noisy silence…


I’m afraid of silence. I’m afraid of loneliness. I’m afraid that I might have to finally deal with the demons of my reality. I really would prefer not to face the ugliness of my life. God, I would much prefer that you handle this “stuff” some other way. Yet, God, we are on this Lenten journey together, and my ugliness is before me… so we might as well deal with it today than put it off again. Boy, am I really a mess!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Lent - What is the condition of your heart? (Ezekiel 36:26)

SCRIPTURE: Ezekiel 36:26 (TM) – larger reading Ezekiel 36:22-30
I'll give you a new heart, put a new spirit in you. I'll remove the stone heart from your body and replace it with a heart that's God-willed, not self-willed.

Isaac Butterworth tells this story: When I was pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Levelland, there was a man in our church, the owner of a local business and a highly intentional Christian. The apostle Paul once said of himself that he bore "on [his] body the marks of Jesus" (Gal. 6:17). Well, this man bore the marks of Jesus on his life. His wife was the most annoying woman I have ever known. She was chronically ill, and her sickness had embittered her spirit. She demanded almost all of this man's time and energy, and she was never grateful for a single thing he did for her. She complained about life, and she complained about him. For his part -- I don't know how he did it -- but he remained gentle and serene, and he had the utmost patience with this woman. He never spoke ill of her. He never sighed under the burden of her criticism. He was truly a man of God. He had an intimacy with God that was not showy but nevertheless evident. If life had not rewarded him with outward happiness, he was deeply and inwardly joyful. God was his "portion," as the Bible says (e.g., Lam. 3:24; Ps. 16:5; 73:26), and he was satisfied.

Our spirituality is a heart issue as in “where your heart is…” One of the ongoing questions during the Lenten season was asking myself about the condition of my heart and how it stands before God.

Oh, I could have come up with an answer, but my answer was not the answer that I needed to hear. I sought the Lord. I needed to hear from God. As is true for most of us, lying to God or ourselves comes a lot easier that we would care to admit. The spiritual discipline of Lent is being honest… honest with ourselves and honest with God.

That’s hard. That’s very hard. That’s spiritually transforming hard. That’s life changing, never looking back hard. But if we ever want to move further along this spiritual journey that is exactly what needs to take place.

No more hiding. No more lying. No more dishonesty. Lent is laying our heart open and bare before God Almighty. If God is going to be our portion then there is no place else for us to start then where our heart truly is. Come on, get real, God already knows … we just need to admit to ourselves.

I believe help my unbelief. Help me to be open. Help me to be honest. Help me to face myself. Help me to become all that you have created me to be. Create in me a clean heart, O God.


From J. Stowell: Heart is used in Scripture as the most comprehensive term for the authentic person. It is the part of our being where we desire, deliberate, and decide. It has been described as "the place of conscious and decisive spiritual activity," "the comprehensive term for a person as a whole; his feelings, desires, passions, thought, understanding and will," and "the center of a person. The place to which God turns."