Monthly Archives: December 2010

Do NOT smile!

“Stop smiling!”  DMV photographers in Virginia are joining Arkansas, Nevada, and Indiana as states requiring grin-free pictures on residents’ drivers licenses.  Apparently, face-recognition software is thrown off by curled up kissers.  The objective is to curtail fraudulent drivers licenses.  So, by rule, there will be no smiling when the photographer says “cheese.”

Like you, I know a great many people who need no such rule–whether at a DMV or any one of a million other locations.  They are perpetually miserable, and their faces show it.  Incredibly, too many of those I know like this claim to be Christians.  They sport their sour dispositions and spread thunder clouds and downpours wherever they go.  To borrow Paul’s words on more than one occasion, “My brethren, these things ought not so to be.”

“Happiness” is synonymous with “Christianity.”  The Christian’s life is far from problem-, stress-, or trouble-free, but the greatest problem (sin) is solved, the greatest stress (earthly concerns) is benign, and the greatest trouble (death) is surmountable.  People hurt us, betray us, offend us, and undermine us, but we are heaven bound!    We can be happy because “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31).  Isn’t it hard to obey commands like “be thankful” (Col. 3:15), “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4), “rejoice and be exceedingly glad” (Matt. 5:12; Luke’s account says, “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy”–6:23), or similar injunctions with a sour face and a permanent frown?  

Matthew Hite was eight years old when he took his first missionary trip to Tanzania.  While there, he made up a little game he called “Sweet And Sour.”  He would smile at all the pedestrians walking down the road.  If they smiled, he counted it as a “sweet.”  If they scowled or simply failed to smile, he counted it as a “sour.”  Almost everyone of the impoverished people of that nation were “sweets.”  Are you a “sweet” or a “sour”?  If you are a Christian, remember that God has not imposed a “no smile rule” on you.  If anything, He’s done the opposite!

–Neal Pollard

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How well do you *hear*?

          A Native American and his friend were in downtown New York City, walking near Times Square in Manhattan.  It was during the noon lunch hour and the streets were filled with people.  Cars were honking their horns, taxicabs were squealing around corners, sirens were wailing, and the sounds of the city were almost deafening.  Suddenly, the Native American said, “I hear a cricket.”
 
     His friend said, “What?  You must be crazy.  You couldn’t possibly hear a cricket in all of this noise!”
 
     “No, I’m sure of it,” the Native American said, “I heard a cricket.”
 
     “That’s crazy,” said the friend.
 
     The Native American listened carefully for a moment, and then walked across the street to a big cement planter where some shrubs were growing.  He looked into the bushes, beneath the branches, and sure enough, he located a small cricket.  His friend was utterly amazed.
 
     “That’s incredible,” said his friend.  “You must have super-human ears!”
 
     “No,” said the Native American.  “My ears are no different from yours.   It all depends on what you’re listening for.”
 
     “But that can’t be!” said the friend.  “I could never hear a cricket in this noise.”
 
     “Yes, it’s true,” came the reply.  “It depends on what is really important to you.  Here, let me show you.”
 
     He reached into his pocket, pulled out a few coins, and discreetly dropped them on the sidewalk.  And then, with the noise of the crowded street still blaring in their ears, they noticed every head within twenty feet turn and look to see if the money that tinkled on the pavement was theirs.
 
     “See what I mean?” asked the Native American.  “It all depends on what’s important to you.”
 
     What’s important to you?  What do you listen for?  Are there times that you fail to listen to God or see what God is doing in your life because you are focused on other things that are more important to you?
 
     Jesus said, “For the hearts of this people have grown dull.  Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.  But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear.” (Matt. 13:15-16)
 
     Father, we pray at the beginning of this new year — amidst all the distractions of the world all around us, may our ears always be open to your voice, and our eyes open to your glory.  In Jesus’ name, amen.
 
Have a great day!

Alan Smith

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I will let you choose how you are to die

     The court jester was overcome with grief.  His world was at an end!  For a long time he had served the Caliph at Baghdad and his court, keeping them amused whenever they called upon him.  But in a moment of thoughtlessness he had displeased his ruler who had ordered that he be put to death.

     “However,” said the Caliph, “in consideration of the merry jests you’ve told me all these years, I will let you choose how you are to die.”

     “O most generous Caliph,” replied the jester, “if it’s all the same to you, I choose death by old age!”

     I suppose, if given a choice, that’s the choice all of us would make.  Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), though, that choice is not ours to make.  We know (all too well) the fragile nature of life.  And perhaps it is for the best.  If we were guaranteed 90 years on this earth, we would be mighty tempted to wait until the last year or so to get serious about God (just like putting off those term papers in college!).  With a realization of the uncertainty of life, we recognize the need to be prepared at all times.

