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Monday, March 26, 2012

The Stones Cry Out

When Jesus entered his final week, he approached Jerusalem to a chorus of praise. Men, women and children spread palm branches across his path and lifted their voices, singing, “Blessed is the One who comes, the King in the name of the Lord, Peace in Heaven and Glory in the Highest.”

But some of those who were present were skeptical. The Pharisees among them spoke to Jesus addressing him as “Teacher,” imploring him to rebuke his followers. Such praise and adoration, they contended was blasphemous. Jesus’ response was clear. “If these remain silent,” he said, “the very stones will cry out.”

All of creation praises Him. If we open our eyes we will see it. If we listen we will hear it. The early morning mist rising from the lake, the ocean wave crashing upon the rocks, the butterfly flying from its cocoon, the bird building its nest, the rain gently soaking into the soil, the seed sprouting its green stem, the leaves bursting from bare limbs, flowers exploding upon the hills, waves rolling on the endless ocean, thunder in the dark clouds that gather on the horizon, the cosmic galaxies extending beyond human comprehension, billions of stars and planets unknown to the human mind. All of creation is a cathedral of praise.

We add our voices, amplified and accompanied with guitars, drums, organs and pianos. We lift our choruses and sing the compositions of the masters in an attempt to join with what God has already established. And when we do, we feel the exhilaration. Something in our nature affirms that this is right. This is who we are. We are made in his image and he desires our praise just as he inhabits the praise of everything He has made.

David wrote in the Psalms, “Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it. Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; let them sing before the Lord.” (Ps. 98:7-9). “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it. Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy. Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes.” (Ps. 96:11-13). Isaiah wrote, “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands” (Isa. 55:12).

The stones will cry out!

Monday, March 19, 2012


It is not the well thought out words that give us trouble, words that we wrestle with before writing them down, words that we edit a dozen times before finally putting it in print. The words that trouble us and cause our difficulty are the careless words, the thoughtless words, the words that escape our lips without thinking. These words cannot be called back. Unlike escaped animals from the cage, they cannot be hunted down and returned to captivity.

Sometimes the careless words run rampant causing unknown damage without our knowledge. We don’t even remember what we said, or when we said it. But the damage is done nonetheless.

We try to bury our careless words beneath repeated apologies. “I’m sorry.” Or “I didn’t mean it.” Sometimes we are forgiven. Sometimes others claim to overlook them. But they are rarely forgotten. They lodge in the memory and cast a shadow on everything else.

Jesus said, “I tell you that men will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken.” (Matt. 12:36) Jesus was apparently referring to our final judgment before God. Ultimately, when we stand before Him we will be required to give account for every careless word. But, perhaps he had something else in mind. Perhaps He was drawing our attention to the reality of human relations. Careless words destroy relationships.

We have seen prominent careers come to an abrupt end due to careless words spoke in the public arena. Like the classic movie, A Face In the Crowd, few are able to overcome racial slurs and arrogant expletives caught on an open microphone. But more damaging to us all are the careless words spoken in the privacy of our homes each and every day. Careless words chip away at relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children leaving families fractured and psyches shattered. On the other hand, an encouraging word, the right word spoken at the right time, can make an enormous difference. The opposite of careless words is not careful words - words that are guarded and self-serving, bur caring words - words that are spoken in the interest of others.

Nothing is more important than learning the discipline of our speech. James compared the tongue to the small rudder that turns a huge ship, or the bit placed in the mouths of horses, able to harness their strength. Careless words, he said, are like sparks that ignite an uncontrollable fire that consumes everything in its path. “If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.” (James 3:2).

Monday, March 12, 2012

When God Seems Far Away

When we experience God’s nearness we feel his forgiveness, acceptance, comfort and peace. Our hearts are filled with joy and songs of praise for His goodness and beauty. But what about the times when God seems far away?

