Thursday, July 31, 2008

Lord, Please Fill My Heart with Joy

People used to joke about movie starlets who never wanted to turn thirty; but judging from today's medical advice, forty is the birthday to watch out for. Until then, most people apparently can take good health for granted; afterward, we have special need for annual medical exams, anti-aging vitamins, daily exercise, and super-cautious eating.

Partly in preparation for attaining the big 4-0 myself next March, I've recently begun researching hormonal balances and nutrition. And at times wish I hadn't. Five or six books on good health can leave you wondering if the only hope is learning to survive on vitamin supplements. Everything you could possibly put in your mouth apparently causes cancer, heart disease, or osteoporosis--if not directly, from being poisoned through food processing and/or environmental toxins. Worse yet, no two "experts" seem to agree on what you should eat. Eggs are a vital source of nutrients--no, they'll drive your cholesterol through the roof. Fresh fruit is good for you--no, it'll overload your blood with carbohydrates and glucose. You need three servings of dairy products, and six of whole grains, daily--no, that'll give you a major hormone imbalance. One author, pushing the idea that the USDA Food Guide Pyramid was a conspiracy of farming interests and that what we really need is more red meat and raw milk, rattled off a list of diseases that have increased in the last century and then asked sardonically, "If the now-accepted diet is so good for us, why are we so sick?"

Probably from worrying about our health.

The obsessive search for a diet that will keep us in top physical condition indefinitely is another manifestation of the search for total control that has driven humanity since Eve bought the "you will be like God" line. Just visit or WorldCat and count the number of books that purportedly tell us--in detail--how to ensure regular good luck, prepare for any crisis from job loss to a major terrorist attack, or otherwise ensure the rest of our lives will run smoothly. Many such writers now go so far as to tell us we literally do have Godlike powers. Virtually all imply that "you know best what will make you happy."

Do we? What about the many people who get what they desperately want and later regret it--or the ones who don't get what they want and are later glad they didn't?

The truth is that real happiness--pure, deep joy--comes not from circumstances but from God. Reject His authority, and you'll end up echoing Ecc. 2:10-11: "I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure.... Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained." Stay in right relationship with your Lord, and, like Paul, you'll be able to sing for joy even if lying injured in a prison cell (Acts 16:22-25).

And, in better times, to occasionally enjoy a chocolate cheesecake without worrying it'll kill you.

Lord, please fill my heart with joy:
No earthly peace I crave,
Nor fame, applause, or mortal wealth,
Lest I prove fortune's slave.
Let not the whims of circumstance
Be what delights my soul,
For circumstance is fickle friend,
And brings no joy that's whole.

Lord, please fill my heart with joy:
For health, when found alone,
Or earth's success, without You, proves
Unsure as gods of stone.
I crave a joy of grander depth,
One strong through war and pain--
That joy set firm through knowing You,
Where all at last is gain.

Lord, please fill my heart with joy:
I may be rich or poor,
But let me never fail to hear
Your knocking on my door.
Let all my joy be based in this:
That You are still my Lord,
That You gave all You had for me,
And hold my true reward.

Lord, please fill my heart with joy:
May zeal to do Your will,
And hear Your voice and seek Your face,
My thoughts and actions fill.
Let all my peace and love of life
Be found in You alone,
Preparing me for purest joy
One day before Your Throne!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Lord, Be Master of My Eyes

Today's blog opens with yet another clever, but apparently anonymous, quip: "Unless Jesus is Lord of all, He cannot be Lord at all." Bad news for those who've been trying to convince themselves God doesn't care if they cheat in business, so long as they bring the full ten percent of the income to church every week. Or for anyone who wishes--as we all do at times--to make a decision God holds no veto power over.

Making Christ Lord of your life means all of your life. Not all of your life except use of your spare time. Not all of your life except your health habits. Not all of your life except your relationship with that impossible (or alluring) co-worker. All of it. If we accept Jesus as Savior, we must also take Him as Master of our every emotion, commitment, action, and thought (cf. Luke 10:27). Sometimes He has a single specific thing He wants us doing or place He wants our thoughts directed. Sometimes He leaves us free to decide where to go on vacation or what chore to do first--providing we behave only in ways that honor His name and that we accept His right to interrupt us anytime with a change of plans. He Who made the universe will tolerate no rebels trying to run even a tiny part of it to their own preferences.

