Friday, March 16, 2007


"An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered; an adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered." -G.K. Chesterton

How many adventures have you missed lately? I'm sure I've missed a few. I'm always growing impatient when things don't go my way. What about you? Perhaps we all need to change our outlook and consider rightly the inconveniences God sends our way.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

A sure hope...

In our home, resting quietly on my wife’s dresser, is a very important document – a signed copy of her contract with the school district to teach Kindergarten next year. For weeks before she received this paper, Susan was on pins and needles, not sure the job would ever be hers. During that time of uncertainty, she made a comment to me. I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

She said, “It’s awful to hope and yet be unsure that what you want will ever be yours.” I’m not quoting her exactly, but it was something close to that. She then talked about the many religious people in this world who live with that kind of unsure hope. Muslims who look to the Koran find no sure hope. They can’t know until after death whether all their good works and rule following will convince Allah to grant them a home in paradise. Hindus and Buddhists find the same ambiguity in their founders’ teachings. They are unsure, even if they are devout, that they will reach the state of Nirvana when they die. They may be reincarnated again a dozen times – maybe a hundred times for all they know – before they escape life’s recycling process.

Friends, only believers in Jesus Christ have a sure hope, like the kind my wife has now looking at her signed contract. Susan is not the Kindergarten teacher yet, but she will be. She’s sure of it. We aren’t in heaven yet, but we will be. We can be sure of it. God has promised it to all who believe.

April’s celebrations of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are all about the sure hope we have. Rejoice in God’s goodness. Sin has been dealt with. Eternal life is available.

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Thursday, March 8, 2007


I’m going to step out on a limb and assume that all of you believe that people are capable of hardening their hearts toward God. Am I right? You know in your knower, don’t you, that folks are able to rebel against their Maker. You know it in part, because you sense in your own heart a tendency to throw off divine constraint.

Only constant vigilance and God’s help keeps me from wandering off into a life of sin. And quite frankly, I’m pretty sure it’s 99% God’s help that keeps me from wickedness. My vigilance is only as good as the power behind it, the Holy Spirit within me. So maybe – no, make that probably – no, make that definitely, it’s 100% God’s doing. I am only able to live a godly life, a life that brings glory to God, because of his mercy.

You understand what I’m saying don’t you? You know it to be true of yourself? But for the grace of God, you’d be a mess. We’re all in the same boat...the same sinking boat.

So, you agree with me, right? People are most definitely capable of hardening their hearts against God.

Now, I don’t know what to assume on my next point. I’m guessing we’ll have less consensus. Many have never considered this point of doctrine and rebel against it the first time they hear it. They just don’t like the feel of it. Others knock it because they think it does away with man’s free will. They want to be more in charge of their destiny. A few actually agree with it and can’t understand why others don’t. They sometimes judge others as spiritually ignorant.

Curious, aren't you? I’m going to make you wait. I’ll ask the question after we've taken a look at a story from the Old Testament.

Pharaoh, king of Egypt, was a stubborn man. You can see it from the moment Moses and Aaron arrive in his throne room with God’s message. "This is what the Lord, the God of Israel says: ‘Let my people go...’"

The king sniffs his disdain. "Who is the Lord, that I should obey him? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go."

Immediately following this first encounter, Pharaoh makes his slaves’ labor harder, ordering them to get their own straw for brick-making while demanding the same quota. When the foremen complain, the king is unbending. "Lazy, that’s what you are – lazy!" he says. "Now get to work!"

Moses is not the most popular fellow after this. All he’s done in coming back to Egypt is stir up trouble. The people are not happy. But God has a plan. He is concerned for his people. He remembers his promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is ready to release their descendants from bondage and give them the land he had promised.

God is always faithful to his word. Never forget that. Always faithful.

So Moses and Aaron go back to the king. Aaron throws down his staff and it becomes a snake. Pretty impressive. But the magicians in Pharaoh’s court do the same thing by their secret arts. They throw down their staffs. Snakes everywhere! Aaron’s snake swallows up all the rest. But Pharaoh’s heart hardens – he won’t listen to God.

See? Just as we all thought. People can harden their hearts.

The next morning, Moses and Aaron meet the king on the banks of the Nile. "Let my people go," they shout, giving the ruler a piece of God’s mind. Then they strike the river and it turns to blood. The people can't find clean water to drink. The fish in the water die. The whole country stinks.

I don’t know how, but the Egyptian magicians come through again. They duplicate this plague. The king’s heart hardens more.

