So did a blind man called Bartimaeus, whose story appears in the Bible. One day, while he was hanging out by the side of the road begging, a noisy crowd came his way. When he found out the Rabbi Jesus was in the crowd, he began to shout out to him. Long story short—Jesus stopped and asked him what he wanted.
Most people desire a satisfying religious faith. However, most of us have been immunized–if you will–against taking God and faith very seriously. For example, there is a concept out there that only lazy or incompetent people rely on God very often.
Considering boats–motorboats and rowboats–gives me a different picture of God-dependent people.
Let me liken rowboats to totally self-reliant individuals who propel themselves through life by their own energetic rowing. Motorboats, then, are like people who spend their time in a boat fishing–or whatever–and allow the motor to get them where they want to go.
This brings us to a question: What is the purpose of a boat? To wear you out? Or to get you somewhere?
Some boat owners may opt for a motorboat because they’re lazy, but most people own them because they can do more with them. Have you ever seen a rowboat pulling a water skier? Have you ever seen a commercial fishing vessel powered by several dozen rowing men?
I can achieve a lot with my natural abilities and hard work, but “I can do ALL THINGS through Christ” (Philippians 4:13).
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.
But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition. . . .
But Dr. King did not ascend the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to deliver a lament. He had faith for a better future.
But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.
He was a motivator.
We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.
He was a spiritual leader.
But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.
He was an orator, repeating the refrain “I have a dream” until the hearts of his listeners–even today–catch the beat of this vision.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today!
What do you admire about Martin Luther King Jr.?
On a TV morning show today, the talk was all about counting down t0 the greatest New Year’s Eve celebration ever. It triggered thoughts about holiday celebrations in general–and how much the same they are.
Yes, each one has its own flavor–for example, the Fourth of July is about fried chicken and fireworks, whereas Thanksgiving is about turkey and dressing and–maybe sleigh rides? Depending on the climate where you live.
The thing they all seem to have in common is that the original meaning of them tends to get lost in the shuffle of “Yeah! A vacation from work and school! A time for family, presents, and parties.”
What if, on the Fourth of July, for example, we got together with family and friends and listened to–or, better yet, recited–the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence? What if we actually caught the spirit of the men who had to “hang together” to birth a new nation, because, if they didn’t, they would “hang separately”? (Wasn’t it Ben Franklin who said that?) What if we were filled with thankfulness for our freedoms and opportunities? What if we were so mindful of the great gift given to us by our forefathers that we personally resolved, as Abraham Lincoln urged, “that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Wouldn’t that be a true celebration of Independence Day?
Believe me, I’m not knocking taking time off work to relax, spend time with loved ones, and enjoy seasonal festivities. Hurrah for holidays! But each one is based on a significant event, and–I don’t know about you, but–I feel cheated when that is glossed over.
That’s why I love New Year’s Eve celebrations with my church family. Last year, after a fabulous meal, and several rousing praise songs, our pastor and several associate pastors preached ten minutes each on what the Lord had shown them about the upcoming year. At midnight, I was full not only in stomach but socially, emotionally, and spiritually.
Oh, it’s 7:00 PM. Two hours until this year’s celebration. It will probably be the best New Year’s Eve celebration ever!
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10)
When Jesus came to Earth as a babe in a manger, he brought with him a kingdom.
During his public ministry, Jesus taught more about his kingdom than he did anything else. Yes, he came to make it possible for us to be forgiven and go to heaven, instead of hell, when we die. But that was just the beginning of his purpose for mankind. The forgiveness and reconciliation he won for us is the doorway into his kingdom.
He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love (Colossians 1:13).
What is this kingdom Christians ask for every time they recite the Lord’s Prayer? It is a heavenly realm that now exists on Earth–a realm people enter when they believe on Christ–a realm in which God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.
That raises another question: what is his will? Jesus demonstrated the will of God everywhere he went. He healed all the sick who were brought to him. He stopped storms from terrifying his disciples or keeping them from arriving at their destination. He reversed untimely deaths.
His every action showed that it was his will that people live long, healthy lives in a world that is safe for humans. If, as some say, it is not always God’s will to heal people, then Jesus went around opposing God’s will in a big way–because he healed all who came to him.
So if it is God’s will for us to live thoroughly blessed lives, why is there still so much evil and oppression in the world–even for believers?
In one of his parables, Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to yeast which is mixed into dough. It causes the dough to expand–and expand and expand. Likewise, the blessed realities of life under Jesus’ benevolent rule gradually take over in those who pray, “Your kingdom come.” That is, if they understand and mean what they’re saying. And if they love and cooperate with the King.
If they do, then the will of God–for everything to be healthy and good–will be done in their corner of the earth, as it is in heaven.
My life used to be based on will power. Holding things together by the force of my will. Keeping things under control by forethought, planning, and skill. But I was in a fairly regular pattern of anxiety and burnt out.
