Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Diversions and Distractions

Sometimes I get irritated by “studies” that are done by some of our institutes of higher learning. While I truly believe in research, some things just do not need a “study” to be done to know the truth. I read this week about one such study that was done by the University of Alabama at Birmingham. For the study, they used virtual reality software and three TV screens to simulate traffic at an actual crosswalk in Birmingham, Alabama. The team studied the reactions of 77 children, ages 10 and 11, crossing the simulated road six times without the phone, and six times while talking on the phone with a research assistant. The children were told to cross the street when they felt it was safe. When children stepped off a "curb" and onto a sensor pad, their moves were captured by a computer.

What was the result? The university found that children take more risks when they talking on a cell phone, they took 20 percent longer to begin crossing the street, and they were 43 percent more likely to be hit by a vehicle or have a close call when they were on the phone. Children also forgot to look both ways in about 20 percent of the crossings while on the phone.

All I have to say is…well duh! Most adults would have the same result. We have all seen the guy driving on the interstate, talking on his cell phone, reading the paper and trying to eat a bowl of Fruit Loops at the same time. He and the others around him are not safe. The reality is that when we try to put our focus on too many things at once, we place ourselves in a very vulnerable position.

In the book of Hebrews we find these words. Therefore, we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. (Hebrews 12:1 NKJV) We hear this verse quoted and used in sermons quite a bit. Most of the time, it is in reference to the “great cloud of witnesses” and how we should run the race. However, there is one part of this verse that I think we sometimes overlook.

The writer of Hebrews tells us to “lay aside every weight” and also the “sin that so easily ensnares us”. Just how do we become “ensnared” by something? The idea behind the word is to catch something. In order to catch or ensnare something, the thing that is to be caught needs to be unaware of the plot against it.

When someone sets a trap for an animal, they have to disguise the trap in order to lure the animal in. Most times, bait is used to attract the animal to the trap. The animal heads for the bait, ready to enjoy a nice meal, and suddenly the cage shuts and they cannot escape.

Just like the bait for that animal, or the cell phone for those children in the study, we are too easily distracted by the things of this world. We shift our focus on something other than God, and suddenly the cage shuts behind us or we inadvertently step off the street curb and into a world of sin and addiction from which we cannot escape.

Today there are so many things calling for our attention. There are TV commercials, billboards, cell phones, computers, Blackberrys, i-phones, movies, sports, jobs, and…well, you get the idea. Sometimes it is very difficult to find the time or the energy to give Him a little of that focus. However, if we do not, we will find ourselves blind-sided by a world that cares little for our well being.

What will you do this week to re-focus on your relationship with God?

We're all like sheep who've wandered off and gotten lost. We've all done our own thing, gone our own way. And God has piled all our sins, everything we've done wrong, on Him. (Isaiah 53:6 The Message)

Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace. (Romans 8:5-6 NIV)

Friday, January 23, 2009


I recently picked up a book about the Bible. This is supposed to be a guide for understanding the scriptures. At first glance, I was pretty impressed. It looked to be a handy reference guide. However, when I opened the little book to the table of contents, I closed it and haven't opened it since.
Chapter 2 and 3 are titled, "Cast of Characters (A to J)", and "Cast of Chracters (K to Z)". What's wrong with that you ask? What's wrong is that it has just hit on a sore spot with me. The Bible tells a wonderful story, from cover to cover, of God's love for us. It is full of action, life, romance, suspense, humor, and much more. It is the true story of how an Almighty God chose to love His humble creation. It is a real epic story of how the Creator interacted with His people and shows us how to become one of them.
My problem is that the people who are mentioned and written about in the Holy Bible are not "characters". They are real people who really lived. To call them Bible "characters" reduces them to the level of Darth Vader or Hamlet.
The events really happened. The people really lived. The Bible is not a novel. It is the Word of God. Does it have entertainment value? Yes, it most certainly does. However, unlike "characters" in movies and novels, entertainment is not its primary focus.
Please join me in refraining from using the word "character" to refer to the people who are accounted for in the scriptures. You will add more credibility not only to them, but also to your witness for Him.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It's only words...