A week later, God sends his two-some to the king again. "Let my people go!" His command has not changed. He is not in the least fickle. "If you refuse," God warns, "I will fill your land with frogs. They’ll inundate your palace. They’ll jump on your bed. The whole place will be hopping."
Okay, that was a bit of a paraphrase, but you get the idea. I can see the king smiling a "do-your-worst" grin. He has no intention of giving in. His heart is granite.

So Aaron stretches out his hand over the land and the amphibious assault begins. (I’ll wait while you get the joke.)

Crazy thing. The Egyptians duplicate this one, too, compounding the problem. There are already too many frogs and they conjure up more. Makes me laugh every time I read it.

So there are frogs everywhere. Pharaoh is tired of them. He calls Moses and Aaron. "Pray to the Lord," he pleads. "Tell him to take away the frogs. I’ll let your people go."

Moses and Aaron pray. The frogs all die. The people pile them in heaps. The land reeks again. So does Pharaoh’s attitude. It changes. He gets the relief he wants and he hardens his heart. There’s a pattern here. You’re catching it right?

Gnats are next. Aaron strikes the ground with his staff and the dust everywhere in the land turns into the pesky pests. The Egyptian magicians meet their match on this one. They can't make more gnats appear. They warn Pharaoh, "This is the finger of God," but he refuses to listen.

Why won't he listen? You know why. Pharaoh’s heart is hard.

The Lord sends flies on the land. Swarms of flies pour into the king’s palace and into the homes of his officials. The land is ruined by them. But not one fly buzzes in Goshen, the land where Israel lives. God is showing his power.

Pharaoh calls Moses and Aaron in again. "Go," he says. "Sacrifice to the Lord here in the land."
"Won’t work," the brothers say.

"Okay," Pharaoh responds, "go to the desert. Just pray for me."

Who wants to guess what happens next? Moses and Aaron call on God. The flies leave. Not one fly remains. Pharaoh hardens his heart.

God’s call comes to the man again. "Let my people go so that they may worship me. If you refuse, your livestock are history. All your horses and donkeys and camels and cattle and sheep and goats are going to die."

It happens just as the Lord warned. And again, God makes a distinction between the people of Egypt and his chosen ones. Not one cow dies in Israel’s corrals. Not one sheep. Not one goat. Not a single animal.

Pharaoh gets the report, but his heart is unyielding.

Let’s stop for a second. We’re five plagues in. Blood. Frogs. Gnats. Flies. Livestock. Pharaoh continually hardens his heart. Take a look at these verses from Exodus 7, 8 and 9 – 7:22, 8:15, 8:19, 8:32 and 9:7. I've hinted at all these before, but I want you to see them word-for-word before we go on to plague six. Take a moment to read what God’s word says.

Let’s get back to the story. I’m going to give this one to you just as the Bible has it.

"Then the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Take handfuls of soot from a furnace and have Moses toss it into the air in the presence of Pharaoh. It will become fine dust over the whole land of Egypt, and festering boils will break out on men and animals throughout the land.’

"So they took soot from a furnace and stood before Pharaoh. Moses tossed it into the air, and festering boils broke out on men and animals. The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils that were on them and on all the Egyptians.

"But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said to Moses." (Exodus 9:8-12, NIV)

Did you catch the difference here? Every other time Pharaoh hardened his heart toward God. It says it time and time again. You just read the verses.

Now it says, and I quote, "...the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart..."

That, my friends, is a frightening statement. It startles me. What about you?

We’re about ready for my second question now, but let me read a few more verses. God sends hail on the land. It beats down all the plants. Strips the trees of their leaves. 9:34, "When Pharaoh saw that the rain and hail and thunder had stopped, he sinned again: he and his officials hardened their hearts." That’s the last time you’re going to see that phrase. God sends locusts. They devour what little vegetation the hail left. 10:20, "But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go." God turns out the lights. Darkness that can be felt falls on all the land of Egypt. 10:27, "But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he was not willing to let them go." One more verse, though there are more. As God predicts the plague of the firstborn males, the Bible says this. 11:10, "Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh, but the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go out of his country."

Now we’re ready for my second question. You remember the first? Are people capable of hardening their hearts toward God? We all agreed on that one. Yes, they can.

Now let me ask you this: Is God capable of hardening the hearts of men toward himself? If you've been awake as you've read for the past six or seven minutes, you know the answer to that one. Dare I say it? God can and does harden the hearts of men toward himself.

That’s tough to stomach, isn't it? It disturbs me. Except for my complete devotion to God and his word, I’d be tempted to ignore this awful truth, bury it. I don’t want to know that God has that kind of power. I want to maintain my belief that I’m in control. "Free will!" I scream. "What about free will? I’m not just a puppet!"

That’s actually true. I can say, "God can harden men’s hearts," and, "Man has free will," in the same breath.