Jesus’ invitation is to a different kind of will power: ”I will” power. Saying “I will” in response to His leadership.
I still think ahead. I still plan. I still acquire and use skill. But now I know to take the time upfront to worship and catch His vision. And I am learning to stay tuned all along the way for His guidance and enablement.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths (Prov. 3:5-6 NIV).
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28-30 MSG).
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:9 NIV).
Why do you think it is that many Christians say that God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts, but then they think and live as if they know more than God. I mean, when they read something in the Bible that doesn’t make sense to them, they ignore it or explain it away.
If they really believed that God’s thoughts are higher than theirs, wouldn’t they say, “Well, of course this passage doesn’t make sense to me. My mind isn’t on the same wavelength as God’s–not yet! But I’m going to ponder God’s words until my mind is renewed to think like His”?
In the previous post, “Let It Begin with Me,” I mention the disheartening segment in the movie Lawrence of Arabia in which a larger-than-life British officer and his unlikely coalition of Arab sheiks achieve a brilliant military victory but could not successfully rule over the city they had captured. Their weak characters could not sustain their victory.
But not to worry–it doesn’t have to be that way.
Simon Peter is great example of a person whose character became able to sustain–everything. Triumphantly.
When he signed on as a disciple of Christ, his character left something to be desired. He was eager and loyal but impulsive and unreliable.
Jesus saw unusual potential in Simon because He singled him out, along with James and John, for closer mentoring. However, from Day One, Jesus hinted about a change that needed to happen in him, by nicknaming him Cephas. In the Greek-speaking world of the day, that translated to Petros, which means “rock.” It was a promise of what Simon would become.
Centuries earlier, the Lord had appeared to a timid man named Gideon and called him a mighty man of valor. Well, Simon, Jesus’ disciple, might have considered himself a mighty man of valor, but the Master’s nickname told him what else he needed to become—a rock of strength and stability.
And it happened—somewhere between the Last Supper and the Day of Pentecost. At the Last Supper, Peter boldly proclaimed he would defend Jesus to the death. But when Jesus was arrested, Peter denied he even knew Him.
Fast-forward fifty days to the Day of Pentecost. That afternoon, the disciples came out of hiding. Peter stepped forward and announced to all Jerusalem, “Let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36 NIV).
Who, Peter? The wannabe hero who behaved like a coward? Yes, his unstable character was now rock-steady.
One sign of his new stability was that he was able to focus on others. Jesus had asked him to “feed my sheep.” In 1 Peter and 2 Peter, his letters to the churches, he encourages those fearful of persecution, explains God’s ways to the immature, and even instructs believers to treat the heathen around them with concern and respect.
Was he all mellowed out? No! Read his epistles. Intertwined with the fatherly counsel and instruction are glad passages of power and glory.
The passion that Peter had always possessed continued to break out, wherever he went. But it was no longer the random, destructive erupting of a volcano. Instead, it sprang up, at the right times, like a geyser of life-giving water.
PANNING FOR GOLD
Digging into Psalm 34:12-14
Do you recognize the words in the title? They are the second line of a timeless song from the 1950s.
Let there be peace on earth,
And let it begin with me.
Actually, peace on earth–and THE GOOD LIFE, which is the theme of this blog–do not begin with me or any other person. They begin with God. Peace and a good life are possible for us because God is the Prince of Peace and He is good.
Hold it; hold it! I can hear some folks thinking. If God is good and the Prince of Peace, why isn’t the world in better shape? Why isn’t my life better?
I’m glad you asked. 🙂
Jesus brought the kingdom of heaven back to earth, but not everyone chooses to become a citizen of it. And not all who have become citizens of it live there full-time.
Similarly, the good life is available for “whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days” (Psalm 34:12), but — well, let’s look at this verse in context.
12 Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days,
13 keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies.
14 Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it (Psalm 34:12-14 NIV).
Well, according to the psalmist, if you want the good life–if you want to change your world–you first have to change yourself!
A sterling example of this is the heartbreaking scene towards the end of the epic adventure film “Lawrence of Arabia.” The unconventional, charismatic British army officer T. E. Lawrence had done the impossible–he had managed to create a coalition of fiercely independent Arab sheiks, and, with their assistance, had conquered a major city. However, in the following weeks, the sheiks refused to work together to restore normalcy to the city. It became a nightmare of rubble, disease, and starvation. Lawrence, himself, fell into depression and made no attempt to re-forge their former unity of purpose.
Better a patient person than a warrior,
one with self-control than one who takes a city (Proverbs 16:32).
If I want real, lasting victory–it has to begin with me.
What are some of the things that need to change about me if I want a really good life? Let’s go back to verses 13 and 14 of Psalm 34:
- “Keep your tongue from evil.” That would include gossip, sarcastic remarks, off-color jokes, and pessimistic talk, right?