     “LORD, make me to know my end, and what is the measure of my days, that I may know how frail I am.  Indeed, You have made my days as handbreadths, and my age is as nothing before You; Certainly every man at his best state is but vapor.” (Psa. 39:4-5).

     May you be prepared for the joys that await when this life is over!

Alan Smith

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Giving God less than 100%

 “HERE IS A great eternal truth…

Life cannot be divided into compartments in some of which God is involved and in others of which He is not involved; there cannot be one kind of language in the church and another kind of language in the shipyard or the factory or the office; there cannot be one kind of conduct in the church and another kind of conduct in the business world. The fact is that God does not need to be invited into certain departments of life, and kept out of others. He is everywhere, all through life and in every activity of life. He hears not only the words which are spoken in His name; He hears all words; and there cannot be any such thing as a form of words which evades bringing God into any transaction. We will regard all promises as sacred if we remember that all promises are made in the presence of God.” (William Barclay)

“That you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:10).

–Mike Benson

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Who was in charge of the plane?

It’s Wednesday, August 10, 1994. You are a passenger aboard flight 2033 from Seoul, South Korea to the resort island of Cheju. You and 151 fellow-vacationers are looking forward to a much- needed rest.

The jetliner is only moments from touchdown. You glance out the thick, two-ply window. The plane is scarcely 30 feet off the ground, but it’s obviously moving far too fast. The runway is soaked from a local tropical storm and wind shear is making the landing all-the-more precarious. When the aircraft does reach the earth, it is more than 1,700 meters beyond the landing threshold. A harrowing, split second later the plane crashes through a guard post and then slams into the airport safety barricade. You are terror-stricken.

The two cockpit occupants escape out the nearest window. With the assistance of the six-member cabin crew, you and your seat-mates escape only moments before the plane is engulfed in flames.

A Transportation Ministry investigation reveals the incredible news. The flight was on final approach when a conflict arose between the Captain and co-pilot. That’s right, a conflict! The real reason for the crash wasn’t because of the inclement weather, but because of a clash of wills.

Co-pilot, Chung Chan-kyu, asked Captain Barry Woods numerous times whether he wanted to “go around.” (Chan-kyu was convinced that there was not sufficient distance for the Airbus to land safely without crossing the end of Runway 6). When Woods said, “No,” Chan-kyu grabbed the throttles to take control. The two argued and scuffled as the plane hurtled toward the ground. Transcripts from the flight report that the Captain shouted, “No!” “No!” and “What are you doing?! Don’t… Wait, man… You’re gonna kill us!”

As I read the story, I found myself wondering aloud, “Who was in charge of the plane…?!” Only one of the pilots had the right to land the craft, but neither would relinquish his power.

“Who’s going to be first?” “Who’s going to land the plane?” That sounds a lot like the apostles to me. They fussed over the same fundamental issue. When Jesus announced that He would “be betrayed into the hands of men” (Luke 9:44), the twelve began a verbal “tussle” over who would take charge when he was gone. The text says, “Then an argument arose among them as to who should be greatest” (Luke 9:46, Phillips). (The King James version translates the word argument as “reasoning;” the term in the Greek is dialogismos and refers to a heated debate). As improbable as it may sound, the very men whom Jesus taught and trained often wrangled (Matthew 20:20-28; Mark 9:34; Luke 22:24) for position and status over what they believed would be (Acts 1:6) the future kingdom.

I’ve come to the conclusion that “Who’s going to be first?” is THE underlying issue; it is THE core problem — in most arguments. Folks want power; they want to be first. In a manner of speaking, they want to “grab the throttles” and control the plane themselves. People are strange, aren’t they? They want the front of the bus, the back of the church, and the center of attention. Chan-kyu and Woods did. The apostles did. We do. Think about it, and you will probably agree. Nobody wants to be second in command; nobody wants to play second fiddle. And that is why disagreements arise.

When church members have a “falling-out,” it is usually over power issues and who’s going to be in control. When married partners quarrel, it is often over who is going to be in charge of the checkbook and how money is to be spent. When siblings argue, it is typically over who’s going to be first. “Why is his piece of cake bigger than mine?!” “Why does he get to stay out past midnight, but I have to be in before 11:00?” When nations war and fight, it is typically over which country is going to dominate and rule. When presidential candidates vie for political office, it is always over “who’s going to fly the plane.” Both Democrats and Republicans want to “grab the throttles” and take the lead in our country.