Especially not rebels who claim full citizenship privileges.

Lord, be Master of my eyes:
Let them not look with jealous greed
Upon another's wealth or prize,
But up to You Who fill all need.

Lord, be Master of my ear:
Let it not heed the call of sin,
But may Your voice be all I hear,
Attuned to You from deep within.

Lord, be Master of my lips:
Restrain my mouth from gloom and gall,
And from all tactless, careless slips,
But let it speak Your Word to all.

Lord, be Master of my hand:
May all my work be done for You;
May my achievements bear Your brand,
And all my deeds be pure and true.

Lord, be Master of my feet:
Direct my steps each place I go,
To spread Your love to all I meet;
And so my servant's soul will grow.

Friday, July 25, 2008

God's Letters to the World

"The Bible doesn't say anything to me," sneered the atheist.

Replied the Christian, "The Bible is God's letter to believers; so if you don't understand it, that serves you right for reading someone else's mail!"

Letter-writing--the kind that requires selecting attractive writing paper and a good-quality pen, and personally setting down the words in one's own unique handwriting--is something of a lost art in this age of word processors and e-mail. When you get a letter from somebody who took the trouble to do it the old-fashioned way, you know he or she considers you someone special.

God must consider us very special indeed. Even before He took the trouble to oversee the writing of the Bible, He created the whole world, carefully designed to fill our needs for beauty and sustenance. It must break His heart to see how many people--and that includes quite a few Christians--regard Scripture as "interesting literature" at best, ignore sunrises and flowers as we rush about our worldly concerns, and abuse Creation by tossing our litter about as though the whole world were a garbage can. People can learn to take anything for granted.

Including the privilege of being called to do God's work. Many believers have actually defended their lack of concern for the lost by quoting Scripture. "Since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse" (Rom. 1:20, NIV)--so why should we bother speaking about God to people who evidently won't listen to God Himself? Even many Christians who do speak about God never bother considering whether their everyday attitudes and actions project the image of someone who is saved and grateful for it. A quick reading of the Gospels should convince anyone that God hates a cold, selfish, holier-than-thou attitude perhaps more than any other sin. And vice versa.

As the old saying goes, "You are the only Gospel some people will ever read." If the Bible is God's letter to believers, we are His best letter to the rest of the world.

God writes His letters to the world
In fields of shining stars,
In all the beauty of the birds
Throughout this world of ours,
In rainbows arching through the sky,
In flowers at our feet,
In trees that dip with heavy fruit
That ripens fresh and sweet.

God writes His letters to the world
Through all who ever praised
His Name through poem or painted art
Or great cathedral raised,
And most of all throughout His Word,
In every chapter there
That ever moved a soul to weep,
Or lift a joyous prayer.

God writes His letters to the world
In human deeds of love,
In every little kindness shown
To honor Him above,
Through human hearts that mirror His:
And, Father, let me be
Another scribe to tell Your tale--
Dear Jesus, speak through me!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

My Lord, Whose Name Is Wisdom

In many traditions, a name was (and is) considered powerful and significant, part of a person's vital essence. Some societies even had the custom of giving two names to everyone: an everyday name used by society at large, and a "real" name known only to the person's closest loved ones. Anyone who learned someone's "real" name gained power over the person.

Superstition and magic aside, throughout most of history parents chose their children's names for more than the beauty of the sound. A name could represent a father's hopes for his son, something significant that had happened shortly before or after the birth, or something about the child's physical appearance. The Bible reports many incidents of children being named (and of adults having their names changed) to suit various circumstances (see, for example, Gen. 32:27-28, 29:32; 1 Sam. 1:20; Hos. 1:6; Rev. 2:17). We still see vestiges of this when children are named after relatives or saints, and in baby name books that list original meanings for each choice.

The Bible also frequently refers to God's attributes in terms of His name. His name is holy (Is. 57:15). His name is mighty (Jer. 10:6). His name is to be feared (Mal. 1:14). The New Testament describes believers as doing things in Jesus's name (e. g., Acts 3:6, 9:27) and even refers to Christ as the Name (Acts 5:41).

Do we appreciate the real significance of praying "in Jesus's Name"?

