Cleaning Fingerprints

Jesus replied, “A person who has bathed all over does not need to wash,
except for the feet, to be entirely clean.”

John 13:10 NLT

“Fingerprints all over the place.”

My oldest grandson called the dirty storm door to my attention as he and his younger brother stood looking over the back yard. Of course, he failed to mention both of them were the reason for the smudges. Since we keep them six days a week, keeping it clean was an exercise in futility I’d almost given up on.

“Handprints are more like it” I snickered.

“You need to clean it, Pop,” he said.

A Type A personality like myself, he can’t stand dirt—or smudges. I walked by and left the door alone. Since we were moving in a couple of weeks, I had more reason to ignore the grimy paw prints. When I decide to clean the door—probably just before we move, I won’t replace the entire door. I’ll just take out the window cleaner and clean the glass portion.

Jesus proposed a similar scenario to His disciples. They didn’t need to wash all over—just their feet. They were totally cleansed when they believed in Him and decided to be His followers. Now they merely needed a daily sponge bath.

At nine years of age, I decided to do what these early disciples did—trust Jesus as my Savior. Dad explained the gospel message of how Jesus died for my sins. I believed and invited Him into my life. In that moment, He cleansed me all over. Past, present, and future sins—of which there have been many, were washed away. The price Jesus paid on Calvary for humanity’s sins was applied to me.

But what about the daily fingerprints that come from putting my hands where they don’t belong—like my grandchildren? They won’t send me to hell because Jesus’ blood has covered them. They will, however, interfere with my spiritual vision as the fingerprints on the door cloud the view of the backyard. Confession will clear away the smudges. My acknowledgment of my failures and sins is what Jesus referred to when He mentioned a daily foot washing.

Make confession a daily practice. It’s good for the soul and will keep your feet clean. And remove the smudges from the doors so interaction between the Savior and you can be open and clear.

Loving the Least

But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.
Matthew 10:29 NLT

The peeping alerted me that something was amiss.

A mother bluebird had hatched several nestlings in a birdhouse outside my office window. As I worked, I enjoyed hearing their peeps as the mother and father bird made numerous trips to feed their young.

On one particular day, the peeping was different. I looked outside, thinking the babies had flown the coup. And they had—expect for one who languished on the cement porch. I quickly scooped up the hatchling and returned it to the nest. But mom and dad never returned. I saw them flitting around in the yard, but they ignored the peeps of the abandoned baby. Though I tried feeding it insects, it was dead when I arrived for work the next day.

In warning His followers about the persecution on their horizon, Jesus reminded them that not even a sparrow falls without His knowledge. He loves the least. I thought of the verse when I opened the birdhouse and saw the dead baby. My heart broke as I realized sin was the reason this scenario had gone awry. God didn’t want the nestling to die.

Loving the least is rarely easy. I thought of the Andy Griffith episode where Andy’s son, Opie, adopted a nest full of baby birds and nurtured them until they were ready to fly. His attempt succeeded; mine failed. But at least I made the effort.

Though animals aren’t created in the likeness of God as people are—and though they don’t have immortal souls as humans do, they are still a part of God’s creation which He expects us to care for. Many years ago, God entrusted Adam and Eve with the care of His creation. His instructions to them have been passed to all earthly inhabitants.

But loving the least extends beyond animals and the environment to people. We are God’s highest creation, made in His image. It may be easier to hobnob with those in places of importance who can scratch our back in return, but God wants us to love the least too. Those in dire straits. Those who can’t fend for themselves. Those to whom life has handed a tough hand of cards.

Learn to love the least—not just those who can help you in return.

The Table Light

Let your light so shine before men,
that they may see your good works,
and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

Matthew 5:16 KJV

Crazy is taking two young children to a restaurant and trying to enjoy a meal.

My daughter refuses to take her two and four-year-old out to eat. They are loud and rambunctious. She can’t enjoy her meal and is totally flustered by the time the whole episode is over. My wife and I aren’t so afraid. We’re also older and more mellowed out.

We have taught our grandsons to say the blessing before meals, so when our food arrived the oldest piped up that he was going to say the blessing. At this point, all the two-year-old can get out is “God is.” Did I mention that they were loud? And they were. His blessing was loud enough for every waiter, waitress, cook, patron, and manager to hear. I asked him to say it quieter. He obeyed, but had to start over again. Then he had to start over again because I didn’t have my hands folded properly. By the time he was through, everyone’s food had been blessed whether they wanted it to be or not.