What do a cat, a bagel and a taco have in common? I’ll tell you in a bit. Right now, I want you to think about something with me. When was the last time you were angry? I don’t just mean a little miffed at someone. I mean truly angry. Were you angry enough to hurt someone else, or maybe yourself? What was it over? Chances are, the thing you were so angry about probably seems pretty silly now, or at least a bit amusing. Perhaps you have completely forgotten what it was that so enraged you in the first place.

I have a friend who used to get so angry that he would punch holes in walls. Fortunately, he has reformed this practice, but years ago there was no standing structure that was safe if he was mad. More than once, I have seen him with his hand bandaged up because he took on some plaster or sheetrock. I never understood that way of thinking. I guess he did it to keep from hurting someone else.

Some people like to throw things when they’re angry. We’ve all heard the stereotype tale of the wife and the rolling pin, but I read this week about some folks who took that to a new level.

A Florida man’s mother called him down for dinner, but when he did not respond, she unplugged his Xbox. He then went to the table, called her an obscene name and threw a taco at her. He is now in jail for assault. Another Florida person was arrested when she assaulted a man with a bagel. She is also in jail. I also read about a New York man who must have thought that throwing food was wasteful, so he picked up the family cat and threw it at his wife during a dispute. (Relax. Neither the cat nor the wife was harmed.)

All of these things are unusual items to throw in anger, but they were things that happened to be handy at the time. Sometimes we don’t need “things” to throw at people. Sometimes, the worst and most harmful things we throw are our words. Words can sting more than most projectiles and the wound they cause lasts much longer.

We speak demeaning and condescending words to people and call it sarcasm. We take advantage of other’s innocence and trust and call it a practical joke. We think that just because a person seems strong and they “can take it”, we have the right to say whatever we like to them.

We truly need to be careful of what we say. Words are powerful. They can build up or tear down. They can encourage or demean. They can lift someone’s spirits to the heights of heaven or crush them under their oppressive weight.

The scriptures give plenty of warning on using words. God has given us this gift of language and verbal expression just as He has given us many other gifts. Just as with all other gifts from Him, we have a responsibility to only use them for good, not evil.

The next time you speak, consider how you are using God’s gift. Ask Him to help you see how your language affects others, and to help you practice building up instead of tearing down.

Then Job replied: "How long will you torment me and crush me with words?”
(Job 19:1-2)

He who conceals his hatred has lying lips, and whoever spreads slander is a fool. When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise. The tongue of the righteous is choice silver, but the heart of the wicked is of little value.
(Proverbs 10:18-20)

Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.
(Proverbs 16:24)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I didn't recognize you...

Go to most any car dealership in the country, talk to the seasoned salespeople, and you’ll find some very interesting stories. One story that seems to be a common one, is the story of the person who comes into the dealership in an old vehicle, dressed in worn or dirty clothes who wants to look at a very expensive vehicle. Most salespeople would go the other way or try to not wait on them, only to find out that the person is very wealthy and could buy anything they choose. Depending on the story, the customer either pays cash on the spot or gives the business to the dealer down the street.

The sad part about this story is that in most cases, it is not an urban legend. Most of these stories are actually true. The reason they are true, is that we as humans tend to pre-judge (or pre-qualify as they say in the car business) people, based on how they look, dress, drive and sometimes how they speak.

This was put to the test back in 2007 by The Washington Post. One of the writers enlisted Joshua Bell, who is a renowned violinist to play his violin during the morning rush hour at the entrance to the Washington Metro subway. Joshua dressed in second-hand clothes and played for about 45 minutes to 1,097 people.

Just three days before, he had played to a full house at Boston Symphony Hall, where the cheapest tickets were around $100. Now he was giving a free mini-concert, with the case of his 1713 hand crafted Stradivarius violin (valued at over 3 million dollars), open for tips.

