Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Running from Bears

Two hikers on a trail came around the bend to find an enormous brown bear about 75 yards up the trail. The bear spies them and begins running toward them at a full gallop. One hiker drops his backpack, sits down, throws off his boots, and starts lacing up a pair of running shoes. The other hiker says, "What are you doing? You will never outrun that bear!". The first hiker replies: "I don't have to outrun the bear…I just have to outrun you!” I’m sure you have all heard that joke before. Personally, I have heard it way too many times. However, a news story this week reminded me of it.

In Colorado Springs, Colorado, a 26 year-old woman, who is five months pregnant, was walking on a popular biking trail. She suddenly heard rustling in the brush. When she investigated, she was looking at a full-grown bear.

She backed up and began walking away, but the bear walked behind her. She walked some more, and the bear followed. Soon, she thought she could run away, and made a break for it. The bear began running after her. She ran towards the street to get help. When she did, she was struck by a car. She and the baby are fine.

In the Old Testament book bearing his name, the prophet Amos has some hard words for his audience. Amos was not a prophet or a priest. He was just a simple sheep farmer who tended sycamore trees in his spare time. God called him to preach to the people of Israel.

His message was harsh. He compared them to a leaning wall that was about to collapse. He told them that God was holding a plumb line up to them and they did not measure up. He listed their violations with specifics.

The Israelites, like ourselves, look forward to the “Day of the Lord”, when God will judge all who are evil. We seek justice for wrongs done to us or others. We want God to come down and make those who are sinful pay for their sin. We imagine that we will be able to see or witness their demise before the throne of God.

However, Amos says to the people of Israel in 5:18, “Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD! For what good is the day of the LORD to you? It will be darkness, and not light.” What they, and we, do not understand is that when we call for God’s judgment, we are calling that same judgment down upon ourselves also. Amos continues on to say, “It will be as though a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him! Or as though he went into the house, Leaned his hand on the wall, And a serpent bit him!”

Like Israel, we cannot point fingers at everyone else, when we are as sinful as they are. When we wish that God would punish others for their wrongdoings, we are calling His judgment and punishment on our own heads.

What should we do? We should start by trying to rid our own lives of sin. When we encounter the “bear” of sin, we need to apply the strategies suggested by the Department of Wildlife for encountering bears. (1) Be on the lookout for it. You never know when you may encounter one. (2) If you see one, slowly back away while keeping an eye on it. You cannot outrun a bear that wants to catch you. (3) Although it is easier said than done, stand your ground if a black bear charges. This is typically a bluff charge so the bear can see what you'll do. If you stand your ground, it often will stop, but if you run it will follow. (4) If a bear attacks you, fight back with a rock or a stick or whatever is handy. The advice to play dead applies only to grizzlies.

These suggestions apply to the sin in our lives as well. (1) Be on the lookout. When we forget that we are weak and start putting ourselves into situations that are wrong, we typically fall into sin. (2) We should always try to avoid sin, while keeping watch on it. If we turn our backs and try to run away of our own strength, sin will pursue and we may run into something worse, like a lion (or a car!). (3) Stand your ground. Satan cannot make you do anything. Resist sin. (4) If you fail to avoid sin, you must fight. If you do not fight when attacked, then you will be devoured. Your whole life will be consumed by it.

Do you sometimes feel that you are running from bears or lions, but running into cars? Life was not meant to be that way. Give your life, your sin, your heart and will to Jesus Christ today. He will guard your heart from “bears” as long as you walk with Him.

Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


I came across this scripture the other day. 1 Thessalonians 5:14 reads, Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. In this passage, Paul is instructing the people of the church in Thessalonica in some of the ways they should act. He encourages them to try to teach those who behave badly to change their actions. He tells the church to comfort those who are afraid, and to defend those who are weak. He then adds that we should be patient with everyone.

I was doing pretty well until he dropped “patient” in there. Part of what I do for a living is teaching people how to act as a Christian. I try to provide comfort for those who are afraid or are in the middle of a crisis. I will always stand up for those who do not have the courage or strength to do so themselves. Why did he have to add patience, when I was doing so well in all the other categories? When God was handing out patience, I apparently thought the line was too long and decided to not wait. I want things to happen when I want them to happen. I find it very hard to wait on anything.

If I am sitting in my car trying to turn left onto a busy road, I would rather turn right and travel 2 miles out of my way and then make a u-turn, than to sit and wait on an opportunity to turn left. If someone asks to meet with me later to discuss something, I want to know what it concerns right then.

However, I am pretty sure I’m not in the minority on this. I thinkwe are all less patient than we used to be. In this “instant gratification” society that we live in, we have become a nation of impatient, hurried people. We get up in the morning, to the sound of our alarm clocks. The coffee maker has already made the coffee. We grab something out of the freezer and throw it in the microwave for breakfast or we drink our breakfast shake from a can. We put on wrinkle-free clothes so we won’t have to iron. Get into our cars and speed so we won’t be late to work. Get to work and try to endure until lunch. We then go to a drive-thru where we are upset if it takes more than 3 minutes to get our food, and rush back to work. Get the idea? We have many time-saving things in our lives, but we are more impatient than ever!