Pharaoh exercised his free will. Five times God called him to obedience. Five times Pharaoh chose to ignore God.

Do not accuse God of capriciousness. He is anything but inconsistent. "He is patient with you," 1 Peter 3:9 says, "not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."

Pharaoh benefited from God’s mercy for a time. God was patient with him. Only after he refused his command repeatedly did God step in and harden the man’s heart.

Now, let’s talk personal application. You and I have the same free will Pharaoh did. When God gives you a command, you have a choice. You can obey or not obey. You can listen or not listen. You can soften your heart or harden it. So, listen to me. If God has told you to do something, do not refuse him. Listen and obey. Keep your heart soft toward God. This will ward off his awful hardening. If you do not harden your heart, he will not harden it for you. He will instead, show mercy.

This applies to the matter of salvation and to every other matter of obedience following it. If you believe, you will find mercy and forgiveness. If you refuse to believe, you will find hardness of heart. You will be condemned. If you choose to obey God, you will find mercy and help. If you refuse to obey, you will find hardness of heart. You will be condemned.

How is your heart? Is it soft toward God? Are you listening to his voice? How quick are you to obey?

And then there’s this further application. Let’s say you see someone with a hard heart toward God. A friend who expresses hatred toward God and will not believe. An acquaintance whose pattern of sin is obvious.

Can you tell whether they’re the ones doing the hardening? Can you tell when God has taken over? You can’t, can you?

So here’s what you do when you see hardness overtaking a friend. Pray for them! Pray for them like there’s no tomorrow. Pray that God would have mercy on them. Pray that God would give them the strength and will to soften their heart toward him.

Can you do that? Can you keep praying until God says stop? Until you’re sure it’s God’s hardening work in their heart?

Friends, listen to me. God is merciful. He will not condemn those who believe on Jesus. "Whoever believes in him is not condemned..." (John 3:18a, NIV)

But God is just also. He will condemn those who refuse him. "...whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son." (John 3:18b, NIV)

Romans 9:18 says, "God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden."

That’s true in God’s relationship with you. So repent. Allow him to choose mercy toward you. It’s true of God’s relationship with all those you know and love. So pray. Ask him to choose mercy toward your friends.

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Sunday, March 4, 2007

Out on a limb...

I'm going to go out on a limb and tell you an old family joke. My brother made it up when he was in high school...I think. It's scary!

Joe: Why did the monkey fall out of the tree?
Moe: I don't know.
Joe: Because he was dead.

I warned you. It's amazing how hard people will laugh at this very weird joke. It's an especially good laugh-getter with junior highers. Try it out, then make up your own "tree" jokes like these my kids and I made up this afternoon.

Joe: Why did the cow fall out of the tree?
Moe: I don't know.
Joe: Because his anti-gravity boots quit working.

Joe: Why did the gorilla fall out of the tree?
Moe: I don't know.
Joe: Because someone threw a nut at him.

Joe: Why did the elephant fall out of the tree?
Moe: I don't know.
Joe: Because the branch he was sitting on broke.

Joe: Why did the parrot fall out of the tree?
Moe: I don't know.
Joe: I don't either.

Friday, March 2, 2007

How far for married folks...

"You shall not commit adultery." (Exodus 20:14, NIV)

Several years ago, I learned of a church that was nearly torn apart because the pastor encouraged opposite sex prayer partnerships. Several illicit affairs started from this crazy practice. Intense prayer is way too intimate a practice for people of the opposite sex to share privately, one-on-one.

Married folks, God’s instructions to you are plain and simple.

1 Corinthians 6:18, "Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body." (NIV)

And Ephesians 5:3, "But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality..." (NIV)

The writer of Hebrews in Hebrews 13:4 agrees: "Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer..." (NIV)

God’s standard for all of us is not even a hint of infidelity. You don’t go out to dinner alone with a member of the opposite sex who’s not your spouse. You don’t privately share intimate details of your life with a member of the opposite sex who’s not your spouse. You keep your touch of others to a minimum and all of it appropriate and above board.

You worked hard to stay pure before marriage. Work just as hard to stay pure now. Till death do you part, not even a hint of adultery.

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Thursday, March 1, 2007

Night of the Living Doldrums

Night of the Living Celery is not coming together very quickly. I haven't had the time or energy to write anything since Night of the Living Oops was posted over a week ago. I will finish the story sometime. I'm sure inspiration will hit me soon. Sorry for the delay. Writing a fictional story that holds together is harder than I thought. More fun too, though.

Why am I telling you all this? I like to imagine there are thousands of people out there dying for this tale of vegetable mayhem to begin. I have a vivid it wishful thinking if you like. There are at least two people waiting...though if I don't get things together soon, even they might forget.

