“A Tale of the Lantern”

light_in_dark7On a sultry night in late summer, some 50 years ago, I had my first night time excursion into the woods.  Now considering the dark is something that springs terror into the heart of a kid, what could compel me to do such a thing?  Ah, that would be the presence of a light.  This particular light source was not one of the  harsh however convenient LED lights of today, but an old kerosene lantern that my uncle had dug out of the shed and decided to fill it up and see if it would still work.  The glass was caked with dirt and grime from years of non-use, but more so with a coating of black that had never been cleaned from it.  So there was light, but its circle of influence over the darkness wasn’t going out very far.

I should add that this particular uncle was only a half dozen years older than I, and that we had no particular reason to be going into the woods at night.  There was no hunt.  We weren’t looking for anything.  No, it was all about the experience of being in a spooky place – the forest at night – with  a dim light whose source was a small fire that we manipulated in its glass cage. In short, this excursion had an abundance of ingredients that inspire wonder and excitement.  Top of the list has to be playing with fire.  A close second was beating back the darkness with our man made contraption. There was the comfort and fun of hanging out with friends combined with the fear and excitement of going into the woods at night. All of it was made possible by this tiny flicker of fire in a glass cage.

Now what could possibly make this experience any grander than the opportunity to be the one carrying the light.  Looking back on that, I can scarce believe my uncle didn’t carry it himself.  It is a very responsible chore after all and one not typically left to underlings. But never the less, off we went, to the twisting and root laden path of the forest at night in search of adventure.

Funny thing about light.  You can forget what you were supposed to be doing with it.  You can become enamored with it, so distracted into staring at its source that you may trip over the obstacles that you were carrying it to reveal in the first place.  You can become so intent on making sure the circle illuminates your way that you forget there are other feet on the trail; feet that are tripping over obstacles because you have left them in the shadow you cast as you hog all of the light.

Sometimes I think I haven’t grown up very much.  I’m still a small boy entertaining myself with the light in the woods at night.  I forget that I have been given the light for a reason. My devotional time, my prayers, my plans are all too often about me.  I forget I have been entrusted with a responsibility to enable others to see as well as myself.  Mathew’s gospel reveals Jesus saying, “You are the light of the world…”   “…let your light so shine that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

“Lord, may I be of a benefit to someone else in my circle of light today.”

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“Raising the Bar”

ImageIt is inherent in the nature of the athlete that excels, to continue to strive for the next level;  to run faster, lift more, throw farther, and jump higher.  There never comes a point at which they say, “It is enough.”  There were a particular group of people in scripture who also continually strove for excellence.  The trouble was, they kept moving the bar in the wrong direction, and, when they cleared the lowered standard, proclaimed themselves righteous.  They were even pretty good at convincing others as well, that they themselves had succeeded.  That is why Jesus so frequently took issue with their false humility and elevated sense of self-righteousness.  

Jesus said in Mathew 5 “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven….  For I say unto you, that unless you’re righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”  That statement had to come as a real shocker to those who thought the Pharisees had indeed attained the highest level.  One can only imagine the anger on the part of the Pharisees that someone would call them out in such a public forum.

So, go ahead and take a look at the last half of chapter five in Matthew.  It is not for the faint of heart; not when calling someone a fool is equated with murder, or a lustful thought the committing of adultery.  If such is the case, then righteousness is so very far away from our grasp.  We shall never assail high enough up the pole to obtain it.  And that my friend is quite the point of the matter. 

In another place Jesus is asked, “Then who can be saved?”  Whom indeed?  With men it is impossible, “But with God, all things are possible.”  We attempt the vault only to fall flat on our faces in embarrassment, humiliation, failure, and perhaps even injured.  But through God’s grace – the gift from the very teacher in our story,  God treats us as if we had indeed attained the highest mark, and awards us the victors’ crown through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

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Four Hearts and the Jack of Spades


There are two separate, yet similar stories represented in the title.  The stories are in Matthew 26 and Luke 7.  The stories have two separate men with the same name, Simon.  The stories have two women, whom we believe to be named Mary when compared to other verses, but they are different Marys.  So, those four represent the four hearts.  Judas is thrown in for good measure as the Jack of Spades, as he is also represented in the story. As we share in these accounts, your job is to find which of the hearts in these accounts represents the state of your heart.

