Martyrs Among Us

the_entombment_of_st_stephen_martyr_XX_museo_del_prado_madridWhen I read the news from France early this morning, I was reminded of the words of Jesus: “a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering service to God (John 16:2).”

The truth of Jesus’ words is crystal clear in the spiritual climate in which we live.  The twisted theology of radicalized terrorists compels them to murder in the name of their god. While it’s true that there’s just a minority of the population who engages in these inhumane and atrocious attacks, the partisan silence of their fellow acolytes is deafening.

This morning, two men armed with blades entered a church in northern France and held several people as hostages. French media is reporting that the attackers cut the throat of the priest.

Please pray for the citizens of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray and the grieving people of this church.

Silence and Solitude

sandsWhen you find yourself a bit frazzled and frayed by the various stressors you encounter each week, where do you go to find solace? Some people find a sanctuary in solitude and silence.

As a business professional, David Haber spends much of his day crunching numbers and wrestling with the stress of financial decisions.  Haber has said, “The biggest challenge as an entrepreneur is how to not get lost in the daily execution, but to take a step back and really think things through. Quiet moments give you the opportunity to reflect and make smarter strategic decisions . . . Finding balance between work and life, and using silence to help me decompress, is an important part of doing my job well.”

Like Haber, I also think quiet moments are beneficial.  These interludes from the hectic pace of the world rejuvenate me when I refocus my attention on God.

Silence and solitude of themselves are mere emptiness that cannot feed a hungry soul. To stave off starvation, your mind needs to be “stayed” on God. The words of Isaiah echo this truth: “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You because he trusts in You (26:3).”

Here are a few Scriptures to focus on as you try to keep your mind “stayed” or focused on God:

  • Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that am God.”
  • Isaiah 12:2: “Indeed, God is my salvation; I will trust Him and not be afraid, for the Lord is my strength and my song. He has become my salvation.”
  • Philippians 4:6-7: “Don’t worry over anything whatever; tell God every detail of your needs in earnest and thankful prayer, and the peace of God which transcends human understanding, will keep constant guard over your hearts and minds as they rest in Christ Jesus.” ~JB Phillips

I encourage to check your priorities and to reorder your life. At the top of your To-Do List, scribble in: Quiet moment of silence and solitude—be still and know God.

Fireflies At Night

fireflyPeople rarely partner stubbed toes and skinned knees with moments of pleasure . . . unless you’ve been a carefree child who chased the sentinels of light through the darkness of July nights. Even though those carefree days of bare feet and childhood innocence are long gone, I still enjoy the nocturnal dance of fireflies as they flutter across the night sky.

The waltz of the firefly reminds me of an old quote by Beecher:

If I were made a firefly, it would not become me to say: “If God had only made me a star to shine always, then I would shine.” It is my duty, if I am a firefly, to fly and sparkle, and fly and sparkle; not to shut my wings down over my phosphorescent self because God did not make me a sun or a star.

Regardless of person’s station in life, there seems to be a pervasive sense of dissatisfaction.  Solomon commented on this in Proverbs 27:19-20:  Just as water reflects a person’s true face, so the human heart reflects a person’s true character. As Death and Destruction are never satisfied, so the eyes of a person are never satisfied.

From their teenage years forward, people engage in an unending search for that elusive person, place, or thing that will satisfy the desires of their heart. The trivial pursuits of this world’s pleasures will never provide lasting satisfaction; you simply cannot find fulfillment in empty promises

Lasting peace and satisfaction is not found in the creation, but in the Creator:

  • Jesus said: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35)
  • God satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul is filled with good things. (Psalm 107:9)
  • Notice the promise of Psalm 16:11: God You reveal the path of life to me; in Your presence is abundant joy; in Your right hand are eternal pleasures.

The next time you see a firefly at night, pause and think about what it means to be content in and satisfied through Jesus.  When you do this, it might help to reflect on these words of Paul:

 I’m glad in God, far happier than you would ever guess—happy that you’re again showing such strong concern for me. Not that you ever quit praying and thinking about me. You just had no chance to show it. Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. I don’t mean that your help didn’t mean a lot to me—it did. It was a beautiful thing that you came alongside me in my troubles. ~Philippians 4 (The Message)

Born to be…?