I was soon embarrassed for another reason: that I had asked him to say it quieter. He wasn’t ashamed to let anyone or everyone know he loved God and was thankful for the food God provided. My blessings are normally so low the person in the next booth would have to strain to hear. My grandson was doing a better job of letting his light shine than I do.

Levi was doing what Jesus instructed His followers to do: letting his light shine. The light that proclaimed he loved God. The light that proclaimed he was thankful. No doubt others saw his light. Hopefully, some thanked God that we had taught him to give thanks to God for the food.

Letting our lights shine isn’t about us. There is a purpose, but it’s not so others will pat us on the back. Our shining lights should be shined with the intention that others will come to know the God we serve. After all, He is the one who gives us the courage and power to let our lights shine. Jesus said if we deny Him He will deny us before the Father. Personally, I’d rather be accepted by the Father.

Let your light shine brightly before others. Never be ashamed of the One who gave His life for you.

Money: Evil’s Root

Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have.
Hebrews 13:5 NLT

“Money is the root of all evil.”

Though my standard of living would be considered rich by third-world standards, by American standards I’ve rarely lived a comfortable lifestyle. Making the monthly bills match the monthly income has always been a challenge. In spite of that, I’ve made the mistake more than once of buying things I didn’t need. My grandmother and mother often said, “That money is burning a hole in your pocket.” All the while, I was thinking, Well if I had more, maybe it wouldn’t. And somewhere along the line, someone would comment, “You know, the Bible says, “Money is the root of all evil.’” And I would mumble under my breath, No, it doesn’t. I was a preacher’s kid. I may not have always abided by biblical principles, but I knew what they were.

This verse is similar to the often misquoted one, For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10). Money isn’t the issue; love of it is.

The Bible says a lot about money—or possessions. And they’re both the same. I may not have cash on hand, but if I have possessions (even stocks and bonds), I have money. Liquidating my assets would give me spendable funds. Jesus had a lot to say about money, and the disciples and apostles who continued His teachings carried on the tradition.

One thing the Bible doesn’t teach is that money is the root of all kinds of evil. Leaving the word love out changes the meaning and distorts the truth. To be sure, those who have great amounts of money normally love it, but the principle remains: having money isn’t the root of all evil.

Loving my money—in whatever form it takes, will cause me issues, not having the money itself. Money is necessary to pay my bills so I can exist in a monetary economy. Loving my money, on the other hand, will lead me down roads to greed, selfishness, poor decisions, crime, unhealthy relationships, and possibly an eternity apart from God.

Instead of letting money be a root of evil in your life, use it to help others and advance God’s Kingdom work. Give graciously, sacrificially, and with honorable motives.

More Than I Can Handle

And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand.  When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.
1 Corinthians 10:13 NLT

Series: The Things We Say

My arms were full, and I didn’t know whether or not I could make it to the car.

At 14 years of age, I began my first real job: bagging groceries at the local Piggly Wiggly grocery store. Though I had helped my grandfather on the ice cream truck for several years, this job installed me in the real work world. In addition to bagging the groceries, we carried them to the customer’s car. Most customers bought enough groceries that we needed a buggy to transport them, but occasionally a customer would have only a couple of bags. Trying to impress them and whoever else, I attempted to carry them. Today, that wouldn’t be an issue. Bags are plastic and have handles. Then it was. Bags were paper and had no handles. A shifting of the contents of the bags might mean groceries spilled and got damaged.

I’ve heard numerous believers say, “God won’t put any more on you than you can handle.” A statement normally spoken when someone is going through a difficult period or even a series of unfavorable circumstances. It’s another one of those statements we’ve formulated to comfort and encourage. And perhaps it does, but the problem is it can’t be supported biblically.

Though I don’t know where the saying originated, it may be based in part on Paul’s statement that God won’t allow us to be tempted to the point that we have to give in. But difficult circumstances and temptations are necessarily identical.

In reality, God will put more on us than we can stand. And He has a reason. I, like most, tend to think I can handle life myself. Just as I thought I could handle the grocery bags. Trying to maneuver through life without help from anyone else—and particularly God–is foolishness. When God allows more into my life than I can handle on my own, it forces me to turn to Him, which is what I should have done in the first place.

God wants to be our burden bearer. He will give wisdom and courage for every situation we face.

Let God give you strength to face each life situation.

Fear the Lord

You must fear the Lord your God and worship him and cling to him.
Deuteronomy 10:20 NLT

Series: The Things We Say

Being around something or someone I’m scared of is not my favorite thing to do.