Story one is from Luke 7 and contains heart #1 – Simon the Pharisee.  Simon was one of those community leaders who had invited Jesus into his home and the menu for dinner was to be Jesus himself.  At this particular time, the Pharisees are trying to get Jesus to mess up with his answers to their grilling questions, that they may find something against him.  I believe Simon to be a hostile host because in our story, he fails to offer Jesus even the most rudimentary trappings of civilized society of the day.  He fails to offer the washing of feet and the anointing oil for His head.  I realize that seems weird to us, but it was common custom of that day, and even Jesus makes mention of it.  Simon is one of those self-righteous Pharisees who held a thinly veiled contempt for Jesus and what many in the community were calling Him – a prophet.  So, Simon’s heart is proud.  He certainly has no need for a Savior, and is quick to point out, that if Jesus is who the masses claim Him to be, he would know what this woman is that is making such a fool of herself and put a stop to it.  So here is hard hearted, judgmental, condescending Simon.

In the same story is heart #2.  There is not room to go into the details of her identity, but many believe it to be Mary Magdelene, and for the purposes of my story, that works because of the similar name coming up later.  This supposed Mary comes from “the other side of the tracks.”  Prositution and demon possession have been rumored to be in her personal story.  Perhaps from her past healing of possession by Jesus, or forgiveness of sins, she has come to offer up tribute to her friend, who is more than a prophet to her, but a forgiver of sins as well.  There is no expense with held in the libation that she pours on Jesus’ feet.  She also sacrifices any dignity she may have had left, as she begins to weep uncontrollably and to wipe the tears away with her hair.  “What a display!” the others thought, especially Simon.  But Mary’s heart is certainly a contrite heart.  A heart with no reservations as to cost nor to her dignity, when sacrificed in honor of Jesus.  The Bible says God is all about contrite hearts.  He resists the proud (Simon the Pharisee) and gives grace to the humble, which He certainly did just that in this story.

Story number two contains heart #3.  This is the heart of Mary the sister of Lazarus.  Johns’ gospel tells us that.  This Mary offers up an honoring tribute to Jesus that goes right along with what we have seen in her interest formerly – the occasion where she is in the living room listening to Jesus while her sibling is in the kitchen preparing the meal.  Jesus credits her with having chosen the better part.  After that occasion, Jesus has raised her brother Lazarus from the grave.  Wow!  Who would resist any opportunity to express heart felt gratitude with no expense spared to honor the man who could do such a thing? Jesus says she has done so in preparation of His burial.  Whether or not she realizes she has offered such a prophecy, her heart is certainly bursting with gratitude for that her friend, her Lord has done for her.  Does such a heart represent you?

In story number two is also heart #4.  The heart of Simon the leper.  Again, we are not going to get in to all of the supposings as to whom this Simon could be.  It is enough that the Bible refers to him as Simon the Leper.  For him to be here in this group means that “leper” is past tense.  What disturbs me most about this Simon is that we hear nor see nothing out of him.  When Mary is being lambasted for her very expensive display, where is Simon?  Why is he not only siding with Mary for the display, but offering his own heart felt gratitude for the apparent healing previously received?  What disturbs me about Simon is that I see Gary Figgins in this Simon, a man who owes much, but honors little.  Simons heart should have been as overflowing in gratitude as Mary’s vial of perfume, but we hear it not.  We see it not.  Is this your heart?

Last of all is Judas, the Jack of Spades.  Most of the gospel accounts credit all of the rest of the attendees at the banquet as to joining in on the disdain felt for “such wasted extravagance” that could have been given to the poor.  Johns’ gospel points out that the leader of this lambasting was Judas.  He points out that he did so, not because Judas kept about the poor, but that he very much cared about the money because he was a thief.  Jesus begins to rebuke the men for their chastisement of Mary and instead praises Mary for what she has done – offered a tribute that He promises will never be forgotten.  I believe that since Judas was the ring leader of the attacks against Mary that he also took the brunt of Jesus’ rebuke.  Instead of repentance, and a softening of the heart, Judas’ hardened.  We know so because the gospel writers tell that he afterwards went to meet with the Jewish leaders to discuss the details of the coming betrayal.

So, my friend, which heart is yours?  I fear that the scariest one to be in is heart #3 – Simon the Leper.  I fear the heart with much to be thankful for and yet so silent.  It kind of reminds me of the ten healed lepers, of whom only one came back to say “Thanks”.  Simon’s heart that is content simply to be in the presence of the master, but nothing at all to offer, nothing to say, just there.  I wonder if this particular heart is not the kind of heart that grieves the Lord Jesus most of all.

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Get off the Bench and into the Game.

ImageGet off of the Bench.