Born-in-the-USATattoos, bumper stickers, and marketing programs are noted for their catchy slogans.  Some of these serve as a life motto, and they are original, or they are borrowed from movies, songs, or some other source.  Two that come to mind are Born to Be Wild and Born in the USA.

Among these inky statements, there is a third and lesser known phrase: Born to Lose. Before statements like this appear as a tattoo on a person’s arm or as a proclamation on a bumper, they were deposited in the memory banks of the brain long ago.

Born to lose is a concept that is foreign to biblical thinking.  Each of us are born with the potential to become: “As many as received Him [Jesus], to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name (John 1:12).”

Don’t limit yourself with negative thinking, realize that in Christ, God has given you the power to become His new creation:” 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).”

Grumpy or Gracious?

grumpyWhenever I read the opening verses of Psalm 92, the number 1,440 flashes through my mind.  1,440 is the number of minutes in a day, and Psalm 92 is a positive motivator on how to manage these precious moments:

It is good to give thanks to the Lord, and sing praises to Your name, O Most High. It is good to tell of Your loving-kindness in the morning, and of how faithful You are at night, with harps, and with music of praise.  For You have made me glad by what You have done, O Lord. I will sing for joy at the works of Your hands (Psalm 92:1-4).

Think about the words you spoke yesterday; was your vocabulary more grumpy than it was gracious?  How would your life be different if you would spend more time counting your blessings than tallying your slights?  Would you be happier and healthier?

Barbara Fredrickson, a researcher at the University of North Carolina, has examined the power of positive and negative thoughts. She has found that positive emotions enhance your sense of personal potential; opens your mind to new possibilities; and, they allow you to develop new skills and resources that add value to your life.

Fredrickson’s premise is a conformation of a principle from the Proverbs: Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. ~Proverbs 16:24

Over the next week, I encourage you to use some of the 1,440 minutes of each day to put Psalm 92 to practice:

  • Focus on the blessing of God, and give thanks.
  • Whistle a tune, hum a favorite hymn, and sing a song of praise to God.
  • When you get up in the morning, start with a God is Able thought, and end your day by rehearsing the history of God’s faithfulness.
  • Begin and end each day with the following prayer:

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. ~Psalm 19:14

The Cadence of His Voice

cadenceSome people misinterpret the 10 Commandments and the principles of the New Testament as rigid walls erected by God to deny them access to the pleasures of life.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Whenever God says, “Thou shalt not,” it’s to keep you from stubbing your toe or skinning a knee.  Every time He say, “Thou shalt,” He’s inviting you to skip with joy and whistle a tune of happiness.

When you hear the cadence of His voice and walk in step with Him, you discover that He is your strength and shield.

Blessed be the Lord, because He has heard the voice of my supplications! The Lord is my strength and my shield; My heart trusted in Him, and I am helped; therefore, my heart greatly rejoices, and with my song I will praise Him (Psalm 28:7).

Integrity

integSometimes I’m asked to comment on the ills of society or to meet with an individual who is in need of counseling.  The common denominator that frequently links the two is a lack of integrity.  Whether it’s a politician, a musician, an actor, or an individual, the lack of integrity can be at the root of their problems.

Earlier today, I read about a sting conducted by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation that focused on sex trafficking.  Two ministers were arrested in a sex for money scheme. The actions of these men is indicative of their lack of integrity.

Integrity is defined as an “adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.”  It is an important trait that should be highly valued, and it is a part of Warren Buffet’s screening process: “In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.”

Buffet’s quote reminds me of the people of Berea and the manner in which they validated the ministry of Paul and Silas—they did an integrity check:

“The people of Berea were more receptive than they had been in Thessalonica. They warmly and enthusiastically welcomed the message and then, day by day, would check for themselves to see if what they heard from Paul and Silas was truly in harmony with the Scriptures (Acts 17:11).”

The Bereans didn’t take the teaching of Paul and Silas at face value.  They checked it to see if it adhered to the principles of Scripture.