- “Keep your lips from telling lies.” In other words, don’t mislead or take advantage of others by giving them false information. Don’t bury your heart by pretending to be someone you’re not. And don’t say things to yourself that are contrary to God’s gracious plans for you. Don’t say, “I can’t,” “Nothing good will ever happen to me,” “I’d better be content with a little. Who am I to expect anything special from God?” You’re of great worth to God. He delights over you with singing (Zechariah ). He has great plans for your future (Jeremiah 29:11). That’s the truth. Stick to it!
- “Turn from evil and do good.” Well, that covers the waterfront: Don’t do what’s wrong, and do do the things you know you should.
- “Seek peace and pursue it.” Stay out of strife. Did someone insult you? Don’t let it under your skin. Is you co-worker in a foul mood? Do yourself and the whole workplace a favor–be extra cheerful. Wherever you are, replace anxiety, frustration, and contention with faith, calmness, and harmony.
Imagine how good your life would be if your were this positive, mature, and holy.
Holy. Free from the internal garbage that keeps you from being and doing all God created you for.
Is that impossible? It must not be. God doesn’t ask us to do anything He doesn’t enable us to do.
15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16 NIV).
And it’s not as hard as it might seem. It’s not so much a matter of fixing yourself, as it is letting go of your old self and letting Christ’s life flood into your thinking and your desires.
not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith (Philippians 3:9 NIV).
put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and . . . put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:22-24 NIV).
Three years ago, the Lord said to me, “It’s time to dream. It’s time to plan.” My dream to move from Illinois, which had been my home for over forty years, happened quickly because the Lord caused my house to sell in ten days! Another dream–to write a novel based on the life of the apostle Peter–hasn’t taken off so fast. But as I have held onto the dream and learned to cooperate with God, I have changed a lot. It had to begin with me.
It fit in with my thoughts. I had wanted for this week’s blog to relate to Independence Day, so was seriously considering interrupting my series on The Good Life. But then I saw that the events of July 4, 1776, were a perfect illustration of what was on my heart to say next about “the good life.”
In 1776, many Americans were ready to be done with English rule. They desired “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” (Does that sound like “the good life”?) But the 57 men who signed the Declaration of Independence didn’t just wish for the freedom to pursue these things, they did something about it. Over ninety declarations of independence were circulating around the colonies at that time. But these 57 men sent their declaration directly to the king of England. In so doing, they laid on the line their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor (as the last line of the Declaration says).
They are examples of what the previous blog said about The Good Life: they desired something passionately, and that desire motivated them to achieve something that made their lives worth living.
They also show that desiring things is a necessary beginning, but it’s only the beginning. As the old nursery rhyme says, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.”
Wishing, alone, will get a person nowhere. Some people wish for something with all their hearts and feel robbed because what they desire never happens. But things do not become ours just because we want them. It doesn’t work that way when we go shopping, does it?
“Well,” some people might object, “I’m not just wishing for something to happen. I have faith that God will do it.” That’s an excellent statement in the sense that only God can guarantee good outcomes. But it implies that God fulfills His promises all by Himself.
One of the events that says otherwise is the story of the Israelite’s possession of the Promised Land. God had promised it to them. But the first generation of Israelites didn’t receive their promise. They didn’t think right–they believed the giants in the land were more powerful than God. They had no faith in Him.
The second generation did have faith in God, but their faith was not passive. They didn’t camp on the east side of the Jordan and wait for God to give them the “all clear” signal. No, they understood that God had guaranteed them the land, but He required them to play a part in taking possession of it–a part that required faith and courage. It took faith and courage to show up for battle. It took faith to follow God’s unusual battle plans. Then, after He performed a miracle (like causing the walls of Jericho to fall), they needed faith and courage to follow up on that and complete the conquest.
As James 2:20 says, “Faith without works is dead.” In other words, faith that does not do its part, is not really faith. It’s wishful thinking.
When Joshua succeeded Moses as the leader of the Israelites, the Lord said to him,
This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success (Joshua 1:8 NKJV).
Hmm! There’s a part for us to play if we want to experience the success God has promised.
There’s a reason why our memory of the Fourth of July, 1776, is emblazoned on the skies every year with multi-colored bursts of fire. On that day, a group of men rose above mere wishful thinking. They placed “firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence” then courageously played their part in birthing the great nation known as the United States of America.
What kind of “good life” do you desire? If it is, indeed, a good desire; that is, a healthy, God-inspired one, don’t say it couldn’t happen. Don’t doubt your ability to partner with God in reaching such a goal. You will no doubt need new attitudes and behavior in order to be successful, but God is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). If you let Him, He will make you a person of faith and courage who can lay hold of The Good Life of your desires.