My Lord, Whose Name is Wisdom,
Whose judgment never errs--
May wisdom guide my choices,
Your knowledge steer my prayers.

My Lord, Whose Name is Wonder,
Who brought the world to be--
May wonder rule my vision;
Lord, give me eyes to see!

My Lord, Whose Name is Justice,
Who always stands for right--
May justice rule my thinking,
My words reflect Your light.

My Lord, Whose Name is Mercy,
Who weeps for wandering feet--
May mercy guide my actions,
Your grace touch all I meet.

My Lord, Whose Name is Service,
Who wipes feet clean of sands--
May service lead my doings,
Your heart empower my hands.

My Lord, Whose Name is Holy,
So pure and free from sin--
May I as well prove holy,
For You this world to win.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Way, the Truth, and the Life

The idea that "Jesus is the only way to heaven" is highly unpopular with the world at large--which admittedly is sometimes provoked by Christians who behave as if their interpretations of Jesus were the only way. Differences in modes of baptism, styles of music, and even the color of pastoral robes have all been the center of arguments over whether this or that church is really Christian. At its worst, the "I can tell a true believer from an infidel as surely as God can" attitude has written some pretty ugly chapters in history. Even mass murder has been rationalized as defending the Gospel.

Still, if we take the basic Scriptures seriously, we have to admit that Jesus Himself was the originator of the main idea. C. S. Lewis, among others, noted that anyone who talks the way Jesus is recorded as talking is either a megalomaniac, a sociopath--or considerably more than "merely human." Traditionally, the majority of humanity has not been too happy with any of those options, which is probably the reason for the popular theory that many of Jesus's claims came not in fact from Him, but from later editors of the Gospels. I once heard a non-Christian religious speaker say that Jesus's words in John 14:6--"I am the way"--could easily be a mistranslation of "I am a way." How she explained His follow-up comment, "No one comes to the Father except through me," I never did find out!

Actually, the idea that Jesus is the way, the truth, the life, and the one door to Heaven is not as exclusivist as many people think. After all, everyone--regardless of income or education level, race, gender, or personal history--is invited, at no cost!

Well, it does cost something--something that human beings, like an alcoholic with a whiskey bottle, are better off without but hate to give up. That something is our pride and sense of self-sufficiency. What really makes Christianity unique is not so much the claim to be the best or the only true faith--virtually every religion in the world believes as much to one degree or another--but its emphasizing that there is nothing we can do to save ourselves. The idea that "you're saved because of the good you've done--with perhaps a bit of divine generosity thrown in" has no place in true Christianity. Until we accept Christ's grace to turn us from sinners into saints, the "good" we do doesn't even count--it's too tainted by our own self-interests. And it hurts to admit that we're helpless on our own, and that we're pretty ugly, even evil, on close examination.

Once we manage to admit that, though, Christ will show us a better way of life than we ever dreamed of. Starting not on our entrance into Heaven, but right here and now.

Once I was just lost and going nowhere,
Until I met the One Who is the Way.
Now my path is straight and true and ever upward,
Side by side with He Who brings the endless Day.

Once I was deceived and trapped in darkness,
Until I met the One Who is the Truth.
Now I can see clearly where my path is leading,
Side by side with He Who ever renews youth.

Once I was weak, sick, and close to dying,
Until I met the One Who is the Life.
Now my path leads ever on to lands eternal,
Side by side with He Who conquers in all strife.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Just One Degree of Difference

Mark Twain wrote, "The difference between the almost right word and the right word is... the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning." The same principle applies almost everywhere in life--"one tiny" difference can turn out to be a huge difference. Five degrees is the difference between a healthy body temperature and a high fever. One millimeter's rise can lift a flooded river over its levee. And if you try to jump a ditch twenty feet wide and twenty feet deep, and fall short of your target, it won't matter whether the downward drop starts after two feet forward or nineteen feet eleven inches--the final stop will be just as painful.

Several Bible translations, including the King James, render King Agrippa's words in Acts 26:28 as some version of "You almost persuade me to be a Christian." Well, "almost" isn't enough. Many people have gotten to the verge of giving their lives to Christ, lost their nerve at the last second, said they needed time to "think it over," and forgotten all about it. Ultimately, they lost much more than their nerve. But the unsaved may not be the only ones to weep tears of regret on Judgment Day. How many have trusted Christ to redeem them but have never taken an opportunity to do anything significant for Him? How many of us will really hear Christ say, "Well done, good and faithful servant" as we enter into Heaven? Might not some of us be greeted instead with a sad, silent look, and the painful realization that after we were born again, we remained infants the rest of our lives (cf. 1 Cor. 3:11-13)?

