Monday, January 30, 2012

Stand By Me

 

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.
12 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. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

—The words of the Apostle Paul from Ephesians 6:10-18

 

Did you wake up this morning looking up from the “bottom of the barrel” and wondering if you could possibly ever crawl out? Sometimes even the most devout believers in the Lord Jesus Christ find themselves overwhelmed by the trials of their lives. If you number among the countless thousands who find themselves struggling to meet the beginning of another new day, take heart. You belong to a special group and God loves each one of you very much.

I know God loves us, as we struggle with discouragement and even depression, because He has given us the Promise of His Presence. And, He has given us important instructions, such as the passage of Scripture that appears at the beginning of this blog post.

The Apostle Paul tells us to put on the whole armor of God. Paul recognizes that every day represents a battle against the forces of darkness. Paul knows this from within the context of his own life. Paul also knows that God will guard and guide us through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.

Within the confines of the borders of the United States, no group has experienced as much prolonged travail than those abducted from their native lands and brought here to serve as slaves in the 18th and 19th centuries. Out of that travail has come many songs of appeal for God’s strong hand of grace and mercy. One of the most prolific composers of such songs, Rev. Dr. Charles A. Tindley, has published at least 46 songs including the very powerful “Stand By Me.”

When the storms of life are raging,
Stand by me;
When the storms of life are raging,
Stand by me;
When the world is tossing me
Like a ship upon the sea
Thou Who rulest wind and water,
Stand by me.

In the midst of faults and failures,
Stand by me;
In the midst of faults and failures,
Stand by me;
When I do the best I can,
And my friends don’t understand,
Thou Who knowest all about me,
Stand by me.

When I'm growin’ old and feeble,
Stand by me;
When I'm growin’ old and feeble,
Stand by me;
When my eyes grow dim in death,
And I draw my latest breath,
O Thou “God of All the Ages,”
Stand by me.

(If you wish, you may click here to listen to a particularly beautiful rendition of this song. It’s sung by the late Donald Doig on his vinyl Satisfied with an orchestral arrangement by Ronn Huff.)

I urge you to look up and take heart today. Allow God to give you His encouragement and joy. Follow the pathway He has laid out before you. Step out in courage. Put your full trust in Him. Remember, He loves you with His everlasting love.

Will you pray with me?

Thank You, God, for loving us. Thank You for sending Jesus to be our Savior. Thank You for sending us Your Holy Spirit to dwell within us.

Even when we find ourselves stuck in discouragement and despair, we ask You to remind us often that You love us, care for us, and have given us the Promise of Your Presence. Help us lean on the indwelling power of Your Holy Spirit to lift our spirits and protect us with the whole armor of God.

Thank You, dear Father, for Your goodness and gentleness in all Your dealings with us. And, thank You for hearing our prayer in and through the precious Name of Your Son, our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Copyright © 2012 by Dean K. Wilson. All Rights Reserved.

 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc

 

1 The fool says in his heart,
   “There is no God.”
   They are corrupt, and their ways are vile;
   there is no one who does good.

2 God looks down from heaven
   on the sons of men
    to see if there are any who understand,
   any who seek God.
3 Everyone has turned away,
   they have together become corrupt;
   there is no one who does good,
   not even one.

4 Will the evildoers never learn—
   those who devour my people as men eat bread
   and who do not call on God?
5 There they were, overwhelmed with dread,
   where there was nothing to dread.
   God scattered the bones of those who attacked you;
   you put them to shame, for God despised them.

6 Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
   When God restores the fortunes of his people,
   let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!

—The words of King David from Psalm 53:1-6

 

“After this, therefore because of this.”

I thought I had better hasten to explain the title to this blog. If you’ve ever had the privilege of studying “logic” as an academic subject—of if you have a strong dose of common sense—you will well remember this principle. Perhaps this video clip from one of my favorite television shows, The West Wing, can help illustrate the meaning of this Latin phrase:

Please click here to watch the video.

In short, “Something that happens after something else happens must have occurred as a result of whatever happened first.”

A good example:

Thomas, a truck driver, loads his truck with pumpkins to deliver to four supermarkets. On the way to the first supermarket, a car speeding through a stop sign t-bones his truck. Therefore, the load of pumpkins must have caused the accident.

Sort of silly. Right?

But people make this error in logic every day. Just because, in a chain of events, one event precedes another does not necessarily mean that preceding event caused the subsequent event. Here’s another more potent example from the business world:

A Board of Directors dismisses the Vice President of Marketing because the President doesn’t like her. The VP does her job well. Many of the shareholders, fellow workers, and customers like the VP very much. She has contributed significantly to the unique market share that the company enjoys. But, the President doesn’t like her.