How far...

This was a friend's response to How far is too far?

Oh, that question really brings back memories of 58 years ago in 1949.

When Janet and I were first dating we rode the bus to a YFC meeting at the YMCA in downtown Wichita. On checking the return bus schedule we would have to wait a 1/2 hour or so. So we decided to walk home to our residences on University Street.

As we crossed the Arkansas River bridge on Douglas, I slowly searched for her hand to hold and it kept moving away, so I asked, "OK, what's the deal?" She responded, "My three roommates and I decided holding hands was where intimacy started so we decided to not hold hands until we had found the one we wanted to marry. I told her that was all right with me.

Months later, my feelings for her were very strong and we rode to Northend Friends on North Waco with a friend. After everyone got out of the car I told her that I was in love with her and that she could think about it and let me know how she felt later. After church our friend told us he had a ride and we could have the car. We drove up to Riverside Park and found a nice isolated place and parked. Janet told me that she felt she loved me as well. I then I asked if I could hold her hand and she responded, "Oh, I guess so."

A few months later there was to be a pastors conference at Janet's roommate's church, Cherokee Friends, and my roommate was dating her. They decided to go visit and wondered if Janet and I would like to go with them and stay at her folks' place. It was a fun trip and as we returned and turned west on University from Seneca toward Friends University I asked her if I could kiss her. She agreed. Wow, that first kiss!

From there our relationship got real serious. I told her about God's calling on my life. I had felt that someday I might be called to mission work and asked her if she would be willing to go any where I might be called. She agreed so I gave her the ring I'd purchased.

Wow, that changed the intensity of our relationship and the temptations to be more intimate were really strong. Since we lived around the corner from each other in private homes and always ended up coming down University together after the library closed, it was hard to pull away and part. So we asked Delbert Vaughn if he would marry us. I think he was concerned that our relationship might get out of hand! He arranged for the wedding at his sister's on North Green St. His wife baked the cake. I tried to pay him but since we were the first couple he married he gave me $5!

That was 57 years ago January 28th. Our rules of never going to bed with a difference unsettled and touching each other (lovingly, of course!) at least 8 times a day has continued till this day and we have enjoyed a special intimacy all these years.

Oh, if the kids today could only grasp the special blessing of waiting to be intimate until they have made a lifetime commitment. Oh, the temptation is powerful, I know! It is so important to really get to know someone before letting the physical carry you away.

Guest Blogger, Lyle

People think I'm crazy...

Some folks think I'm off my rocker! I tend to agree with them. After all, if I was always in my rocker, I wouldn't get any cycling in. Crazy!

I went riding today. That means nothing to you unless I tell you this: the average wind speed is, as of this moment, 20mph. Riding over to Danville was a pain. I could hardly push the cranks on my bike at times and a couple of times I was pushed out into the road. I think the first time must've been when the day's peak wind gust of 43mph hit. Thankfully no cattle trucks were coming by either time.

So I crept along this afternoon at 11.5mph for 39 minutes and then turned and, riding back, covered the same distance back in 21 minutes. My ending average was a very average 15.0mph. Nothing to write home about. Nothing to bore you with any more.


Cranky artist...

I was playing around with pictures of a front crank and rear cassette from a bike and came up with some pretty cool artwork…if I do say so myself. Check out the Cranky Artist page I put together last night.

How far is too far?

When I was in high school in the early 80s, one of the favorite questions kids in our youth group had for the leaders when it came to the topic of sex was, "How far can I go?" A natural question for teens whose hormones are raging, I’ll admit, but a crazy question nonetheless. At least for Christian teens it is.

Asking "How far can I go?" is like asking your Home Ec teacher in the kitchen, "How close to the burner should I put my hand? An inch? A half-inch? Can I touch it? For how long?" Crazy talk.

Now, I don’t remember how our youth leaders answered those "how-far" questions way back when, but I have an answer for those who are single today. Take a look at Ephesians 5:3. "But among you among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people." (NIV)

Based on that verse, here’s my answer to any single, young or older, who’s dating: Do not take any action in public or in private that would even hint at sin. Don’t sit in the high school parking lot steaming up the windows of your daddy’s car. Don’t invite your girlfriend into your home when your parents are away. Don’t wear provocative clothing that suggests you’re open to going as far as the law allows. Don’t go on a 7-day, 6-night Caribbean cruise with your fiancĂ©.

The right question for those who are trying to follow Jesus is not "How far can I go?" That’s a sin-oriented question. The right question for the believer is "How can I keep myself pure for my future spouse?" That’s a God-honoring question.

Do you want to sin or do you want to remain pure? Let your questions reflect your deepest desire. "May God be glorified in me!"

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