When arguments do occur, I find it helpful to take a step backwards and ask, “What’s happening here?” “Why are people fussing?” You see, once we can determine the actual cause (i.e., pride) of the discord, we then can begin to work on a solution, just as Jesus did. He used a little child to illustrate the real way to “first place” and greatness. The Bible says, “Then a dispute arose among them as to which of them would be greatest. And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a little child and set him by Him, and said to them, ‘Whoever receives this little child in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me. For he who is least among you all will be great'” (Luke 9:46-48 NKJV).

What was Jesus’ point? Simply that if you want to be “high,” you must first — like a child — be “low” (i.e., humble, 1 Peter 5:6). You must manifest a serving nature (John 13:1ff) and lack the personal, selfish ambition (Philippians 2:3,4; Galatians 5:26; Romans 12:10) that is so prevalent among adults. You must imbibe the spirit of Christ (Philippians 2:5-11) and “receive” (i.e., assist) others.

Have you been in argument lately? Are you ready to “grab the throttles?” (Don’t feel too bad, the apostles could relate). Look at a small child…and remember. –Mike Benson

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Children and the Lord's Supper

MOST PARENTS HAVE seen this happen…
 
As the communion tray passes by, our little one stretches to see its contents, then in a stage whisper says: “Mom, can I have some juice too?”  Of course, you could say flat out, “No!” but most parents wisely respond, “Not yet.”

“No you can’t,” and “Not yet” are quite different responses, you know. Sometimes it’s important to wait. Delay is not denial. Waiting for the proper time is not idle waiting, nor is it empty.

Anticipation is the best preparation for the moment of fulfillment.

Of course, our kids could take crackers and juice right with all the other participants, but they would not be partaking of the body and blood of the Lord, and the special nature of this ceremony would be lost on them.

Delayed gratification is not popular in our culture, but there are times when it is important. I remember the first time I took communion. I was twelve years old, and it was the week after I was baptized. What a very special moment that was!

Human beings are always in such a hurry. God, I have noticed, allows for nature to take its course. And it doesn’t hurt for our children to observe baptisms, and the Lord’s Supper, and to begin to form the idea that one day, they, too, will grow to participate in and appreciate these grownup mysteries.  (Stan Mitchell)

“Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:14).  — Mike Benson

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Marriage for *three* instead of *two*

Triad marriages.  If you have not heard of them, you probably will very soon.  This is the idea that a marriage consists of three or more people instead of the traditional two.
 
The arguments that have been used to justify homosexual marriages also justify triad unions.  If homosexuality is justified because “two people have a loving and committed relationship” (and this is a common argument), a triad marriage can be justified if “three people have a loving and committed relationship.”  If marriage is simply a state “for those who love each other” (another argument to justify homosexual unions), then logic and consistency say a marriage can involve 2, 3, 4 or more people who all “love each other.” 
 
Homosexuality has frequently been justified on the basis of discrimination.  If it is wrong to “discriminate” against two homosexual men or two lesbians, why is it right to “discriminate” against three men or three women who want to marry each another?  Why give two homosexual men the right to marry but deny this same right to three men?  If a man can support two wives, or two other men, will the world judge him as a wrongdoer?  If so, what is the basis for the condemnation?
 
Will our society continue to say that we cannot “discriminate” on things such as race and religion, but we can discriminate when it comes to the number of spouses we have?  If our laws do not limit the number of divorces a person may file for, what gives it the right to regulate a person’s number of marriage partners?  If it would be wrong for our government to limit the number of children a family can have, why is it right to limit the number of spouses one can have? 
 
Triad marriages were a predicated consequence a long time ago and they should come as no surprise to us.  Lest we think marriages with multiple partners is an idea “way out in left field,” think about where the United States used to be and where it is now.  The Ward and Jude Cleaver days are long gone.  Readers might be interested in doing a little reading on the world poly amory association — http://www.worldpolyamoryassociation.org/about.html.  This is a group that supports multiple partners and here is a short quote from them:
 
“Polyamory (loving many) is a high art form and a profound spiritual path which encourages honesty, authentic relating, conscious connections, kind communication and unconditional love. Relating polyamorously frees all of us, awakens the world and propels the planet towards peace.”
 
Too many Christians have been too quiet for too long about the distortions to God’s plan for marriage.  Triad marriages can be an effective tool to show people that the rejection of God’s plan for marriage does not result in love, freedom and toleration.  Rejecting what the world labels as “traditional marriage” leads to chaos and moral decay.
 
  Know what God’s plan for marriage is (Mt. 19:5-9) and kindly and lovingly convey that to a very confused world.

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