(Of course, the President can’t simply say, “I don’t like the Vice President of Marketing. So, you’ll have to fire her.” The President can’t say that because that would seem silly. Any genuine leader should have the capacity to find a way to get along with any person serving under the President’s leadership. Just because the President doesn’t like something about the Vice President of Marketing, doesn’t give the President the right to ask the Board of Directors to terminate the VP’s employment. The key thing for the VP to retain her employment should always rest solely with a very careful assessment of the VP’s performance. If the VP performs her job well, then whether or not the President likes her, the VP should not lose her job.)

Because dismissal from a position—when a person adequately performs his or her job—seems unreasonable and illogical, once the President and the Board of Directors have to explain to the shareholders why they have taken this action, they will have to “logically” formulate an acceptable reason. Thus a search for an explanation begins. When the Board and President finally set forth an explanation, those receiving the explanation should make a careful examination using the principle of post hoc, ergo propter hoc. Application of this principle will always disclose a lie.

“She got along with some people, but not with all,” the Board reports.

The shareholders counter, “But she did her job well. She increased market share. Many staff members, clients, and shareholders like her.”

And, so forth. The application of logic, especially post hoc, ergo propter hoc will force the explanation to return to the truth.

In the Scripture passage at the beginning of this blog post, King David seems stricken by the reality of people turning their backs on God. David expresses a longing. He emotes a strong sense of hope. Perhaps God will examine the sons of men to see if any understand. In desperation, David asks, “Will the evildoers ever learn?”

It seems to me that David seeks a strong dose of post hoc, ergo propter hoc. Using this principle of logic, David will begin to examine the events to see if anyone has placed blame on a previous event that, in fact, does not constitute the real cause of the current distress. A logical examination—using the knowledge that God has already given him—will lead David to a conclusion.

And, in fact, David apprehends precisely the right answer: “Oh that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion.” For God will send His Son, Jesus, to inhabit human form, to bear the sins of all mankind on the cross of torture and death, and to rise from the dead to declare victory over sin and death.

As the Apostle Paul declares in 1 Corinthians 15:54-58:

54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

58 Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

When faced with any explanation about an event that seems strange to you, make certain you apply the principle of post hoc, ergo propter hoc to make certain the answer passes the test of logic. If it does not, dig deeper to find the truth.

Will you pray with me?

Thank You, God, for loving us. Thank You for sending Jesus to be our Savior. Thank You for sending us Your Holy Spirit to dwell within us.

We ask You to remind us often that we need to rely on You to reveal the truth to us. We know that we can rely on the truth of Your Word. We know that we can rely on Your Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth.

By the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, we ask You to help us seek Your logic in answering every question, in examining every activity, in disclosing every truth.

Thank You, dear Father, for Your ever-faithful hand on our lives. And, thank You for hearing our prayer in and through the precious Name of Your Son, our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Copyright © 2012 by Dean K. Wilson. All Rights Reserved.

 

Monday, January 23, 2012

We’re Never Alone!

 

13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power.

—The words from 1 Samuel 16:13

 

In 1 Samuel 16 the Lord gave the young shepherd boy, David, the dream of being King of Israel. Saul was the reigning king, but because of disobedience, Saul forfeited his right to be king. So the Lord sent the prophet Samuel to Jesse’s house to anoint the next king.

Pastor Bill Shereos1 writes of this incident:

David was the youngest child of Jesse and not well regarded. So when the prophet Samuel went to Jesse’s house to “anoint the person God would point out to him,” David’s father didn’t even bother to have David in the house at the time. David’s father, Jesse, thought David couldn’t possibly be the one to be anointed, because David was young. In addition, David was just a shepherd and didn’t have the stature of his older brothers. Nevertheless, the prophet Samuel asked Jesse to bring David into the house and Samuel anointed David, and a dream was birthed in David’s life.

Samuel thinks he spies the one God has chosen of Jesse’s sons to become king. But each time God says, “No!” When God chooses the least of the brothers, the youngest, the most immature, the least likely to succeed, the one no one else would ever have picked, we see the true measure of God’s majestic power.

The Scripture verse at the beginning of this blog post says it all. Once Samuel annointed David, “...from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power.”