[Just in time for March Madness]

It may be hard to accept, but there are quite a few people that just aren’t that into sports.  I know I am putting myself out there for criticism to say that. I will be even more risky and admit that I am one of those persons.  That is not a popular stance to take, especially in our culture.  If you care to check out the following link, http://www.interestingideas.com/ii/sports.htm, that pretty much spells it out for me.

Now imagine the number of people involved, who, not wanting to be “out-ed” are sitting on the sidelines or even on the bench, who are simply pretending to care, who have no athletic prowess and pray not to be put into the game and humiliated by their clumsiness.  If they have to be placed in the game, please let it be the most insignificant position possible.  That way no one will notice that they have no ability, and furthermore, are just not that into sports.  They go to all of the practices, attend all of the games, enjoy the fraternity of being with their friends, but it is quite frankly all a front, for they much prefer to simple stay on the bench.

Now, I ask you to please allow me the former assumptions as it is not my intent to fight for their cause or argue the point, but all of the aforementioned is simply to illustrate the following point.  For many in the church today, they are just not really that into the whole Jesus thing. They enjoy the fraternity and fellowship of friends but they would hate to be “found out” by Grandma or the in-laws. Christianity for them is pretty much just a cultural front.  They consider themselves to be Christian, but would perhaps refrain from calling themselves disciples, and certainly not saints.  They like the trappings of what being a part of the Church can do for them.  They like being on the team but when it comes to putting the faith into practice, they fear being found out.  You see, they just aren’t that into the Jesus thing.

Wilbur Reese states a similar attitude in

Three Dollars Worth of God:

I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep,
but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk
or a snooze in the sunshine.
I don’t want enough of God to make me love a black man
or pick beets with a migrant.
I want ecstasy, not transformation.
I want warmth of the womb, not a new birth.
I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack.
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.

That is certainly an “I’m staying on the bench” attitude. 

 The only reasons to be on the bench are:

  1. 1.     You have no faith and are simply a pretender.  That’s a dangerous place to be.


  1. 2.     You say you have faith, but it is untried.  Untried faith is no faith at all, and a dangerous place to be.

God said:  “Get in the game.”    You are going to mess up.  You are going to miss the shot from time to time; perhaps often.  You will commit personal fouls.  There will be times you will embarrass yourself.  There will be times – probably most of the time – you will feel inadequate for the task at hand.  Moses said the same thing you know.

In one way it is just like sports.  You are not going to get any better unless you get in the game.  James said the only faith possible is one that is out there working.  Sitting on the bench is no faith at all.



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“Worship” should be a natural expression of who you really are.

Image  I happen to be the proud owner of a hand-made Taylor 12 string guitar.   When all 12 strings are in perfect tune, it is a wondrous thing to experience.  But that is only true when those strings are all in tune with each other.  Twice the number of strings means twice the number of things that can go wrong.  No string has to be way off key.  Each one just vibrating, say 1% off what it should be, but multiply that by 12 and it’s like fingernails on a chalkboard.

After much trial and error, and admittedly the purchase of an electronic tuner,  the headache of constant tuning has been made much easier.  In the process of getting it “just right” I also discovered something fantastic.  There seems to be a place in the vibration scale that is just right for the guitar.  When you hit that “sweet spot”, the whole body of the guitar comes alive with the sensational vibrations and sound. The other 11 strings know when it happens too, and they will also pick up the “vibes”, (pun intended) and begin to resonate in empathy as well.  They can’t help but do it.  It’s part of their nature.  They were manufactured that way.

Since it’s not my intention to go into the physics of sound wave lengths, and how they compliment each other in the business of harmony,  suffice it to say,  when the string is in it’s right pitch, there are other strings that feel it, and they begin to sound off as well.

I’m pretty sure worship is like that.  It should come as a natural expression of who I am. It’s but a natural response we have when we find ourselves in the presence of the Lord. Evidently David was very expressive and couldn’t help but dance (half naked I hear) in the streets of Jerusalem before the ark of God.

When I take in the beauty of a sunrise over the ocean, the call of a whippoorwill at night, or  holding a grandchild born just moments ago, my heart vibrates with joy inexpressible to my Creator for His goodness.

It’s not just nature and family that do it for me.  In Isaiah 42:8, I read,  “I am the Lord, That is My Name…”  and I got goosebumps. Yea, I guess you had to be there, but it’s doing it again for me even now.

These experiences of worship cannot happen however if I am not listening for the voice of the Shepherd.  It’s difficult to hear Him  if  I am too focused on my “to do” list to listen.  Just like the words of that song that says,  “When we walk with the Lord, in the light of His word,  what a glory He sheds on our way…”  It is required reading.  I must read His word, for that is the way He chose to reveal Himself to me.

