Just How Big Of A Boy Are You? A Tug-Of-War Will Often Demonstrate The Answer.

When I was growing up, the eighth-grade students from our local school annually competed against students from the other schools in our district in track and field events. The contest was held at the county fair. It was an honor to be chosen to represent your school in at least one event.

The year I was eligible to participate, our coach held the trials on a day when I was not at school. On my return, I was disappointed to hear that the team members had been chosen, and that I had not gotten the opportunity to compete for a spot in one of the events.  I knew that I was too slow to race, that I couldn’t throw a softball far enough, or that I couldn’t jump with enough distance to earn a position on one of those teams. But I did believe that I stood a chance of earning a spot on the tug-of-war team. (Never mind the fact that I was one of the smallest kids in the class; standing about 4’ 11” and weighing about 95 lbs. In my mind, I was just as big and strong as any of the other boys in the class.)

Our teacher agreed to allow me to try out for the tug-of-war team by competing one-on-one against the smallest boy on the squad. He gave me three different chances to prove my assertion that I deserved to be on the team. Each time, my opponent dragged me all over the field on which we were competing.

It turned out, I wasn’t as big or strong as I thought.

We often believe that we are just as big and strong as Satan.  We believe that we can defeat him in one-on-one competitions. But so many times, as we hold on tightly to the temptations he has thrown out to us, we find ourselves being dragged around as if we are nothing.  We find that we aren’t nearly as big and strong as we thought we were. The thing which we believed we could control ends up controlling us.

The good news is that we can turn loose of many of the temptations which Satan throws at us.  The better news is that when we find ourselves so intensely involved in a fight against Satan that we can’t turn loose, Jesus is available to be our anchor man.

Jesus will not let us lose the battle.

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29) ESV

“10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” (Ephesians 6:10-18a) ESV

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Treasuring Stuff Will Keep Us From Receiving Authentic Treasures.

A couple of days ago, our granddaughter, Evvy, and I climbed into a hay loft.  The loft is no longer used for storing hay, but it contains lots of “stuff.”  Evvy likes to play with the stuff.

While she was playing, I searched for something I thought she would be excited to find; a litter of kittens which I knew was hidden amongst the stuff.  Evvy loves cats. I located the litter, and asked Evvy to allow me to pick her up so that I could show her something special.

But she refused.

She continued playing with her trinkets and toys, pulling them here, placing them there.  The whole time, she walked and moved within a few inches of the neat surprise. But she never saw the kittens, and never knew that they were within her grasp.

To this day, she still does not know what she missed because she refused to let me pick her up, and because she was too enthralled with what she could see rather than what I offered to let her see.

Spiritually, we often react the same way to the blessings God wants to bestow upon us.  He offers to lift us to a higher level of spirituality.  He offers to help us to experience spiritual excitement and joy which we have never felt.

But we refuse.

We are content to play with “stuff”, the physical things that around us.  The things that we can see.  The things with which we are familiar. The things that we can manipulate and maneuver without the help of another. The things that bring us immediate pleasure and excitement.

The whole time we are on this earth, many of us walk and live within inches of spiritual joy, comfort, excitement, and pleasure.  But we leave this world never experiencing them, or even knowing that they existed. And worse yet, we leave this world unprepared for the joys of heaven.

All because we refused God’s request to allow him to pick us up.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21) ESV

“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” (1 Timothy 6:17-18) ESV

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By Helping Others, We Help Ourselves

Being afforded the opportunity to help Evvy, our 25-months-old granddaughter, learn new abilities provides some of the most treasured highlights of the time we spend together. I especially like intellectually challenging her.  I love to hear her speak new words for the first time, and to correctly use them in sentences. I love being surprised with her imagination and ingenuity.  I especially enjoy hearing her correctly express abstracts as she tells me how she feels. “That car scared me.” “I’m cold.” “I’m sleepy.” “I love you.”

But I also like helping our granddaughter develop motor skills.  Several months ago, she learned to climb a ladder up to a barn hayloft which lies about 8 feet above the ground.  I always climb behind her for protection, and have always set her off the ladder onto the loft.  Today, she learned to dismount the ladder unaided.

Stair steps have been another issue.  For some time, our granddaughter has been able to both climb and descend steps, but only by holding onto a rail on one side, and my hand on the other. Today, she decided she would both ascend and descend a set of steps by herself.  She did not need Pa’s helping hand. She simply needed the railing to brace herself.  After about 15 trips up and down the steps, she could steadily go up them, but was very shaky in walking down. She had to turn sideways and hold to the railing with both hands.