Whether you have a conscious awareness of it or not, this is exactly what has happened to you. When you acknowledged the gift that God has given you in Christ Jesus; when you accepted and affirmed that before the foundation of the earth God chose you—yes, YOU!—to belong to Him; when you accepted the reality that God sent His only Son, Jesus, to inhabit human form, to die on a cruel cross of Roman torture paying the penalty for your sins, and then rose again from the dead—when you accept that reality, God sent the Holy Spirit to dwell within you, just as He sent the Holy Spirit to dwell within David. The power of the Holy Spirit—the very power of God—resides within you.

God cares about every aspect of your life. There is no detail of your life so small that God will ignore it. He cares about every aspect of your life. And He extends His hand of mercy and grace on your life continually. That means He never stops loving you, never stops caring about you, never stops helping you, never stops guiding you, never stops enabling you, never stops placing His dreams in your heart and mind.

And not only does God place His dreams within you, He empowers you to realize the fulfillment of those dreams. He is at work within you right this very moment. He is working out the details, making the plans, putting a support structure in place, gathering the resources, installing the mechanism, creating the process, assuring the success of the dreams He has given you. He not only wants you to dream His dreams, He wants you to recognize that He is at work to make those dreams come alive.

I cannot stress to you enough how important it is for you to understand that you are NEVER alone! God is always present with you. In fact, theologically we use the term “perpetually.” God is perpetually present with us.

That word “perpetually” has some interesting aspects to it. It means “over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over...” Well, you get the idea. God is perpetually present. He never, ever leaves us. He sticks so close to us that we are not separate-able from God. Let me repeat that. He sticks so close to us that we are not separate-able from God.

Romans 8:38-30 sums this up quite well:

38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

God’s love is represented in and through His perpetual presence in our daily lives. He’s always with us. And He’s not just standing by watching us. He is actively working to enable us to see our dreams come true.

One of the most significant barriers to trusting God with our future is the strong feeling many of us have that we are alone. Have you ever felt all alone? Have you ever felt truly alone—abandoned—left behind—forsaken?

We’ll, on nothing less than the absolute authority of God’s Word, I say to you today, “If you have become a child of the Most High God through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, you are never, ever alone! God is always with you in the deepest, closest, most intimate way possible. You are never alone!” God’s promise is His Presence. Yes! God’s promise is His Presence. Listen to these affirming verses of Scripture:

Deuteronomy 31:6Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified ... for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.

Deuteronomy 31:8The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

Joshua 1:5No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.

Hebrews 13:5b...God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

Today, praise God that He has chosen you to belong to Him. And, praise God that He will never leave you, nor forsake you.

Will you pray with me?

Thank You, God, for loving us. Thank You for sending Jesus to be our Savior. Thank You for sending us Your Holy Spirit to dwell within us.

Father, we praise You that you have given us the promise of Your Presence. You have said, ’I will never leave you, nor forsak you.”

Thank you for the gift of Your Holy Spirit to lead us along the pathway You have laid out before us. Help us to put our faith and trust completely in You. Teach us how to trust You, as we faithfully study Your Scriptures.

Thank You for Your power and for Your wisdom. We choose to rely on You to enable us in our quest for obedience to Your Word and to Your will for our lives. We praise You for the protection You give us each day. And, thank You for hearing our prayer in and through the precious Name of Your Son, our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

________________

1 Bill Shereos is the Senior Pastor of First Evangelical Free Church in Chicago, IL

Copyright © 2012 by Dean K. Wilson. All Rights Reserved.

 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

One in Mind and Thought

 

10 I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.

—The words of the Apostle Paul from 1 Corinthians 1:10

 

“We’re at war!”

Almost twenty years ago, I sat in stunned silence as I listened to the shout from a female member of the Board of Directors of a national healthcare organization. The President of that organization had hired me to conduct Team Building exercises with the Board members and the administrative staff. He wanted to try to overcome some long-standing disharmony within the organization.

What have I gotten myself into? I wondered as I felt the electricity of the member’s statement blast across those gathered in the conference room. How deeply do these resentments reach within those present? What circumstances could possibly have created this friction-filled atmosphere?

I’m glad to report that over the course of six very intense Team Building sessions scheduled over as many weeks, the Board members and the administrative staff began to understand each other better and began to find points of mutual agreement. Checking back six months later, I learned that the lady who had issued the declaration of war had resigned from the Board. Even with all the efforts the other Board members and administrative staff members had made to create a climate of reconciliation, she wanted no part of it. She would take her spirit of conflict with her as she walked out of door.