Oh, and I should add that I have to be “in tune” also.  If I am living my life in that prodigal son country, far away from and in rebellion from my Father,  there are not going to be very many “resonating” responses to His leading;  not when I am so far out of tune with His will for my life.

I cherish the moments when what wells up from within me is beyond hymnal  or power-point slides; beyond guitars or pipe-organs;  when it is as spontaneous as the mountains that sing forth the glory of God.

I love the song,  “I Can Only Imagine” ….”What my eyes will see, when Your face is before me…”   But, His face is before me right now,  – – – and I stand in His presence.  – – –

I hope you do too.


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"Keep off the Snow"

I love waking up and looking out the window onto a snowy landscape. You know, the one where snow has fallen all night, but now the sun has risen and all across your front yard each crystal is reflecting the brilliance of the sun in an unbroken expanse. All is new and fresh and you just want to stand there and cherish the moment. I think one of the things that makes it so appreciated is that you know that unspoiled view cannot last. I’m not referring to the spoiling of a snowy landscape because it melts, but rather the spoiling that takes place simply because life happens.

I have my pictures out of order, but you’ll get the idea. Life happens on the snowy landscape when you traipse out to the mailbox, and there goes the unbroken landscape…footprints in the snow. Once you have messed it up, you kind of “Oh well…” and it’s easier to make that second trip, and so on and so on, until you have a real mess -like the picture above.
There’s a lot of life lesson in this analogy. There was a time when your life was as pure as the driven snow, but then you made that trip to the mailbox, so to speak. You did something that messed up the brilliance of the landscape that was your life. After that first trip, it’s a whole lot easier to make the second trip and so on. Now you’re even laying down in it and making snow angels, snow men, and igloo’s. Yea, a lot of fun was had, but gone and out of mind are the days of innocence and purity of the unspoiled landscape, unless . . .”
In scripture, God says He will take our sins and remove them from us as far as the east is from the west. He promised He would make our lives “Whiter than snow”. Even after we have made such a mess of things and think the landscape of our lives is beyond repair, it happens, the renewal of our lives.
During the recent snow storm here in KY I went to the barn to do chores. Footprints in the snow all the way down and all the way back. Spoiled for good? not so! The next morning there was no evidence of my ever passing that way. During the night the wind had blown so that all traces of my passing had been erased; just as if yesterday’s journey had never happened. And then it occurred to me that there is a lesson in that. God can make every day of my life just that new. I need not hold on to the images of a trampled life/landscape. For me that was an exciting thought and I hope for you as well. It is inevitable in this world that we are going to be putting footprints in the snow. But Christ crucified for us, was Gods’ removal of the footprints of sin on our very souls.

“Lord Jesus I long to be perfectly whole;

I want You forever to live in my soul;
Take down every idol, cast out every foe;
Now wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.”
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"A Heart to Serve"

A family member of mine was on the way to church one Sunday morning and tells of his truck being chased by a dog. Now that in and of itself is not such a remarkable thing. Who of us hasn’t had their vehicle, bicycle, or even just legs, chased by a dog. But this tale is not of an ordinary dog, but a dog that appeared to be pretty crippled up. In spite of his condition, this dog was so driven to chase cars that running uphill with a banged up body was not holding him back.

Now you or I may have elected to just stay on the porch and let some other person-I mean dog – chase the car. After all, we are up in years and pretty banged up. But not this dog. I’ll have to give my brother in law credit for this insight. “I want to have that same drive to serve God as that dog did to chase my truck…a drive so intense that personal/physical circumstances cannot cause me to give up.”

I remember when the gymnast Kerri Strug completed a vault with a severly sprained ankle, (they thought it was broken at the time) and stuck the landing. She had to be carried from the platform, but she accomplished the gold.

Should not our motivation be much more intense than that of a dog chasing cars? Is not our aim for something of much more value than a gold medalion and fleeting fame?

Paul shares a scripture with us in 2 Corinthians that speaks to that drive. “We are afflicted in every way, but not curshed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but no forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifest in our body.” 2Cor.4:8-10 NASU

All too often it seems we can come up with dozens of reasons as to why we can’t do a service, or make a commitment. It’s easy to begin to pile on the excuses to add weight to the reasoning, when the truth be told, our heart just isn’t in it. My prayer is that God would fill each of us with a drive of heart so intense that service to Christ and His Church; to Christ and His people; would consume us.

Perhaps the world has yet to see what can be accomplished by you, when you love God with all of your heart, soul, strength and mind.

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