Starbucks and a Wee Little Man

starI read an interesting David versus Goliath article by Joe Pinsker (The Quirks of Smallness). The David in this story is Herb Hyman who owns the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf chain of coffee shops in Los Angeles.

Hyman began to worry when he was confronted by a well-known and well-financed Goliath that you may have heard of—Starbucks. The battle cry of the coffee behemoth to Hyman was, “Sell out to us, or we’re going to surround your store.”

With the courage and boldness of David, Hyman stood toe-to-toe with Starbucks, and instead of seeing a decline in his coffee sales, he watched as they shot up. Pinsker uses this coffee battle as an example to say: “A company’s smallness, it turns out, is something that can play to its advantage in competing with massive brands.”

As I read this article, I thought of a man whose smallness became an advantage. As Jesus was passing through Jericho a large crowd had gathered, and due to his smallness, Zacchaeus could not see him. Not to be deterred, Zacchaeus climbed up into a sycamore tree, so he could see Jesus as he passed by.

The important part of the story is not that Zacchaeus saw Jesus, but that Jesus saw Zacchaeus. Not only did the Savior see him, but he went home with Zacchaeus; and this proved to be a huge turning point in the life of a small man.

It only takes a brief look at the life of Zacchaeus to see that smallness defined more than just his physical stature. He was also short on ethics and you could bottle his morals in a pint-sized jar.

When Jesus invited Himself to the home of Zacchaeus, He was intent on opening the door to his heart. When this happened a small heart was enlarged, and Zacchaeus said: “Lord, half of my possessions I now give to the poor, and if I have cheated anyone of anything, I am paying back four times as much!” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this household, because he too is a son of Abraham! For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Regardless of your size, Jesus sees you where you are; knows what you need; and, what He did for Zacchaeus, He will also do for you.

A Precious Lord for a Pernicious World

handcloudLast night I was with a group at our Lifetree Café, and we focused our discussion on “Bouncing Back.” The theme for the night was based on the life of a man who had turned tragedy into triumph.

In some of the more difficult times of my life, I have found comfort in the words of Psalm 121: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

Whenever you fear failure or feel forsaken, review the key points of this Psalm:
• Your help is dependent upon the abundant resources of the Maker of heaven and earth
• Your Guardian God will keep His watchful eye on and won’t fall asleep on the job.
• He’s present and aware of your circumstances and His strength is sufficient.

There will be times when you feel lonely and have a sense of abandonment. Because there is evil and sin in the world, so it’s normal to struggle from time to time; but you don’t have to go it alone. You can be encouraged by the promise of Isaiah 41:9-10: “God has chosen you and not rejected you. Do not fear, for God is with you; do not be afraid, for He is your God. He will strengthen you; He will help you; He will hold on to you with His righteous right hand.”

The right hand of God speaks of His preeminence and power, and Jesus spoke of this in John 10: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone 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 My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one.”

When the crowd tries to kick you and keep you down and when the mob protests and shouts that you’re a failure, listen for the Shepherd’s voice and follow Him. Remember He keeps you in the palm of His hand, and He is greater than all. He is your precious Lord.

Born in the USA

MaskAlthough I can’t quote much of Shakespeare’s work, I do believe the following quote is a statement Hamlet made to Ophelia: “God has given you one face, and you make yourselves another.”

I can’t help but wonder if this is not case with Douglas McAuthur McCain. Even though this 33 year old American was born in the USA, and had been an aspiring rapper, he was suspected of fighting alongside of Islamic State militants when he died on Monday.

When some people undertake a search for meaning, they mistakenly embrace a rigid set of rules to guide them. History is full of examples of people who have made this mistake. The Pharisees corrupted the Mosaic Law and were chastised by Jesus, but there are examples from more recent history in the persons of Hitler, Mussolini, and in the Middle East movements of the past decade.

Douglas McAuthur McCain may have made the same error. The rigid rules he followed called for an extremist lifestyle and the shedding of blood. Instead of giving his life meaning, it just created a greater thirst for blood.

The rigid rules were McCain’s attempt at remaking the face God had given him, and they were a weak substitute for a sustaining relationship that is more than smoke and mirrors—it is the knowledge that we are created in the image of God.

The words of Alan Redpath are a good explanation of this relationship: “The man who gazes upon and contemplates day by day the face of the Lord Jesus Christ, and who has caught the glow of the reality that the Lord is not a theory but an indwelling power and force in his life, is as a mirror reflecting the glory of the Lord.”

With my increase in age, I have noticed a decrease in vision. This is why I must depend on trifocals to bring things into focus. As I write this, my frames are bent a little and the left lens is higher than the right lens; and, my vision is blurred because the depth perception is skewed.