In any organization, conflict seems inevitable. People disagree all the time. In fact, researchers tell us that any organization that does not experience frequent differences of opinion about matters of policy and implementation probably will not achieve any significant goals. Conflict—when it’s controlled by respect and civility—provides a healthy catalyst to necessary change within any organization.

Those who think that people should never disagree, never discuss, never offer differing opinions doom their organizations to mediocrity and, ultimately, to failure. Conflict promotes a free exchange of ideas. Conflict can stimulate creative thinking. Conflict can actually draw people closer together. Conflict can actually lead to ultimate agreement.

That’s right. Conflict can actually lead to ultimate agreement.

In a recent white paper, Dr. Benjamin Novak, Esq., a former member of the Board of Trustees of Penn State University, offers his analysis of what has gone wrong with the Penn State Board. His potent prose leads the reader along a nearly unbelieveable pathway. I would urge anyone involved in the Board of any organization to click here to read this important paper.

Dr. Novak has disclosed that the major impediment to truly moral decision-making consists of a code of silence that has rendered the Penn State Board ineffective and close to useless. Board members could not discuss, could not disagree, could not talk to faculty or students, could not do anything without working directly through the President of the University. A carefully chosen inner circle of Board members supported the President to allow him to control the creation and implementation of every policy and every procedure.

So far in this blog post I’ve talked about the world of business. What about the Kingdom of God? What does God’s Word have to say about decision-making with the Body of Christ?

In the Scripture passage at the beginning of this blog post, the Apostle Paul speaks directly to the Christians gathered at the church in Corinth. He urges them to “agree with one another.” But, don’t become deceived by this word “agree.”

In contemporaneous Greek literature—that is Greek literature written at about the same time as this portion of Scripture—the phrase that the translators of the New International Version have rendered “agree” has legislative implications that hearkened back to an earlier time in Grecian history. The phrase describes a process, in the earlier Greek democracies, whereby those making laws discussed, with a thoroughness and depth, all sides of an issue. The Greek lawmakers would argue passionately and dispute ardently to make their points. Then, when all sides had received a thorough exposure to the lawmakers, they would arrive at an “agreement.”

The King James Version renders this phrase: “that ye all speak the same thing.” In other words, after healthy argument and discourse, having reached a decision, the brothers to which Paul appeals should reach an agreement wherein they can “speak the same thing.”.

The key to reaching an agreement resided in the frank, open, and unrestrained—and often mightily passionate—discussion that preceded any and all decisions. This process made no provision for people to sit in silence while one—or a noble few—made all the decisions that the group would then rubber stamp.

Within the body of believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, God expects His people to thoroughly discuss all aspects of any problem before reaching a decision. God does not expect leaders in His Kingdom to rubber stamp any ideas that come only from “a man or woman,” as opposed to those ideas that come from God through His Word. For many issues that arise, God gives clear direction in His Word. For other issues, He gives the Holy Spirit to lead and guide His children into all truth.

One of the key ways we arrive at truth comes from openly, honestly, thoroughly, and even passionately, discussing issues until we reach a decision about which we can “all speak the same thing.” The Holy Spirit will use full and unimpeded discussion to bring leaders within the Body of Christ to arrive at a place where they will become “one in mind and thought.”

Will you pray with me?

Thank You, God, for loving us. Thank You for sending Jesus to be our Savior. Thank You for sending us Your Holy Spirit to dwell within us.

Precious Father, we praise You that you have given us Your Holy Spirit to guide us when we work with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We acknowledge that when we talk with each other, discuss with each other, even argue with each other, we can do so with hearts full of love, with words wrapped in civility, and with minds intent on serving You and Your Kingdom.

Thank You for Your generosity and for Your enabling. We fully rest in You and seek to obediently follow the pathway You have laid out for us. We praise You for the joy You give us each day. And, thank You for hearing our prayer in and through the precious Name of Your Son, our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Copyright © 2012 by Dean K. Wilson. All Rights Reserved.

 

Monday, January 16, 2012

“Good Morning, God.”

 

3 In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice;
    in the morning I lay my requests before you
    and wait in expectation.

—The words of the King David from Psalm 5:3

 

How quickly do you roll out of bed in the morning? Some people burst forth once the alarm sounds. They bound out of bed and, in high gear, start their days like a rocket blast. Other people hit the snooze button on their alarm clocks, roll over with a grouchy grumble, and wait for the alarm clock to sound again. Maybe your arising fits somewhere in between those two extremes.