Searching the Scriptures was a daily habit of these people, and I suggest that it’s a practice you should adopt as well.  When you read a passage of Scripture, I recommend that you ask yourself a couple of questions:

  • Is there a promise I can claim?
  • What lesson can I learn?
  • Is there a command I should obey?
  • Is there a sin I should avoid?
  • Is there a blessing I can share?

These questions will help you focus on the principles of the Bible and apply them to your life, so read them through; think them clear; pray them in; live them out; and pass them on.

Never Never Land or The Land of Never

never-never-landWhere are you living?  I don’t mean the place where you park your car or the address that your GPS takes you to when you touch the HOME button.  Where do you live in your thoughts, fantasies, worries and wants? Is it Never Never Land or the Land of Never?

Thanks to Peter Pan, most people have some knowledge of the fictional place called Never Never Land. It’s that place that’s fixed within the framework of your imagination where everything is so wonderfully pleasant and perfect that is far beyond the scope of reality.

The Land of Never is also an imaginary place, but it’s one of a harsher existence.  The boundaries of the Land of Never are marked by signs that reflect a contempt for self, others, and the truth:

  • Sign #1: I will never be loved or respected.
  • Sign #2: I will never get a job.
  • Sign #3: I will never be able to go home again.
  • Sign #4: God will never forgive me.
  • Sign #5: My life will never get better.

If you believe the lies of the Land of Never, you will be chained to your past and you’ll never live in the present.  Words like “never” and “always” are usually void of the truth, and they’re lies that limit you.

The only “never” that really matters is found in Deuteronomy 31:6: “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will never leave you nor forsake you.”

If you’re living in the Land of Never, isn’t it time to pack your bag, move out, and start abiding in Christ? Jesus said, “If you continue (abide) in My word, you really are My disciples.  You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:31-32).”

As you begin the move, I encourage you to focus on a promise found in the Psalms:

The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; for You, Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You.

Psalm 9:9-10

The Military Code of Conduct: Sworn to Obey

codeFrom 1971 to 1975, I served in the Air Force and was sworn to obey The Code of Conduct:

ARTICLE I: I am an American, fighting in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.

ARTICLE II: I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command, I will never surrender the members of my command while they still have the means to resist.

ARTICLE III: If I am captured I will continue to resist by all means available. I will make every effort to escape and to aid others to escape. I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy.

ARTICLE IV: If I become a prisoner of war, I will keep faith with my fellow prisoners. I will give no information nor take part in any action which might be harmful to my comrades. If I am senior, I will take command. If not, I will obey lawful orders of those appointed over me and will back them in every way.

ARTICLE V: When questioned, should I become a prisoner of war, I am required to give name, rank, service number, and date of birth. I will evade answering further questions to the utmost of my ability. I will make no oral or written statements disloyal to my country or its allies or harmful to their cause.

ARTICLE VI: I will never forget that I am an American, fighting for freedom, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.

Over the years of military history, The Code of Conduct has proven its worth:

  • When Air Force Capt. Scott O’Grady’s F-16 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile over Bosnia in 1995, he said the Code of Conduct gave him the will to persevere and to evade capture for six days: “I knew it was my duty to survive.” Even though he had been shot down and was alone behind enemy lines, O’Grady said: “I was still part of a team working to get me out, and I had to do my part.”

In a speech following O’Grady’s rescue, Defense Secretary William Perry said the pilot actions had embodied the spirit of the code: “They shot his plane down, but not his spirit.”

  • During Operation Desert Storm, Lt. Cmdr. Larry Slade, was in the backseat of an F-14 Tomcat performing the duties of a Radar Intercept Officer when it was hit be a surface to air missile. Slade ejected, but he was captured by the enemy.  Slade said it takes “takes perseverance, motivation, bravery and courage” to follow the code, and he believes the code helped him survive his 43 days as a POW.

There’s a Code of Conduct in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, and there is value in living a life that exemplifies each of them.  In the Old Testament it’s called The Ten Commandments, and in the New Testament it’s found in The Beatitudes.

While it would be wise for you to known each of these codes, I think you would also benefit from being familiar with the two verses that encapsulate each of them:

  • Micah 6:8: What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
  • Ephesians 4:1-3: I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

When you adhere to these codes, you can find the inspiration that will stiffen your backbone and give you the courage to live a life that glorifies God.