At one point, Evvy decided she needed her baby to play on the steps with her.  I offered to hold the baby, but she insisted that she must carry her. To my surprise, Evvy steadily and confidently walked down the steps unaided.  The baby provided the balance she needed to accomplish her goal.

Everyone faces challenges and trials in life. Many times, we want to try to work our way through these episodes by ourselves. So, we shakily navigate the pathway unaided by a stronger hand, and unaccompanied by a friend or brother.

Then one day, we find someone else who is struggling with the same issue.  He or she may be struggling even more than we are. So, we begin to try to help him. In helping him, we find the support we need to navigate our own troubled pathway. In carrying him, we find the confidence we need to carry our own load. In turning outward to assist another, we overcome the fear which has been overflowing from within.

Sometimes, coming to the aid of another forces us to more confidently deal with ourselves.  When we are responsible for another, failure is not an option.

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

“So, then as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:10)

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Farmers And Disciples Of Christ Are Provided Daily Opportunities To Use Their Classroom Knowledge

A student asks a school teacher concerning the subject matter she is trying to teach him, “When and how am I ever going to use this?”

“Field trip to the farm!” the teacher proclaims.

On the farm, the student learns that basic math, algebra, geometry, chemistry, biology, physical science, English, and finance are used every day.

Basic math, algebra, and geometry are used to calculate the amount of seed needed to plant a crop, and the size barn or grain bin needed to store the crop or house the cattle. Chemistry is used to determine the type and amount of fertilizer needed to nourish the crop. Biology is used in improving the genetics of the herd, as well as calculating the best feed ration for the cows. Physical science is used in determining sufficient tractor horsepower, and in installing electrical wiring to power the operation. English communication and finance are used to sell a loan officer on the farmer’s financial plans for the future of the operation.

The family farm is swiftly giving way to mega farming operations, but the basic knowledge needed to insure a farm’s success will always involve these areas of study.

We sit in our Bible classes and worship and ask, “When and how am I ever going to use this?”

God answers, “Field trip!”

As you’re getting out of your truck in the Center of nowhere to enter the church building for another Wednesday night Bible study, out of the darkness a frightened, sobbing, feminine voice meekly asks, “Mister, do you have a cell phone I can borrow? My boyfriend promised he’d take me home, but he kicked me out of the car. I don’t have a clue where I’m at. Can you tell me? . . .”

And the Teacher whispers, “This is what I have been training you for.”

“And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:35-37) ESV

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Church Parking Lot Etiquette. Does It Affect The View Of The Church In The Eyes Of Those Who Are Not Members?

Several cars dotted the parking lot at the church building when I pulled into it. Most were parked near the fellowship building where the ladies’ Bible class was being held.  But there was one car which was sitting off to itself, parallel to the street, and very near the door of the main building which I planned to enter.  It was clear that the occupant of this car did not plan to participate in the class, and that she had conveniently pulled into the parking lot to get out of the line of traffic.

Usually, when I notice a stranger parked in the lot, I will ask them if they need help, or if they are wanting to talk with someone from the church.  The occupant of this car was speaking on her phone, so I continued past her and entered the building. Just before shutting the door, I turned to give her a southern-style wave of acknowledgement. She had ended her call and was wiping tears.

Not knowing exactly how to handle the situation, I started back out the door to see if I could help, but she put the car in gear, and headed down the street.

As she left, I couldn’t help but wonder if my arrival and actions had prompted her abruptness in ending the phone call and driving away.  Did she think she was interrupting or obstructing some church event? Did she think that I considered her a trespasser? Did she think I wanted her to leave, and that I was returning to ask her to do so?

I hope not.

And I think probably not. Probably, she had come to a stopping place in the conversation, and she needed to deal with the emotional news (whatever it was) on her own. I’m also confident that she would have been reluctant to share it with a male stranger.

But the experience did make me wonder about how outsiders view the church when they encounter its members.

Do we give them the impression that they are an obstacle parked in the way of our carrying out our daily mission, or do we give them the impression that being available to offer them support is our mission?

Do we give them the impression that we feel that they are trespassing on private, “holy” ground, or do we give them the impression that we fervently desire to help them come into the presence of the only one who can make anything holy?

Do we give them the impression that we had rather they leave us alone, or do they feel welcomed, accepted, supported, and loved in our presence?

May we, as Jesus’ representatives to the world, always exhibit the same loving concern for others as he exhibited.  May the world be drawn to Jesus because they have met us, and not in spite of the fact that they have encountered us.