When I joined the fire department back in 1965, my years of bursting out of bed to start my morning paid a dividend. When the motor on the siren atop the fire house began turn, I was out of bed in a flash and began to mentally recite: “Pants, then boots! Pants, then boots!” You see, one time—it really only takes one time—I put my boots on first and then tried to put my pants on over the boots. Didn’t work!

Sometimes I could make it the 100 feet to the fire house before the siren had cycled up and down one time. Only the chief, who lived twenty feet door-to-door from the fire house, could beat my arrival time.

I don’t burst out of bed anymore. In fact, I don’t do anything very fast anymore. But I’ve never lost my appreciation for people who can start their morning at full tilt.

The Scripture passage at the beginning of this blog post comes from the pen of one who spent countless hours as a young man out in the Judean hills tending sheep. Alone in the quiet of the morning’s first light, King David learned his lesson well as a shepherd boy. He became accustomed to meeting with God at the break of day. As the dew settled on the grass, in those moments just before the sun becomes fully visible above the horizon, King David learned to speak to God out of the depths of his heart.

There truly is something very special about the quiet of the early morning. As you wait in silence, with your Bible open to whatever passage you’re reading that day, you can almost sense the very Presence of God enter your room. In that quiet moment, it’s not hard to imagine God sitting down with you, folding His hands on His lap, and giving you the broadest smile, as He waits to hear what you would like to say to Him. Yes, there truly is something very special about the quiet of the early morning.

Bishop Ralph Cushman wrote a poem that aptly expresses the sentiment I’m attempting to share with you this day:

I met God in the morning
When the day was at its best,
And His Presence came like sunrise,
Like a glory in my breast.

All day long the Presence lingered,
All day long He stayed with me,
And we sailed in perfect calmness
O'er a very troubled sea.

Other ships were blown and battered,
Other ships were sore distressed,
But the winds that seemed to drive them,
Brought to me a peace and rest.

Then I thought of other mornings,
With a keen remorse of mind,
When I too had loosed the moorings,
With His Presence left behind.

So, I think I know the secret,
Learned from many a troubled way:
You must seek God in the morning
If you want Him through the day!

I know that it might be hard for you to modify your early morning routine. But if it doesn’t include spending a few moments alone in quiet, reading your Bible and talking to God in prayer, then I respectfully and humbly urge you to try it for at least seven days. If you don’t sense some genuine benefit from this discipline, then you may return to your normal pattern. And if you try it for 50 days, I guarantee it will become a habit for you. As time passes, you will gain more and more joy and peace from starting your day with the God who loves you so very much.

Will you pray with me?

Thank You, God, for loving us. Thank You for sending Jesus to be our Savior. Thank You for sending us Your Holy Spirit to dwell within us.

Precious Father, we praise You that you met King David in the morning and offered Him your lovingly sympathetic ear. In the same way, we thank You for Your willingness to meet with us at the start of our days. We thank You for the joy and peace You give to us when we begin our days in Your Word and in talking with You in prayer.

Thank You for Your mercy and for Your grace. We know that we do not merit Your favor. Yet, in Christ, You grant to us a place in Your Kingdom as dearly loved sons and daughters of the Most High. Thank You for Your undergirding in our times of trial. And, thank You for hearing our prayer in and through the precious Name of Your Son, our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Copyright © 2012 by Dean K. Wilson. All Rights Reserved.

 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

God Deserves More Than “Good Enough”

 

1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

—The words of the Apostle Paul from Romans 12:1-2

 

As I sit in my office writng this blog post, I am dressed in my usual attire: bermuda shorts and a sweat shirt. Since my diabetically challenged feet require special care, I do have my $800 shoes on my feet. Sadly, I can never wear any other footware. My attire would offend most places of business. In fact, when someone comes to visit me, I quickly put on jeans. No one should be subjected to my funny-looking, Jobst-stocking-covered legs.

In the relative comfort of my office, my attire does not affect my ability to accomplish whatever work rests on my plate for each day. But I am not unaware that if I worked in other than a solo occupation, I would have to dress otherwise. In fact, for the 35 years of my formal working career, I did dress up.

When I first began working as a field engineer for the insurance company where I labored for 30 years, even though we had to visit factories, climb into some pretty dirty places, even descend into valve pits and lubrication cellars, we had to dress up. The insurance company expected us to wear white shirt and tie, a sports coat, and dress slacks.

My attire changed when I began serving as a full-time volunteer at a church. With little need to meet the public, I arrived each day in a jeans and sweatshirt. Comfort had become more important to me than “image.” I understand that after I left, a new pastor instituted a dress code for staff members. So I would not be able to dress that way if I still volunteered at that church.