How did this experiment turn out? Out of the 1,097 people who passed by, only 27 of them gave money, and only one recognized him. Joshua collected a whopping $32.17 for this concert. That’s a long way from what I’m sure he collected three days before in Boston. Sometimes we pay too much attention to the packaging and not enough to the product. (Here is the link to the hidden camera video of the experiment. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hnOPu0_YWhw)

The same is true in Christianity. In our churches, we argue over whether the music should be traditional or contemporary or blended. We debate the color of the carpet and the paint. We miss the message, because we don’t like the presentation.

Jesus comes to us in many forms. He may not show up at your home wearing a white robe and long beard, but trust me, He shows up. God provides us with opportunities to minister to others each day. It may be in a kind word or a pat on the back. It may be in a good deed done or a wrong forgiven. Each opportunity that a Christian has to do good, is an opportunity to not only minister to others, but we serve Christ well in the process.

In Matthew 25, Jesus tells the parable of the king separating the sheep from the goats. He tells the sheep on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

They were confused and asked when they did such. He told them “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Then the goats had the opposite happen. They did nothing for those who were hungry, sick, in prison, or thirsty. They were told that they would be going to a very bad place.

Never miss an opportunity to be Jesus to those who need Him. You may be the only connection they will ever have to the Savior. Share His love with someone today!

You're the only Jesus that some will ever see
And you're the only words of life, some will ever read
So let them see in you the One in whom is all they'll ever need
'Cause you're the only Jesus, some will ever see
Gordon Jensen 1983, Word Music

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Earl Lewers

Click the name Earl Lewers above. This is a link to a great article in the current Baptist Courier. When God calls you, he never lets go. Mr. Lewers, we have a similar story. God bless you!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Higher Definition

Just before football season this past fall, we had a tragedy occur in our home. My large television in the living room stopped working. This was the TV that I watched most football games on, the one that I would fall asleep in front of, and the one where we had our family movie nights. My first impulse was to immediately replace it, but when we saw how much televisions sell for now, my wife and I decided to wait. Between that time and January we had four family birthdays and Christmas to think about paying for. Besides, we also had a smaller one in the master bedroom, and one in the kid’s playroom.

We made it through the holidays, and I was actually getting used to the idea of not having a TV in the living room. Then, just as Christmas was over, the TV in the bedroom went out. No response at all. I tried CPR, but there was no longer any life in it. Now all we had was a very small television that the kids use in the playroom. I actually watched the San Diego Chargers beat the Indianapolis Colts on that TV while lying on the floor.

This past Saturday, I decided I was going to purchase one of those new flat screen high definition televisions. My wife knew how frustrated I was, so she graciously did not protest. I did my research and finally found one that would fit our entertainment center and our budget. When we turned it on, I was excited. The Philadelphia Eagles and the Minnesota Vikings had one more quarter left in the game. I was going to have the privilege of watching the fourth quarter in HD.

However, my wife and I stared at the screen in disbelief. The picture was not any better than our old TV. In fact some things looked a little distorted and fuzzy. We played with the settings and made it a little better, but not much. How incredibly frustrating! We spent that much money on a TV that looks no better than our old tube TV? We were ready to take it back, but a thought occurred to me. Perhaps we need to let the satellite company know that we need an HD signal.

I called the satellite company and they informed me that I need to add HD to my program package (which is $9.99 per month), a new HD capable receiver, AND a new dish that can receive the signal from out in space somewhere. The receiver is another hundred bucks, but at least the new dish and installation is free. By the end of the week we’ll be poor, but our TV should be looking great!

You can do everything possible to make yourself look as good to the world as you can. You can be kind to babies, puppies and the elderly; you can go to church every week, you can even put money in the offering plate, but if you are doing any of this for your own glory you are only a fuzzy distorted image of what God intended. In order for us to be effective in spreading God’s love to others, we must connect to the source.

The Holy Spirit is like the satellite dish and receiver all in one. God may be sending His message to us, but we cannot properly receive or interpret it without the help of the Holy Spirit. How do we get the Holy Spirit? We must accept Jesus Christ as the ruler over our lives. When we do, God provides His Holy spirit to help us and guide us. Rely on God’s Holy Spirit to bring God’s “higher definition” message to your life.

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.(Acts 1:8 NIV)

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. Through these He has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:3-4 NIV)