Ultimately, Christ will wipe every tear from our eyes (Rev. 21:4). But in the meantime, He wants us to dry a few tears here on earth. We may find in Heaven that the most honored saints are those who cared enough to give their lives to "little" acts of service, acts that passed on to touch thousands.

One degree of difference in our attitudes can make a world of difference.

Just one degree of difference turns a simmer to a boil;
Just one degree of difference turns cold water into ice;
And, as sure as crops and flowers will take root in fertile soil,
Just one degree of difference can extract a heavy price.

As solid turns to liquid, and the liquid into gas,
With gradual increase in heat to past a certain point,
So, with "just a little" sinning, bit by bit, one day we pass
The spot, without our knowing, where all life comes out of joint.

As gas returns to liquid, and the liquid state turns firm,
When, growing slowly colder, it drops past the keypoint spot--
Any heart that slowly hardens from its love of God will turn,
Perhaps to one day hear those fatal words, "I know you not."

And likewise, but one tiny act of will may stand between
The life as "lukewarm Christian" and the one that does great things;
If we spurn God's patient calling, if our fear just keeps us green,
We cheat ourselves of knowing all the fullest life He brings.

Just one degree of difference brings a boil or starts a freeze;
Just one degree of difference can mean choice of life or death.
Just one tiny speck of difference can divide resolve and ease--
Just one degree of difference: small, but vital as each breath.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Time to Quit

The determination to finish what one starts is an admirable quality--until one starts applying it to tasks that never should have been started in the first place, or that are literally impossible to finish. Take it from a chronic offender. I have plowed through to the end of a 1,000-page text which had proven itself not worth reading within the first ten pages; thrown an all-out hysterical tantrum when bad weather forced the cancellation of a long-planned birthday outing (Sound like typical childhood behavior? The birthday in question was my thirty-ninth!); and forced myself to drink two quarts of milk in an hour lest part of the gallon spoil before I got to it. One stormy day, my determination not to turn back from a planned outing led me to drive into fender-deep water--and from there into an attempt to cut across "higher ground," i. e., the sidewalk, where the engine finally quit dead. That trip cost me a visit to the auto repair shop; two weeks for the interior carpets to dry out; a soaking from walking to the nearest store for shelter; and a bad chill when that store turned out to be heavily air-conditioned. Considering what's happened to some people who insisted on driving into floodwaters, that was getting off easy.

While I don't wholeheartedly endorse the idea that God always has one preferred thing for any Christian to be doing in any given moment, I do believe it possible to get obsessed with finishing something for no better reason than having started it, while ignoring the Spirit's still small whisper: "This project is not a good use of your time; put it aside, because I have better work for you." It hurts our pride to admit we never should have started something, that we used bad judgment in choosing a task, that we have invested a huge chunk of time in something not worth finishing. Even when that thing is less benign than a short drive or semi-readable reference book. Have you ever stayed for the end of a television program that had proven itself everything short of hard-core pornographic within the first five minutes? Lied to your boss rather than admit you planned a schedule you couldn't handle? Drunk wine until you couldn't stand up and then blamed the waiter for constantly refilling your glass? We don't always continue in sin because we enjoy it; sometimes we fully intend to give it up "after I just finish this last one," but keep thinking that being a "quitter" is the higher evil.

Actually, receiving God's best may require that we occasionally quit not-so-good things in the middle.

They say no quitter ever wins,
That life rewards the worker,
He who completes what he begins,
And not the duty-shirker.
But if a task proves poor indeed,
Was chosen in pure hasting,
And brings no joy and meets no need--
It's time to quit your wasting!

They say to finish what you start,
That quitting is for losers,
Persistence feeds a Christlike heart,
And God rewards firm choosers.
But if you find the steps you took
Were wrong from the beginning,
Some dazzling bait on deadly hook--
You'd better quit your sinning!