“Why all this discussion of clothing,” you may ask.

An article in the daily Christianity Today e-mail newsletter caught my eye this week. Duane Litfin, former President of Wheaton College, had written an article entitled, “Clothing Matters: What We Wear to Church.” If you would like to read this rather lengthy piece—eight webpages—you may click here.

What Litfin really communicates in this article comes out of a plea for “excellence.” Since I have always championed excellence in every place where I’ve worked, I became quite intrigued with some of Litfin’ comments:

I recall hearing one pastor, for example, exhorting members of his summer congregation to join their “no-commitment choir.” All it requires, he said, is to show up a little early on Sunday morning. This pastor is a good man with a good church, but also with a common blind spot: he saw no problem in appealing to such low motives in his people, much less bringing God such a substandard, it-will-cost-you-nothing musical offering. Is there anything in the Scriptures to suggest that our inferior worship offerings waft toward heaven with a sweet aroma, “a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God?” (Phil. 4:18)? As one contemporary observer put it, “Too many of us today have got it backwards: we worship our work, work at our play, and play at our worship.”

What’s going on here? Could it be that our delight in the security of our standing before God—that is, that all who have “put on” Christ (Gal. 3:27) stand fully accepted in him—has blinded us to a different issue: the acceptability of our worship offerings? It would be the cheapest of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace” to suppose that because we are secure in Christ, whatever we bring to God in worship, however inferior or mediocre, pleases him (Eph. 5:10).

I will allow you to pursue reading Litfin’s article on your own, if you wish, to explore more of his ideas regarding what role “excellence” may play in our devotion to God and the work we do in His name. However, I strongly suggest to you that part of the enfleshing of the truth advanced by the Scripture portion at the beginning of this blog post calls for “excellence in all things.” The words “good enough” should never describe our attitude, or our effort, or our goal, or our work when it comes to the Kingdom of God. Pastors and church leaders who deside to settle for something less than the very best do their constituents a grave disservice.

Pastoral ministries where the pastor does not devote himself or herself to the study of God’s Word and prayer—and by “devote” I definitely do not mean a casual attempt to fit these disciplines into a busy schedule of social activities and worrying about the color of the carpeting in the nursery—run the risk of producing mediocrity in every aspect of church life. Similarly, when church leaders support a lackadaisical approach to any program or ministry of the church, they also endanger the health of the congregation.

No substitute exists for excellence. You either put forth the effort to hire the best people, develop the best programs, promote the best spiritual disciplines among the congregants, handle finances in the best possible way, or you don’t. Fail to do everything possible to assure excellence, and you fail to give God what He deserves.

After all, God gave us the very best that He had. He gave us His own Son to die in our place. He made a sacrifice for us, in so bold and decisive a manner, that we can hardly conceive any way to excuse a half-hearted effort on our part to serve Him.

I urge you to read Litfin’s most excellent article. Even if you do not agree with every point that he makes, at least consider how much more pleasing to God it would be in your own life if you follow the Apostle Paul’s urging and presented yourself to God as a living sacrifice.

Will you pray with me?

Thank You, God, for loving us. Thank You for sending Jesus to be our Savior. Thank You for sending us Your Holy Spirit to dwell within us.

Precious Father, we invite you to have Your Holy Spirit examine our lives, and particularly our service to you, to see if we have given you our most excellent service. We long to show our love and devotion to You by withholding nothing from You, even as You have withheld nothing from us. Be pleased to remind us that whatever we do we should give You our best. Help us to think in terms of “excellence” whenever we embark on service to You.

Thank You for Your faithfulness and for Your compassion. Thank You for Your strength and peace. And, thank You for hearing our prayer in and through the precious Name of Your Son, our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Copyright © 2012 by Dean K. Wilson. All Rights Reserved.

 

Monday, January 9, 2012

Repentance, or Only Remorse?

 

1 Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death. 2 They bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate, the governor.

3 When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. 4 “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”

“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.”

5 So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.

—The words of the Apostle Matthew from Matthew 27:1-5

 

“I am feeling very sad about what has happened.” Tears welled up in the eyes of the woman sitting across the table from me. She had asked to speak with me in my informal role of a counselor. For the previous twenty minutes, she had poured out a sad tale concerning her behavior in the workplace. She had become jealous over the attention her boss had given to a co-worker. So, she began a campaign to impune the character of her competitor for the boss’ favor.