I have real and perceived fears. My fear was real when bears entered a fellow camper’s camp and devoured their food—twice. My son and I were camped in a three-sided shelter a mere 50 feet away. The same bears could have easily walked into our shelter and harmed us. As a child, my fear of the dark could have been real or imagined. Though Dad was fond of saying there was nothing in the dark that wasn’t there in the light, I never believed him. Some dangers are present at night that aren’t during the day. But some of my fears associated with darkness were also imagined.

Early in life, Dad taught me to fear the Lord. At the same time, he wanted me to love Him. I don’t normally love or choose to be around those I fear. If I fear them, I perceive some sort of danger hangs around them. Seemed like an ironic situation to love and fear God, and I was unsure of how to do both.

The command combines fear, worship, and association. If we usually avoid what we fear—but God wants us to worship and associate with Him, there must be another definition of fear…and there is. Fear can involve being afraid of something or someone. Defined in such a manner, I would avoid that person or thing. Fear can also mean to reverence. And this is the definition God has in mind when He tells us to fear Him.

When I reverence God, I will stand in awe of Him. In one sense, I should fear Him. He has life and death power over my existence. With the utterance of one command, my heart would stop and my breath cease. He is sovereign over people and the universe.

Though fear can involve fright, God wants me to love and revere Him. So great was His desire for fellowship with people that He allowed His Son to die for our sins on Calvary. I stand in awe of Him, but I also consider Him my Savior and friend. He has accepted me into His family and invited me to come into His presence as often as I like.

Let your fear of God lead you to Him…not away.

I Know How You Feel

Series: The Things We Say

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.
John 11:21 NLT

Tragedy had struck. What could I say?

As a minister, I’ve watched people endure their share of tragedies. A husband whose wife decided to drive drunk. Her actions led to the death of their small child. A father whose daughter was innocently riding her bike through their subdivision and was hit and killed. Good friends whose daughter tried to ride a bicycle that was too large and accidentally rolled into the path of an oncoming truck. A couple whose child was born prematurely and languished in the neonatal intensive care unit for months and then grew up mentally challenged.

I’ve probably been guilty of saying it, but even if I haven’t, I’ve heard many others say those infamous words: “I know how you feel,” or “I know what you’re going through.” Innocent words spoken with good intentions, but words that mean little if anything to the one who is grieving—and perhaps questioning God at the same time.

Mary and Martha were probably feeling a little confusion themselves. Their brother, Lazarus, was sick. So they sent for Jesus, thinking He would heal him. Instead of coming immediately, Jesus waited until Lazarus had died. Martha was confused.

Even if I’ve experienced something similar to what a person is going through, saying “I know how you feel” isn’t the best response to their grief. I don’t know how they feel. I know how I felt, but I can’t get inside of their body and experience their emotions. The statement usually falls on deaf ears. They may also perceive the words as an empty platitude that means nothing.

When a person is grieving, spending time with them and saying little is a good practice. If I feel the need to speak, saying, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through,” or “How can I help” are helpful statements. Better yet is thinking of some way to help without asking the person. In their state of mind, they usually can’t think of what they need anyway. If I have experienced something similar to their tragedy, I can always tell my story and share how God brought me through.

Depend on God to give you the right thing to say when you’re helping a grieving person.

Waking Up God

Wake up, my God, and bring justice!
Psalm 7:6 NLT

I come from a family of nappers.

Power naps. The men on my father’s side of the family believed in them. When supper was over and the kitchen cleaned, my grandfather would sit down on the couch to watch the news or a football game. Several minutes later, his head was bowed.

My father’s profession allowed him time to nap during lunch. And he did. When lunch was over, he retired to the recliner where he took a fifteen-minute nap. No alarm clock was needed to awaken him.

I’ve followed in the tradition. When I can, I take a power nap after lunch. In twenty minutes or so, I wake up. I know how to take a nap.

My wife, on the other hand, doesn’t. Although she claims she is going to take a nap, she really means she is going to sleep for two hours. Waking her goes something like this:

“Hey, babe. It’s time to get up.”

“I’m awake,” she says—followed by snoring.

“Are you gonna get up?

“Give me 30 more minutes.”

After thirty minutes, “Hey, babe. Your thirty minutes are up.”

After several episodes of this, she finally gets up.

God doesn’t sleep—or even take naps. But it seems as if He did to the psalmist. He was being falsely accused of trying to kill the king and take the throne. Although God had selected David as the next king of Israel, David needed God to wake up and deal with his accusers.