God has His tasks for us to do,
And, working at His calling,
We're honor-bound to see things through,
Lest we be tricked to falling.
But we may miss God's best for grime,
If we insist on sticking
To work that only wastes our time--
So quit--life's clock is ticking!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Do Not Fear

The New International Version of the Bible commands believers, "Do not be afraid," some sixty-six times. These days, though, many of us are paying more attention to the voices of this world telling us all the reasons we should be afraid. Terrorism. War. Crime. Disease. Natural disasters. Many Christians say the devil uses the media to promote immorality and secularism; I wonder if he doesn't make even better use of it to promote anxiety and lack of faith.

A clue to why this approach is so effective lies in the old proverb, "The soul who fears God need fear nothing else." Many of us are eaten up with worry because we take God for granted and put all our emotional stock in lesser things, when we should be loving God with all our hearts and considering everything else dispensable. If we truly appreciated that God's only reason for allowing "misfortune" to touch us was to draw us closer to Him, we wouldn't be so afraid of losing our material possessions, our health, or even our lives--none of which we can hope to keep forever anyway. "For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" (2 Cor. 4:18, NIV).

If we must fear something, let us fear falling short of the best we might achieve for God. And let us keep in constant touch with Him to make sure that doesn't happen.

Do not fear the rocky pathway;
Do not fear oppressive pain;
Trust the Lord Who walks beside you,
Who will make His purpose plain.

Do not fear the world's rejection;
Do not fear if friends seem few;
Trust the One True Friend of sinners,
He Who gave His life for you.

Do not fear the devil's taunting;
Do not fear temptation's lures;
Trust your God, the Strong and Mighty,
Who a fast escape assures.

Do not fear your hope will weaken;
Do not fear your faith will break;
Trust the One Whose grasp still holds you--
He will keep you for His sake.

It is not your strength that matters;
You will never walk alone.
Trust the Shepherd still to lead you;
He will never lose His own.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Not for a Ten-Course Banquet

Dale Carnegie's classic book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living has this to say of that much-quoted line from the Lord's Prayer, "Give us today our daily bread" (Mt. 6:11, NIV):

"Remember that that prayer asks only for today's bread. It doesn't complain about the stale bread we had to eat yesterday; and it doesn't say, 'Oh, God, it has been pretty dry out in the wheat belt lately and we may have another drought--and then how will I get bread to eat next fall--or suppose I lose my job--oh, God, how could I get bread then?'... Today's bread is the only kind of bread you can possibly eat."

Nor can we eat a lifetime's worth at one sitting--which is just as well when we consider how much fat reserve we'd have to build up to last us thirty or forty years. We'd get so big we'd need several square miles of standing room apiece!

The idea is no more ludicrous than the attitude of the rich fool in Luke 12:18-19: "I will store all my grain and my goods. And I'll say to myself, 'You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.'" The rich fool has no shortage of modern-day counterparts, those whose primary goal in life is to save enough for a comfortable and early retirement, on the assumption that life and society can be counted on to indefinitely continue as they "always" have. Ask these people what they would have to show for their lives if they died tomorrow, and they change the subject as fast as they can.

One of the hardest things for human beings to accept is that we are not in control, that our most carefully made plans can be ruined, that we not only are not gods of our own lives, but have no right to be. Moreover, it is useless to ask the real God for extensive details on the future; He is too wise to trust us with such knowledge. Far more than setting our minds at ease that "everything will be all right" in terms of earthly sufficiency, He is interested in building our faith to the point we can trust Him that everything will ultimately be all right.

Even if we miss a meal or two on the way to eternity.

Not for a ten-course banquet,
Nor for a chocolate cake--
Just plain, good bread let us pray for,
All the food we need to take.

Not to complain of past meals,
Nor demand next year's store--
Just one day's food our petition;
Indeed, we can eat no more.

Let us not live distracted
By past, nor future dim--
But, nourished each day by Jesus,
Each moment content in Him.

Not for the dead past decades,
Nor unsure days to be--
Let us live for God at present,
Till we reach eternity.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

And the Seasons Come, and the Seasons Go

What does mid-July mean to you? For most of us in Houston, Texas, USA (those of us too old for summer vacations, anyway), it evokes less-than-ideal weather images: 90-plus-degree days, 90-percent-plus humidity, frequent thunderstorms, and the year's first hurricane warnings.