A rigid set of rules without the sustaining relationship of grace mercy will also skew reality. They may reform you, but they will never transform you. The first is little more than the insanity of humanity, the latter is all about the image of God and Christianity.

As John Piper has said: “Transformation is not switching from the to-do list of the flesh to the to-do list of the law. When Paul replaces the list—the works—of the flesh, he does not replace it with the works of the law, but the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:19-22). The Christian alternative to immoral behaviors is not a new list of moral behaviors. It is the triumphant power and transformation of the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ—our Savior, our Lord, our Treasure. “

God Remembers to Forget

elephantI’m glad God is no elephant when it comes to remembering my sin. Hebrews 8:12 comments on this: “For I will be merciful toward their evil deeds, and their sins I will remember no longer.”

It’s not a matter of God having a short memory, it’s the fact that when it comes to my sin He has amnesia. He has forgotten my sins; blotted them out; and, according Psalm 103:12, He has “removed our transgressions as far as the east is from the west.” God has done more than forgive my sins, He has forgotten them.

Listen to how Isaiah describes the work of God on our behalf: “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool (Isaiah 1:18).”

When God forgives you and forgets your sins, he changes your relationship with Him. He sees you as justified, glorified, and purified because of the sacrificial death of Jesus.
Because God gas forgiven and forgotten, He freshens: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new (2 Corinthians 5:17).”

Here’s the good news: If your life is a mess, confess and profess. When you confess your sin, and profess Jesus as your Savior, God will bless.

ISIS: Prayer or a Preyer?

preytimeThe English language can be a strange creature that breeds confusion in the field of communication. The different meanings of the word bow is a good example:
• to bend forward at the waist in respect as in “bow down”
• the front of the ship (e.g. “bow and stern”)
• a ribbon tied to a package
• a bowtie
• to bend outward at the sides like a “bow-legged” cowboy
• a bow and arrow
Then there are words like:
• March (a month) and march as in a parade
• Divine (God) and divine as in discovering something by intuition
• Liberal (political view) and liberal as in abundance or plenty
• Agape (an open mouth) and agape (love of God)
• Dove (a bird) and dove (as in scuba diving)

You may wonder about the wandering of my mind, and what this has to do with ISIS. I have a two word answer: President Obama. Over the last couple of weeks, the President has chosen to use the acronym ISIL instead of the more common ISIS. The latter refers to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and ISIL means Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

The difference between ISIS and ISIL is more than word-play. There is an alarming difference between the two. The “Levant” of ISIL incorporates the island of Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and part of southern Turkey. ISIL has its eyes on more than just Syria and Iraq. The ravenous hunger of these misfit Muslims will not be satisfied until they devour the other countries of this region and feast on Israel as well.

Do situations like this make you mad or are they made for prayer? Do they rob you of your peace or do you robe yourself in prayer? We need to pray for the minority groups in this region because they have a slim chance of survival when the slime of hatred flows out of control.

The world is looking to us to help strip ISIL of its power, but I’m afraid all they are seeing is the yellow stripe of cowardice.

Like many of you, I’m war-weary and the last thing I want to see is our American troops engaged in combat again, but ISIL must be stopped. Will we fight them there or here on American soil?

I encourage you to pray that God will stop ISIL’s preying on the innocent.

Is It Break-Time?

chillinIs it time to chill out? Do all of your technological conveniences have you tied in knots? Research by Microsoft has found that on an average day, most people will “send and receive more than 100 emails, check their phone 34 times, visit Facebook 5 times and spend at least 30 minutes communicating with other posters (Alex Soojung-Kim Pang).”

A day of such multitasking strains your brain, and it needs a break so it can rejuvenate. Researchers suggest there is evidence that a “nature break” may be the answer, and exposure to natural environments can offer restorative benefits.

Dr. Wallace Nichols believes proximity to water can lead to improved performance and reduce anxiety. Wallace also encourages people to take water breaks: “Consuming enough water is a requirement of healthy brain function. Even mild dehydration can affect the brain structures responsible for attention, psychomotor and regulatory functions, as well as thought, memory, and perception.“

All of this talk about water reminds of what Jesus said: “Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”

After reading the importance of taking a “nature” break,” I’ve gained a fresh perspective on Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake . . .”

The “nature break” language of this Psalm may be one reason it’s a favorite of so many people. Next time you need a chill break, drink a little water, read a chapter out of the good book, and God might just “restore your soul.”

A Lighthouse or a Mirage

LightHouse10_zpsa4a8f0d1The experience of learning spiritual truth often involves an examination of different passages of Scripture. I’ve been thinking of the words of Jesus and Paul and contrasting and comparing the meaning of these verses.

The first passage comes from Matthew where Jesus says: “You are the light of the world . . . Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:14-16).”

The second passage comes from Paul’s letter to the Philippians: “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God without blemish though you live in a crooked and perverse society, in which you shine as lights in the world by holding on to the word of life . . .(2:14-16).”