Whenever possible, she spoke ill of her rival. She was careful to not seem overly snarky. She just dropped a negatively charged word here and there. Soon, her efforts paid dividends. Her boss seemed to pay somewhat less attention to her co-worker. Finally, she detected a definite swing. Now her boss seemed openly hostile to her competitor.

After several months of a downward slide in her boss’ attention toward her rival, he fired the co-worker. At first, the woman talking with me felt joy. But then, she learned the co-worker had a family. And, she got word that the co-worker was having trouble finding a new job. The emotional trauma of being fired, coupled with her age, seemed to thwart her efforts at finding new work.

So now, the woman sat across from me. “I feel so very sad that things have turned out like they did. I wish I could shake this feeling. But, I can’t seem to put aside my sadness.”

“That’s because you haven’t truly repented of your sin,” I told her.

A look of amazed hostility and instant anger flared aross her face. “Not repented? What do you mean by that?” she said sharply.

“You feel remorse. But, you haven’t truly repented,” I replied. “Until you confess your sin, repent of your sin, and provide restitution, you will not be able to find reconciliation.”

The Scripture passage at the beginning of this blog post gives a stark example of the difference between repentance and remorse. Matthew records that when faced with the reality of the chain of events that he set in motion, Judas Iscariot felt “remorse.”

Without getting too “geeky,” let me hasten to explain that the Bible uses two distinct Greek words to denote one’s “change toward an action one has taken.” The first word denotes “change of mind or purpose from sin to holiness.” The second word denotes “regret over the sadness and distress one feels about what one has done.”

In the first case, the sinner receives the conviction supplied by the work of the Holy Spirit and runs toward the other person he or she has harmed with the intent of confessing, making a complete turn about from the sin, providing restitution for the harm done, and then joyfully finding true reconciliation.

In the second case, the sinner runs away from the situation and takes some action to relieve the pain he or she is feeling, but without actually doing anything to confess, repent, or make restitution. Thus, he or she never experiences genuine reconciliation.

As you can see, there exists a profound difference between “repentance” and “remorse.” One leads to a renewal of life—a revival. The other leads to destruction. It may well be that a person choosing the Judas Iscariot path may not actually commit suicide as Judas did. But, a recessive death of the soul can prove just as harmful in the long run.

So, if you commit a sin against a brother or sister in Christ, examine your heart. Do you genuinely regret what you have done, want to meet with the one you have harmed and confess your sin, make resititution for your sin, and receive the gift of reconciliation? Or, do you feel selfishly sorry for the pain you feel and simply want to remove that pain? I urge you to take the first course. It leads to a newness of life and to health for your soul.

Will you pray with me?

Thank You, God, for loving us. Thank You for sending Jesus to be our Savior. Thank You for sending us Your Holy Spirit to dwell within us.

In every interaction with have with our brothers and sisters in Christ, we invite Your Holy Spirit to bring conviction if we have sinned. Then, Precious Father, please empower us to go to the one we have harmed, confess our sin, repent of our sin, and make resistitution for our sin. We do this knowing that You will provide reconciliation with the one we have harmed and with You.

Thank You for Your lovingkindness and tender mercies. Thank You for Your grace and truth. And, thank You for hearing our prayer in and through the precious Name of Your Son, our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Copyright © 2012 by Dean K. Wilson. All Rights Reserved.

 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Will You Heed the Warning?

 

1 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.

6 Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.” 8 We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. 9 We should not test the Lord, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. 10 And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.

11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13 No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

—The words of the Apostle Paul from 1 Corinthians 10:1-13

 

“STOP”

“NO SMOKING OR OPEN FLAMES”

“DO NOT ENTER”

Warning signs surround us almost everywhere we go. They shout instructions. They tell us what to look out for, as we make our way through the world. They give us information to help keep us safe. And, many times, people do not heed those warning signs.

I had the privilege of working for a large, national insurance company for thirty years. This company provided fire and allied peril insurance for very large industrial and commercial properties under the Highly Protected Risk Rating Plan. The very first loss prevention inspection I made took place at a factory near Buffalo, New York, in the mid-summer of 1969. As I toured the facility, I encountered an older worker bending over a five-gallon pail in the middle of the factory floor. He would take some small metal parts, drop them into the pail, and then swish them around with his hand to clean them. Once I got a bit closer, I could clearly see the diamond-shaped red warning label on the pail indicating the presence of a highly flammable liquid.

“What’s in the pail?” I asked as politely as I could.

“Acetone,” the man replied.