“The people held them in high esteem, and more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.” (Acts 5:13b, 14) ESV

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Who’ll Give $2.95 For This Dozen Eggs? Not I. That’s Too High. But I Will Give $3.99.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a chain store to purchase some basic foods; milk, eggs, bread, etc. I chose the store because it was convenient and I thought the items would be reasonably priced.

The price label revealed the milk to be about $1.50 higher than I could get it at a large retail store about 10 miles away, but that wasn’t enough variation to warrant traveling the extra miles.

The eggs did not have a price sticker. I grabbed 2 dozen and took my selections to the cashier. It turns out that the eggs were $2.95/dozen.  Sarah and I both thought that price was a little high.  It turns out I could have gotten 18 eggs for about $1.25 at the large retail store.

I’m not a cheapskate, but the extra money I spent that day broke my heart.

Today, I went to another small community to buy the same basic food items.  This time, I thought I would try a third regional grocery chain, hoping their prices would be more comparable to the big chain store.

The milk was about $2.00 higher than the chain store’s.  I gritted my teeth and placed it in the cart.  The eggs were priced $3.25 per dozen.  I just couldn’t pay that price, so I bought the milk and some yogurt for our granddaughter, thinking that I could stop to get the eggs for $2.95 at the other store.

I couldn’t. They were $3.45 there. So, I left without them.

I grumbled, and argued with myself about being so cheap.  About halfway home, I stopped at a Mom-and-Pop store. I paid $3.99 for the dozen eggs.

But, I feel good about the purchase, because I know firsthand how expensive farming can be, and the current struggle of all farmers. I helped one of my own make a little money on his produce. And I helped a small local business make a little profit as well.

Spiritually, when it comes to where we worship and the body of teaching we accept, we often approach our decision the same way that I approached this type of shopping.  We want the basics, but we want them offered to us as conveniently and as cheaply as we can find them. We don’t want to invest much, nor do we want to sacrifice much.

Yes, we know the cost of salvation.  It was Jesus’ life-blood. We want the benefit of his sacrifice, without having to sacrifice anything of our own.

If this is our outlook concerning becoming a disciple of Christ and living the christian life, then we have missed the point.  What we are looking for is a cheap knockoff of the gospel truth.

If this is our outlook concerning becoming a disciple of Christ and living the christian life, may we meditate upon the following passages:

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.  By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24) ESV

“You were bought with a price. So, glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:20) ESV

“Who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:14) ESV

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Alone At Last! The Best Part Of A Christian’s Alone Time Is Realizing That She Is Not Really Alone.

About every day for the past several months, our toddling granddaughter has taken a break from her playing by either crawling underneath the dining table or hiding behind a piece of furniture.  When one of us peeks at her to check on her, she will wave and bid us, “Bye. Bye.” There was a time when this meant that she was exercising full use of her diaper. But now, it simply means she wants to be alone for a while. The above photo is an example of this. It was taken at her birthday party. After receiving some chocolate candy, she “hid” beneath the table to eat it in solitude while the party continued without her.

Most all of us need alone time; even the energetic extraverts who thrive among us. Many of us have a special place or two into which we quietly retreat so that we can refocus and recharge.  Our special place(s) may be our bedroom, a sudsy tub of water, a rocking chair, a porch swing, a turkey blind, or a secluded trail through a woodland.

When we are in “our own little corner, in our own little chair” (throwback to Roger’s and Hammerstein’s, Cinderella), we do not have to worry about the world crashing in on us.  Although we know it is not true, in that place, it feels as if we are completely safe and protected from all the evil and stressful situations with which the world bombards us.

In our minds, for those few moments, we are alone. We are safe. We are in control.

But a christian realizes that she is not alone. She realizes that seated or walking beside her is a powerful friend with which she can share her fears, her concerns, and her stressful anxieties. She is free to be herself without fear of rejection. With this friend, even the shyest introvert can openly express every thought and every care which burdens her heart.

Jesus’ presence transforms our time in that special place into some of the sweetest and dearest fellowship we will ever experience.

A song written by Cleland B. McAfee (Near to the Heart of God) best describes this time with Jesus and the Father:

There is a place of quiet rest,

Near to the heart of God;

A place where sin cannot molest,

Near to the heart of God.

There is a place of comfort sweet,

Near to the heart of God;

A place where we our Savior meet,

Near to the heart of God.

There is a place of full release,

Near to the heart of God;

A place where all is joy and peace,

Near to the heart of God.

Chorus:

O Jesus, blest Redeemer,

Sent from the heart of God;

Hold us who wait before Thee,

Near to the heart of God.

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)

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