The subject of “light” and its impact and influence on society is a theme of both verses. After reading them, a question came to my mind: Am I a lighthouse or a mirage?

One provides direction in times of darkness, and safety in the face of danger. The other offers false hope to those who are dying of thirst. A lighthouse or a mirage, which are you?

Ferguson: City of Resentment

resentmentWhile watching the evening news last night, the main focus was still on Ferguson, Missouri.

When I think of the volatile and vehement expression of emotions that has become characteristic of this city, I am distraught. My heart goes out to the Brown family in the loss of their son, but to the protesters, I say: A destructive mob mentality is not the answer.

The answer to this problem is Jesus Christ, and the application of biblical principles. The words of Paul are appropriate to this situation: “The kingdom of God is peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit . . . we must pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another (Romans 14:12).”

One thing that does not promote peace and harmony is the mentality that is present in Ferguson—the rehearsing of resentment. The old cliché is that “hurting people hurt people,” and at the heart of resentment is the feeling: “You resent-me.”

Resentment is an emotion that is toxic, and it makes you the emotional slave of the person you resent. It will rob you of your sleep, occupy your dreams, ruin your digestion, and it will steal your peace of mind.

It is also intoxicating. The more you resent the greater your resentment becomes. There is a false sense of power that leads you to mistakenly believe you are hurting the person who you think has wronged you.

In Hebrews we are warned to, “Make sure that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no root of bitterness springs up, causing trouble and by it, defiling many Hebrews 12:15).” Look at Ferguson, and you see the root of bitterness has given birth to the flower of resentment, and it is in full blossom.

James said that, “if you have bitter jealousy and selfishness in your hearts, do not boast . . . for where there is jealousy and selfishness, there is disorder and every evil practice (James 3:14-16).”

When you look at Ferguson you see the power of bitterness. It has extinguished the light of joy, and it has left the soul of the city in darkness.

If bitterness has a death grip on you, the words of William Arthur Ward may be helpful: “Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hate. It is a power that breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness.”

Planting The Seeds of Kindness

bekind

More often than not, when a person discusses Galatians 6 and the law of sowing and reaping, he does so in a negative context. I think you benefit as much if not more when you apply it with a positive perspective.

Notice what Paul says in these verses: “Don’t be deceived: God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows he will also reap, because the one who sows to his flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So we must not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up. 1 Therefore, as we have opportunity, we must work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith (gal. 6:7-10).”

St. Basil may have been thinking about these verses when he said: “He who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.”

Taking the words of Paul to heart and applying the saintly advice of Basil, what type of seeds have you been sowing and what kind of harvest have you been reaping?

The importance of sowing seeds of kindness is found in a comment made by Leo Buscaglia: “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

Kindness is a form of communication that is not limited by ethnic or social barriers. It is a language that even the deaf can hear and the blind can see.

Winston Churchill once said: We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” People are so focused on living and getting, that they sometimes forget to give.

I encourage you to make a difference in the life of someone today—give them the gift of kindness. “Be the living expression of God’s kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting.” ~Mother Teresa

As Sweet As Honey

beeI’m not sure if I like it because of what it says about the Word of God or because of the pleasant memory it brings to my mind, but Psalm 19 is a favorite of mine.

Every time I read Psalm 19, or fix a piece of toast, I think of my Great Aunt Fern. I remember her as a lady who was full of love; gave me big smiles; and, one who wrapped her short arms around me and embraced with warm sticky hugs—Aunt Fern was a bee keeper.

I think her bee keeping is one reason I grew up eating toast slathered in peanut butter and drenched in honey. Whenever I walked into her house, I would look to the left, and her shelves would be lined with jugs of pure raw honey. This was the real stuff—not an anemic imposter of colored water you see on store shelves labeled as honey.

The sweetness of honey is used in Psalm 19 as one of several descriptions of God’s Word. When you read this Psalm, you find the Word of God is:

• Perfect and will convert the soul
• Steadfast and sure
• Able to make the simple wise—boy do I need this!
• Full of God’s statutes and they are right, and they bring rejoicing to your heart
• So pure it will enlighten your eyes
• So precious you should desire its teaching more than gold
• Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb
• The means through which God warns us, and in keeping of them there is great reward

Now that you’ve read this summary of Psalm 19, compare it to the words of Solomon in Proverbs 28: “A discerning son keeps the law, but anyone who turns his ear away from hearing the law—even his prayer is detestable.” Quite a contrast between hearing and obeying on one hand, and neglecting it and refusing to hear it on the other.

Whenever I read Psalm 19, it reminds of Aunt Fern in two ways. It reminds me of her sweet honey, but I am also reminded that we need to be keepers of God’s Word.