King David sometimes felt this way. Repeatedly he asked, “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me?” (Ps 42:5, 11; 42:5). “O Lord, why do you reject my soul? Why do you hide your face from me?” (Ps 88:14). After confronting the prophets of Baal, “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life … he went a day’s journey into the wilderness … and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, Lord,’ he said. ‘Take my life, I am no better than my ancestors.’” (1 Kings 19:3).

Going through times when we feel God is far away is a normal human experience. The prophets felt it. God even allowed his own Son to experience it. At the moment He paid the penalty for our sins, He cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). So, when those times come, what are we to do?

We are to remember that the feeling of God being distant is temporary. We will again feel his presence and His joy. This is what sustained King David in his dark times. In every case, he declared, “Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him.” When we feel God is far away, we are often filled with worry, uncertainty, doubt and despair. But this will not last. We will yet feel His presence again and praise Him.

We must rely on God’s promises and not on our feelings. Even when we don’t feel His presence, He is near. Repeatedly God has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deut. 31:6,8; Joshua 1:5; Hebrews 13:5). Jesus said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20). David wrote, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me. If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night,” Even the darkness is not dark to You, and the night is as bright as the day.” (Ps. 139:7-12).

We must continue to do everything that is right and good in His sight. One of Jesus’ favorite parables was the story of a wealthy landowner who left for a long trip. In his absence, some of his servants decided he wasn’t coming back and began to abuse his property, doing things they knew the landowner would never condone. But the landowner returned, and when he did, there was a reckoning. The real evidence of our faith is not what we do when we feel His presence and know He is near. The real evidence of our faith is what we do when we feel God is far away. He will return.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Risk Tolerance

Investors talk about “risk” and “risk tolerance.” Not long ago, even the most conservative of investors could expect to receive a return of 5% percent, or more, by simply placing their money in CDs or savings accounts. But times have changed. Those kinds of risk free investments are almost nonexistent. The best CDs now yield somewhere between 2% and 3%. Savings accounts yield less than 1%.

Those who want to invest for the future, including retirement funds, are left with higher risk options. But, for many of us, risk leaves our stomachs queasy. Those who ran from risk and pulled all their money out of the stock market in 2008 are still ringing their hands over their loss. Last week the stock market topped 13000 for the first time since 2008. Those who were able to stomach the risk have seen an increase of approximately 100% since the Market bottomed at 6547 on March 9, 2008.

Stocks, investments and economics have always confused me. I have never been quite able to figure it out. I guess that is why I find Jesus’ story in Luke 19 confusing. He told of a wealthy owner who left his servants in charge of his money while he was gone. To each he gave the same amount. Let’s say he gave each $1,000. When he returned one servant had invested and multiplied the $1,000 into $10,000. Another had invested and multiplied it into $5,000. But the third was afraid of losing the $1,000 so he wrapped it in some newspaper and hid it under his mattress. The wealthy owner commended the first two, but he was furious with the third. “You should have at least put it in the bank so it could earn interest,” he said. He then took the $1,000 from the last one and gave it to the one who had $10,000. He said, “I tell you that to everyone who has, more shall be given, but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.” (Luke 19:11-27).

As with all of Jesus’ stories, there are many applications to be made and much to learn. Of course, I don’t think Jesus was all that concerned about money. After all, when he died all he had was the clothes on his back. But he clearly understood how the world works. And he clearly understood how life works.

So, what was his point? It seems to me that Jesus wants his followers to learn to take risk for the Kingdom sake. Whenever we grow fearful and withdraw into ourselves, we shrivel up. What little we have is taken away from us. I have watched people do this. I have even seen churches do this, pinching pennies and worried that they will lose what little they have. But when we lay it all on the line, when we give our lives away for others, we experience pleasure and joy unspeakable. This is why he said, “Give and it shall be given unto you, good measure, shaken together and running over.” And, again, “He that will save his life shall lose it, but he who will lose his life for my sake and the gospel shall find it.”

Jesus’ early followers clearly understood this. There is no evidence that any of them became wealthy. But there is abundant evidence that they were willing to risk everything to serve God and help others.