Now acetone has significant flammability characteristics. In the words of Wikipedia:

The most hazardous quality of acetone is its extreme flammability. At temperatures greater than acetone’s flash point of −20 °C (−4 °F), air mixtures of between 2.5% and 12.8% acetone, by volume, may explode or cause a flash fire. Vapors can flow along surfaces to distant ignition sources and flash back. Static discharge may also ignite acetone vapors.

In other words, at four degrees below zero Fahrenheit, acetone begins to produce sufficient vapors to cause a flash fire or explosion whenever the percentage of acetone vapor mixed with air reaches 2.5—not as flammable as gasoline, but a very serious flash fire and expolsion hazard.

“So, what?” you may ask.

Well, the man who performed the parts cleaning with a pail of acetone held a half-burned cigarette between his lips. The ash had grown to about half-an-inch long and seemed ready, at any moment, to drop into the pail of liquid. This man presented an explosion just waiting to happen. And, all around him on the walls of the factory, large red signs proclaimed: “NO SMOKING OR OPEN FLAMES.”

You see, he didn’t want to heed the warning. He wanted to do what he wanted to do. And, he would permit no one to tell him otherwise.

In the Scripture passage at the beginning of this blog post, the Apostle Paul issues warnings to the Christians gathered at the church in Corinth. He calls to their memory some of the history of their distant fathers. He reminds them of how the failure to respond to God in obedience had cost their fathers dearly. He urges them to put off the sinful practices of their past and cling to the newness of life that has come to them in and through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul particularly reminds them in verse 12: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” Don’t presume you’re okay. Don’t think that the warnings do not apply to you. Don’t think that you’ve got it together. For the very moment that you think you have it all figured out, that becomes the moment wherein you have your greatest vulnerability.

We need to cling to obedience. But, we also need to recognize that God enables our obedience by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. So, we can rely on God to help us do the right thing. He will keep us on the straight path. He will lead us and guide into His righteousness in Christ. And, that’s very good news.

Will you pray with me?

Thank You, God, for loving us. Thank You for sending Jesus to be our Savior. Thank You for sending us Your Holy Spirit to dwell within us.

Father, we cling to the truth that You will always help us in our determination to respond to You in obedience. Please strengthen our will and give us the ability to perform each task You send our way with a spirit of loving obedience. Because of all that You have done for us, we want to illustrate our love for You by doing what agrees with Your perfect will for our lives.

We praise You for Your steadfastness in the face of our imperfect attempts to do what You want us to do. And, thank You for hearing our prayer in and through the precious Name of Your Son, our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Copyright © 2012 by Dean K. Wilson. All Rights Reserved.

 

Monday, January 2, 2012

A Quiet Place

 

15 This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says:

    “In repentance and rest is your salvation,
         in quietness and trust is your strength...”

—The words of the God through the Prophet Isaiah from Isaiah 30:15

 

The holidays have come to an end. The hustle and bustle of these days have given way to a sense of quiet. Some may even feel an emptiness because all of the celebration has concluded.

But, maybe that quietness is a good thing. Maybe the quietness gives us a purposeful opportunity.

In the Scripture passage at the beginning of this blog post, the Prophet Isaiah forthtells a message from God. In that message, our Precious Father reminds us that “in quietness and trust is your strength.” Did you ever suppose that your strength might find a root in quietness and trust?

Every person who desires to follow the pathway that God has laid out before him or her needs a time to pause and sit in quiet. For, in that quiet, we can most clearly hear God’s voice.

Let me urge you to find a place of quiet. Before this new year has taken flight, sit in quiet. Allow God to speak to your heart and mind. Open your will to Him.

Nearly forty years ago, Max and Lucy Mace and the Heritage Singers recorded a devotional song that beautifully expresses the kind of peaceful rest we can find in quiet, as we fellowship with our loving Father.

 

 

I hope that in this new year, you will find a place of quiet in which you can recharge. Our busy world takes quite a toll on each of us. We need to rest in quiet in the Presence of our faithful and loving God.

Will you pray with me?

Thank You, God, for loving us. Thank You for sending Jesus to be our Savior. Thank You for sending us Your Holy Spirit to dwell within us.

We ask You to remind us often that we need to get alone in a place of quiet, so that we can more clearly hear Your voice. Please continue to speak to us through Your Word. Teach us how to love you and serve you.

By the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, we ask You to make this year a year of victory over sin and selfishness. Help us to think more about others than we do ourselves. Help us to put You first in all things.

Thank You, dear Father, for Your amazing patience with us. And, thank You for hearing our prayer in and through the precious Name of Your Son, our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Copyright © 2012 by Dean K. Wilson. All Rights Reserved.