To compensate, we get mild winters, beautiful spring days, and cool autumn weather. Everyone has a favorite time of year--and individual reasons for preferring it. And at less favored times, we can comfort ourselves that--sure as rain will eventually stop and morning will eventually come--humid summers will give way to mild autumns, gray winters to bright springtimes. As God said to Noah, "As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease" (Gen. 8:22, NIV).

Of course, even the earth will not endure forever. The day will come when "the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.... But in keeping with [God's] promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness" (2 Peter 3:10, 13). Terrifying as the picture of the world coming to an end looks at first glance, we as Christians are commanded not to fear the prospect. Quite the opposite, we are to "look forward to the day of God and speed its coming" (v. 12, emphasis added).

Whether any of us see that day come during our earthly lives is ultimately irrelevant. The important thing is that we will see it, and that God will bring us a new, eternal, perfect earth.

Where bad weather will never be a problem again.

Sure as snow melts in spring and the world turns green,
Our Savior, our Christ, on this earth was seen.

And the seasons come, and the seasons go;
We will age and die, but the earth remain--
Till the fire of our Lord drives out all woe,
On that Day our Christ comes to earth again.

Sure as summertime days do grow long and warm,
Our Father, our Lord, keeps us safe from harm.

And the seasons come, and the seasons go;
We will age and die, but the earth remain--
Till the fire of our Lord drives out all woe,
On that Day our Christ comes to earth again.

Sure as autumn leaves fall and the trees turn red,
Our Savior, our Lord, rose up from the dead.

And the seasons come, and the seasons go;
We will age and die, but the earth remain--
Till the fire of our Lord drives out all woe,
On that Day our Christ comes to earth again.

Sure as winter snow falls and the world turns white,
Our Lord and our God is eternal Light.

And the seasons come, and the seasons go;
We will age and die, but the earth remain--
Till the fire of our Lord drives out all woe,
On that Day our Christ comes to earth again.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Lord, Put a Leash on My Wandering Mind

What metaphor would you use to describe your brain? Mine would probably be the Internet: crammed full of all manner of information and stories--and linking to a new page every few paragraphs. Keeping my mind on one thing for five minutes is a major achievement; hearing that some people pray for thirty minutes each morning invites a wail of despair.

Perhaps the "multiple-track mind" is a common affliction in this multimedia-dependent, information-saturated age. But long before computers or television, God warned the followers of Moses about being distracted by worldly things and forgetting to make time for prayer and thanksgiving (see Dt. 8). Far more people slide into practical atheism through abundance than through poverty. (And we wonder why God doesn't take away all our problems?)

Like Martha in Luke 10:38-42, most of us go about distracted, worried, and upset because of what seems like an endless pile of things that have to be done, feeling we can't "waste time" by stopping to listen to God. Quite possibly the real reason is that we're secretly afraid--I know I often am--that if we ever really listen, He'll tell us to forget about some of those things altogether. Painful as our self-imposed burdens are to carry, our pride and self-indulgence have invited them to extend their roots so deeply into our hearts that the idea of pulling them out seems far more painful. Like a tooth extraction or limb amputation that forever strips away a piece of ourselves, and without even the benefit of anesthetic.

Sometimes it is necessary to sacrifice part of the body to save the whole from infection and death (cf. Mt. 18:8-9). But it is far better to avoid the infection in the first place by taking good care of our health and safety. And the only way to ensure that is to check in with our Doctor regularly. Jesus said, "Apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5, NIV, emphasis added).

Nothing--including giving Him our full attention. So, as we often do in corporate worship, let us begin private worship by asking Him to help us put aside all distracting thoughts and love Him with all our minds.

The Scriptures call us to constant prayer,
And to think on the pure and good;
But my thoughts chase many an idle dream,
And I fail to do as I should.
Yet I of myself have no will or strength
To exhort my thoughts toward the true:
Lord, put a leash on my wandering mind,
And lead my thoughts toward You.

The lure of fear is a mighty one,
As are anger, unease, and greed--
But a subtler trap is the leisure which,
Though not evil, ignores true need.
Like one who each night sits to watch TV,
My brain wastes much good it could do:
Lord, put a leash on my wandering mind,
And guide my heart toward You.