God’s time frame is different than mine. To me, it may appear He’s sleeping when in reality He’s only napping. He sees the injustices in the world and those committed against me by others—as He did David’s, but I must trust Him to act according to His timetable, not mine.

What appears as bad or an injustice to me might not to Him—so He naps. I normally thought my parents’ punishments were bad for me but later learned they weren’t. I have to trust God to do what’s best as my heavenly Father.

Nor is revenge mine. David could have dealt with his accusers, but he chose to ask God to instead. God says revenge belongs to Him, not us.

In times of trouble, call out to God. But remember, He never naps or sleeps, and He is always concerned about what concerns you.

Advice from the Wrong Source

Someone may say to you, “Let’s ask the mediums and those who consult the spirits of the dead.
With their whisperings and mutterings, they will tell us what to do.” But shouldn’t people ask God for guidance?

Isaiah 8:19 NLT

To buy or not to buy, that was the question.

I was three years in on a four-year car mortgage when the transmission on my Chevrolet Corsica began slipping. These were the days when cars themselves were constructed better but the engines weren’t. When the odometer reached 75K to 100K, it was time to trade. Mine was at 60K. But the prices on cars had also risen over the last three years.

So I turned to my paternal grandfather. After all, he had grown up on the tail end of the Great Depression and was familiar with “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” He’d never owned a new car but had been particular when buying used ones.

“You can get your car fixed for the price of one car payment,” he said.

Sounded good, but I was getting the itch to trade cars anyway. This seemed like a good excuse.

“If you trade, you’re going to have four more years of payments,” he continued. I had thought of that too. (This was in a time period when you could actually afford a four-year payment plan.)

Although I went to a reputable source, I didn’t take his advice. I traded a good car that could have been repaired for a modest price for four more years of higher payments. I regretted it later but couldn’t undo my decision.

Isaiah warned his listeners about going to the wrong sources for advice. Instead of going to a living God, they were checking with mediums who supposedly consulted the dead for advice. Their actions were ludicrous—as were mine when I turned down sound advice.

Seeing signs that read Spiritual Advisor isn’t that unusual. I’ve never been to one, but many have. Going there would be no different than Isaiah’s peers who consulted mediums. God is the only adequate and dependable spiritual advisor. While I can’t visit Him in person or hear Him audibly, I can know the mind of Christ.

God is my source for sound advice, and He gives the means to discover it through His Word, prayer, mature believers, and Christian counselors. Even some secular sources—when filtered through God’s Word, have sound information for making life decisions.

Make sure you consult the right sources when you need advice.

God of the Deep

For you look deep within the mind and heart, O righteous God.
Psalm 7:9 NLT

A surgeon’s eyes look where others’ eyes don’t.

While in his sixties, Dad was diagnosed with a defective heart valve. He could have a mechanical valve or a pig’s valve implanted. He chose the mechanical. Shortly after the surgery, the valve malfunctioned. We took him to Atlanta for a second surgery.

In both instances, surgeons were able to see what I never have—and don’t want to: the inside of a chest. Scalpels cut apart Dad’s chest and rib spreaders separated his ribs, allowing the doctors to see my father’s heart and all other organs that God hid behind the rib cage. They could watch the heart beating, see the valves working, observe the blood pumping and flowing.

Had I been there, I wouldn’t have watched long before passing out. But the doctors and nurses take a regular view of people’s insides. They see what most people never witness.

God has the ability to do the same. He made us, knows every intricate part of our anatomy, and understands how all the parts work and fit together. He knows which bone is connected to which bone—and didn’t have to attend medical school to learn. But His look goes deeper than the physical.

God looks into my mind and heart. Not merely at all the electrical forces taking place in the brain and not just at all the pumping of blood that occurs in the heart. He sees with eyes I can’t. God sees the motives behind my actions. When I do a good deed, He knows if I’ve done it for honorable reasons. He knows if my heart is sensitive to others’ needs and if it’s tender toward Him. He sees the hurts and the damage done by others.

Pretending is a waste of time. God gets to the heart of the matter. I may fool others, but God knows what’s really pumping inside of me. My heart and mind are open books before Him.

The good news is that what’s broken is fixable—just as my dad’s heart valve was. Improper motives, unhealthy emotions, hardened hearts, hidden agendas, unforgiveness, hurts. None of these pose a problem for God. All I have to do is allow Him to work on me.

God sees what you can’t in your heart and mind. Go to the God of the deep for the healing you need.