Why is this? Could it be that it is not a “time” problem, but a “spiritual” one? In Psalms, Ecclesiastes, Acts, Romans, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Hebrews, James, and 1 Peter all exhort us to be patient with others, but more importantly, with God. Doesn’t it stand to reason, if the Word of God has that much to say about patience, that we should heed His instruction?

Whenever we get out of sync with God in any aspect of life, the part where we are failing is the part where we experience God’s presence the least. If we are not in God’s will in certain actions, He will be there, but He will be hard to see or feel. Therefore, because we have taken that aspect of our life from Him, He lets us feel the effects of our sinfulness.

We all have the same amount of time each day. We all have certain goals and objectives that we want to meet. However, when we do not give these things over to God, it creates a crisis for us. Crisis results in frustration and frustration results in a lack of patience. We want to make others the scapegoat for our own lack of spiritual maturity. Think about it. When was the last time you were impatient with yourself? Aren’t you most times impatient with someone else? Being impatient, therefore, is blaming someone else for your problem and that, my friend, is sin.

If we are indeed children of God, then we must try to emulate Him. We need to cultivate a personality of kindness, gentleness, understanding and patience. So the next time that person in the car in front of you sits through the green light, pray for them and thank God for granting you a moment to slow down and talk to Him.

Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near. Don't grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. (James 5:7-9 NIV)
Jeff Allen on patience

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Just a Little Talk

What do you think of when you hear the word prayer? Do you think of a formal address to God where you read your list of requests to Him? Do you think of something done by a child right before bedtime? Maybe you think of the long talk to “our Heavenly Father”, the preacher gives while your head is bowed and your eyes are closed.

Prayer is one of those words we use in church that is very misunderstood. Perhaps it is because of the word itself that we ignore the true purpose of the act. The word comes from the Latin word precor, which means, “to beg or entreat”. As the word evolved, it became preiere and eventually prayer.

The word precarious is a form of the same Latin root precor. In Latin, precarious means, “to obtain by entreaty”. The original meaning of our word precarious was “to be dependent on circumstances beyond one's control”. In modern language, we tend to use it to describe a dangerous situation.

The word prayer was very common in the time of the writing of the King James Bible. It was typically used as a request in the Old Testament. And Abram said unto Lot, Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we be brethren (Genesis 13:8). However, most of the time when it is used in the New Testament, it specifically refers to a conversation with God.

Maybe that is why we sometimes see prayer as a “to do” list for God. While I believe that God certainly wants to hear our requests, I also believe He wants us to truly communicate with Him. Sometimes we take Him a “grocery list” of things we want to obtain or happen and miss the true power and privilege of being able to talk with our creator.

Last week a lady called 911 to report she didn't get as much shrimp as she wanted in her fried rice at a Fort Worth-area restaurant. I heard the audiotape of the 911 emergency call, in which the customer is heard telling the dispatcher, "to get a police officer up here, what has to happen? He didn't even put extra shrimp in there." Restaurant workers said the woman had been denied a refund after leaving with her order, then returned to complain.

911 entertained the woman’s call. They listened to her and responded. However, this is not the kind of situation for which the emergency service is designed. The request was treated with respect, but was far below the intention and power of the service provided by 911.

When all we take to God is our “wish list”, we are heard and treated with respect. However, we are not honoring Him with good use of this privilege. What does God want from us in prayer? He just wants to hear from us. He knows the things we need before we ever ask for them (Matthew 6:8). What He truly wants from us is…well…US!

There are many things I already know about my children’s day before I see them in the evening. My wife and I talk during the day, and she tells me about things they have done or significant happenings. However, when I get home I usually ask the kids to tell me about those same things. I already know what happened, but I love to hear it from them. Likewise, God already knows what is going on in your life, but He would love to hear it from you.

The next time you begin to “pray”, speak to God as if you are talking to a good friend. Talk with Him in a familiar but respectful way. Yes, we can certainly tell Him about our troubles, but tell Him your hopes, dreams, fears, and blessings also. Remember that prayer is communication with Almighty God, not a means to whine before the throne.

The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. (James 5:16b KJV)

The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with. (James 5:16b The Message)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Look Alike

Have you ever seen someone who you thought was going to be a crabby person, but they turned out to be nice? What made you judge them to be a grump? Perhaps it was the way they stood, or the way they looked at you. Maybe it was a down-turned mouth or furrowed brow that made you think badly of them.

We tend to judge people by their expressions and presence, before we actually get to know them. Sometimes those assumptions are correct, sometimes they are very wrong.

In a recent study, a group of 70 people who do not own dogs, were asked to match 41 dog owners to the breed of dog they owned. They were shown pictures of the owners and then given a choice of Labrador, poodle or Staffordshire bull terrier to match with the owner. The panel was correct over half of the time. Statistically, with just a random guess, they should have been correct only a third of the time.

One of the psychologists was quoted as saying, "This suggests that certain breeds of dogs are associated with particular kinds of people. Those who don't own dogs used stereotypes to match the dogs to their owners. These stereotypes persisted into judgments of the dog owners' personalities: non-dog owners considered the owners of each breed to share certain personality traits, such as level of conscientiousness and emotional stability."