My one desire should be life with Christ,
And each thought I should think for Him,
For the Lord alone brings true peace of mind
And fills up life's cup to the brim.
But trapping each thought to make them His slaves
Is a work I soon tire to do:
Lord, forge a chain made of Love for my thoughts,
And pull me close to You.

Thursday, July 3, 2008


Tomorrow the United States celebrates Independence Day--the anniversary of our officially declaring independence from Great Britain in 1776. In all countries and at all times in history, "freedom" has been a highly valued concept: who would want to be a slave, to live constantly subject to someone else's orders and whims?

Yes, freedom is a wonderful thing--until we approach it the way Eve did, declaring our independence even from God's authority by doing the exact thing He has warned us not to do. Once we let into our heads the idea that God is a tightfisted tyrant, we have taken the first step toward selling ourselves into slavery to the worst kind of tyrant, the one named Sin.

The truth is that every human being is a slave in some way. Don't believe it? Try to find one person who can honestly say, "There is nothing and nobody that it would break my heart to lose." Countless people are slaves to the fear of losing their reputations, their health, their money, or their "true loves." And however good the thing may be in itself, the fear which tells us we couldn't live without it is based in sinful pride--the idea that we know what we need better than God does.

We'll never win by trying to cut ourselves free from all desires. The only way out is to offer ourselves to God as His slaves (cf. Rom. 6:12-23). We needn't fear He will ever prove an unkind or a harsh Master; as Jesus said (Mt. 11:28-30), His yoke is easy and His burden is light. And we needn't fear sin will ever overpower Him and take us back (cf. John 10:27-29).

The only true freedom lies in choosing the right Master.

You who boast you are bound to no one's will,
That you are free to do as you please,
And will rule your own life for good or ill,
With none to whom you need bend your knees--
Stop and take a look at what drives you on:
You are a ship on a surging sea,
Always chasing pleasures now seen, now gone--
For only God's slaves are truly free.

You who say each soul controls its own fate,
That positive thinking does it all,
And the optimist meets no tight-shut gate
That bars his path, nor can take a fall--
No positive thought ever raised the dead,
Nor assured a better world to be
Once you reach the end of your life's short tread--
No, only God's slaves are truly free.

You who love your country and all it means,
Who rejoice to hear the freedom bell
And to live in a nation of hopes and dreams,
Where all can hope things will yet be well--
You are blessed, indeed, but do not forget
The true Home of those with eyes to see,
The far greater Land that awaits us yet--
Yes, only God's Country is truly free.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


If you can't keep your mind on what you're doing because your thoughts are full of all the other things you have to do...

...if your greatest fear regarding a possible crisis is all the things you would have to reschedule after it was over...

...if you feel like a rag in a clothes dryer, whirling at top speed but going nowhere... least you have plenty of company.

The ability to do more than ever before, faster than ever before, is both the advantage and the curse of modern life. We wonder if we can stand the pace another day, yet we doubt we can give up anything. We feel doomed-if-we-do-and-doomed-if-we-don't.

And too often, time with God becomes just one more item to get through and check off--or one more project we can put aside for "later" because there are no immediate consequences for neglecting it....

...or are there? Would those feelings that life is out of control, those bursts of despair, that sense of "I don't know what to do first" be assaulting us so viciously if we'd bothered to ask God for wisdom to know what to do and strength for the task? Are we, perhaps, thinking of Him only as "an ever-present help in trouble" (Ps. 46:1, NIV), and not also as the One Who knows every detail of our everyday lives beforehand and wants to guide us through them (cf. Ps. 139:1-18)?

If the sun suddenly disappeared, every planet in the solar system would fly away into space. When we forget to keep God at the center of our lives, we likewise careen off on a blind course into nowhere.

A circle has a center and so does the earth,
And we seek our own Center from the moment of birth.
As the sun is the center that the planets go round,
We will never know peace till our Center is found.

An apple has a center that we call the core,
And we all need a Center as a house needs a door.
Every peach has a center that some folks call a stone,
And an uncentered soul drifts apart and alone.

There only is one Center to anchor our hearts--
The True Source of all Power from which all of life starts.
Without God, life loses meaning and we are without hope,
Swinging helpless and frail as a battered old rope.

Let Jesus be your Center; trust ever in Him;
Whether pathways seem clear or the way ahead looks dim,
Every soul with God as Center is as safe in its course
As a planet held firmly in gravity's force.