So I guess it turns out you may actually look like or act like your dog! For me, that would mean I am big, furry, and very goofy. (No comments please!) What does that say about your personality?

This is not only true of pets. It seems there is also some scientific validity to the idea that as couples age together, they begin to resemble one another. In a 2006 study, test participants rated men and women, who were actual couples, as looking alike and having similar personalities. The longer the couples had been together, the greater the perceived similarities. The researchers speculate that the sharing of experiences might affect how couples look.

Basically, I gather from this research that we are influenced both emotionally and physically by those with whom we come into contact. Also, the more we are around them, the more we become like them. Just as these studies suggest, it does not matter whether those things are animals or humans. We become like them, and they become like us.

So, of course, the big question is what do you look like? How do people perceive you? For the Christian, our goal should be to be as much like Jesus as possible. The Apostle Paul, wrote in Galatians 6, "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus". We as Christians should strive to bear the marks of Christ in our own lives.

However, most of us do a pretty terrible job of this. We wind up being imitators of Jesus. Paul also wrote, "Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ." Imitating Christ’s behavior is a great start, but in order to fulfill what God intends for us, we must become so much like Jesus, that people see more of Him in us than they do of us. This is what 1 Corinthians 4:11 means: that we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. We have to actually give up so much of ourselves that we are unrecognizable. We are, in a sense, "dead". When we give our old selves up and let Christ come into our lives, He is the one who others recognize, not us.

How do we do this? Just as people don’t automatically look like their dogs or spouses over time, we cannot just be associated with Christ without a relationship. We must spend time with Him, learn about Him, allow Him to shape us and teach us before we will become like Him. Reading and studying God’s Word, talking with Him on a regular basis and listening and watching for His guidance in our lives, is how we accomplish the goal of allowing Christ to live through us.

Let Jesus Christ shine – be the one others see when they encounter you. Give Him your all!

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 NKJV)

Friday, April 3, 2009

I took an online personality test last week. However, this one was a little different than some I have taken before. This one asks a series of personality questions and then tells you which superhero you are most like. I was not surprised when my result was Batman. I have always loved the superhero who dresses in black body-armor. I have always liked him because he is a regular guy. Superman is an alien, Spiderman was bitten by a radioactive spider and many others gained their superpowers by odd things happening to them. Bruce Wayne (Batman) was driven to obliterate crime by the desire to avenge his parent’s murder.

I can relate to that. Who hasn’t wanted to get back at someone who has wronged you? I believe the desire to lash out when threatened is a very human emotion. However, some people would rather their superhero be someone from another planet or some mutant who does good. There are many different ones, because there are many different types of people who read about them and love them.

Last week, at a school for special needs children in Bangkok, Thailand, an autistic boy who was scared of attending his first day of school climbed onto the ledge of the third floor, and refused to come inside. The eight-year-old did not respond to his teachers or even his mother’s beckoning to come back inside.

The fire department was called, but their efforts to bring the child down from the ledge were unsuccessful. Everyone was afraid to approach the boy, out of fear that he may jump or fall. Finally, for some reason, his mother mentioned his love for superheroes. One of the firemen, Sonchai Yoosabai, decided to try something unconventional.

The fireman raced back to the station and quickly changed into his Spiderman costume. The fireman often dresses up as either Spiderman, or Ultraman, who is a Japanese superhero, to liven up school fire drills. He returned to the school in his Spiderman costume, and told the boy, “Spiderman is here to rescue you, no monsters are going to attack you. Walk slowly towards me because running could be dangerous.” Police said the young boy immediately stood up and walked into his rescuer's arms. The image on the right is an actual photo of the fireman in his Spiderman costume!

We as Christians understand that we are to be “In the world, but not of it.” We cannot have an air of superiority, or as the Bible says, be “puffed up”, just because we have Christ in our lives and others do not. We have to be relative to the rest of the world, or the world will never be able to relate to us.

Jesus was a master of this. He was able to speak to the poorest outcast in all of Judea, stand with a Centurion to discuss his servant’s well being, discuss spiritual matters with the Sanhedrin, or speak before Herod and Pilate with the authority of Heaven. Wherever Jesus went, He became like the people there, so they could relate, trust, and believe in Him.

We are called to do no less. If it takes putting on a Spiderman costume to rescue those who are without Christ, then that is what we need to do. A missionary would never go to an area without learning about the people there, and trying to become like them in order to gain their trust in hopes of being able to lead them to Jesus.

Likewise, we are in the middle of a mission field and we must do whatever we can to become relevant to those around us, without losing our witness. We are called not to be conformed to the ways of the world we’re in, but to be transformed by God. (Romans 12:2) Even Paul understood that in his journeys he might need to adapt to his surroundings in order for the Gospel to be preached and received.

Maybe you won’t have to become a superhero in order to tell someone about Jesus, but you may have to do something different or out of your “comfort zone”, in order to reach them. This week, pray and ask God to show how to relate better to those around you, so you can help point them to the greatest “superhero” of them all. May God richly bless your life this week!

Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23 NIV)