Author Archives: tombeaman

No Last Drop

Picture a pitcher, a vessel so full the water quivers at the lip, ready to spill at the slightest bump.  Think of a plate of pancakes so awash in syrup it’s dripping off the side onto the table.  Got the picture?  That’s the meaning of the word translated, “fullness,” in the Bible.  You cannot plumb the depths of fullness.  Fullness bespeaks an inexhaustable supply.

Which is why you want to pause over that word in this line from John about Jesus. 

John 1:16

For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

People who get to know Jesus soon discover there is no end or limit to His grace.  He’s never too busy, too tired, too disappointed, too mad or just plain distracted.  His grace is poured out from fullness.  It’s not that He always gives us what we want.  Jesus doesn’t spoil His kids.  But in His wisdom and from His fullness, He generously provides what we need.

This past year His grace upon grace to me has provided in ways I didn’t realize I needed.  I am deeply thankful.  Here’s a prayer for a joyous Thanksgiving for each of you.

Sticking the Landing

You can’t land a stealth bomber.  A computer has to do it.  Or, so I’ve been told.  If you have done it successfully, please don’t respond; this is just an illustration of another impossible task: pleasing God by following His law.

7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:7-8)

Paul’s phrase, “governed by the flesh” simply means a human being trying to land himself manually, without the control of the Holy Spirit.  It is impossible to perfectly  follow God’s law under your own control.   If you are thinking, “Oh yeah?  I can do it,” can you always live up to just your own standards of right and wrong?  No?  Me either.  And God’s are tougher.

That’s why religions don’t work.  Religions, as I’m using the term here, systems of do’s and don’t’s  to make you good enough for God.  God’s own Word says those who try to live like that will fail:

13 So then, the word of the Lord to them will become:
Do this, do that,
a rule for this, a rule for that;
a little here, a little there—
so that as they go they will fall backward;
they will be injured and snared and captured. (Isaiah 28:13)

If you don’t want to crash land, you need God’s Spirit.  Happily, Jesus gives this promise to those who will trust Him:

16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:16-17)

With the Spirit, even a guy like me can stick the landing.

Stepping into Life

He knew he’d be arrested again, but that was what he wanted.  It was too too scary out here.  In prison he would be locked up, but at least he’d know what to expect.  He’d know the rules, know he would eat three times a day.  So when they let him out, he arranged to go right back.  For us on the outside, that doesn’t make much sense.  Sure, it’s more unpredictable out here in real life, but it’s also more free.  Without freedom it just isn’t living.  We understand that, but for some who have been locked up most of their lives, they can’t see it.

Like the people of Israel who suddenly found themselves released from slavery in Egypt following Moses out into the desert.  He thought they would relish the sweet aroma of freedom in their nostrils. But they didn’t get it.

11 They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” Exodus 14:11-12

2 And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, 3 and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” Exodus 16:2-3

We read that and think, “How could anyone prefer to live in slavery?  How could they choose not to be free?  But slavery was all they knew.  They were more comfortable as slaves.  Stepping into real life was too scary.

If you are tracking with all that, consider these words of Jesus:

25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 16:25

Jesus invites us to trust Him and follow Him.  But, having surrounded ourselves with things that make life seem predictable and secure, it may seem as though He invites us into a desert wilderness.  It may seem too scary.  But in reality, Jesus invites us to step into real life and real freedom.

1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1

Mrs. Owens and Satan… and Jesus

You couldn’t say the dog ate it because you didn’t have a dog.  Mrs. Owens, your third grade teacher, was scowling down, asking why you didn’t have your homework done.  When you couldn’t provide a sufficient excuse, her imperious expression changed to one designed to produce in you extreme shame and self-loathing.  She had practiced this face in the mirror and looked down as though you were something she had accidentally stepped in.

But here’s the question: Did her “shame on you act” work?  Did she inspire you do achieve greatness in the third grade?  Not likely.  That’s because shame or feeling guilty actually inhibits you and makes you less likely to do better.  Research on addiction has found that when people feel shame about their addictive behavior, they are more likely to repeat.  More likely!

 

Of course, there is a better way.  We can acknowledge we have messed up and, without wallowing in shame, figure out how to do better.  That’s what this line from the Bible means:

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. (2 Corinthians 7:10)

To paraphrase, when we mess up, God would have us change our thinking (that’s what “repent” means), recognize we did wrong, turn around and make a better choice.  That’s what “godly sorrow” looks like.  “Worldly sorrow,” third grade guilt, just makes us feel crummy and stuck.

Satan’s name means “accuser.”  He tempts us into doing wrong things and then turns on us, accusing us and making us feel shame. He knows in that condition we will be stuck.  Contrast that with the work of Jesus:  He took our shame and guilt to the cross, and encourages us to enjoy the freedom of changing how we think.  He says, “Go, and sin no more.”

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  (Romans 8:1)

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.  (Galatians 5:1)

 

Tough Love

“Keep your eyes open and don’t let down your guard.  Stand tough and strong, like real men.”  Who might say those words?  A military leader?  A football coach?  How about an apostle of Jesus?  Paul encouraged his readers with similar words.  Surprised?  Be more surprised when you consider how he exhorts real men to act.  He wrote:

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love (Corinthians 16:13-14)

Paul was a man’s man.  He knew the meaning of tough.  When he said, “be strong,” he wasn’t fooling around.  Paul routinely waded into situations that left him bruised and bloody.  But he understood that real men are motivated by love for others.  Tough love.  The kind that sometimes costs or hurts.  Real men put their own selfish desires aside to do what is best for the other person.

My son tried to teach me how to play a video game.  He said, “You can’t survive at this level unless you pick up a super power and use it.”  I didn’t understand.  But Paul did.  He knew loving toughness, the kind that is watchful, strong and dares to do the right thing even in the face of danger, is necessarily powered up by God’s Spirit.  

Fist-Pump Singing

I’m a bit slow.  It takes me awhile to catch on to things that should seem obvious.  For example, consider this line from Exodus:

The Lord is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation;  (Exodus 15:2a)

I’ve heard that line many times without thinking about it much.  That is, until I came upon it, reading through Exodus this morning..  I began to see that, what had been for me a somewhat stale cliche of churchy songs, was for those folks a mighty fist-pump!  They had just escaped the mightiest army on earth with an amazing demonstration of God’s power.  They were so excited, they just had to sing.  Because God had revealed His power to them, and because His strength had become their strength, they had to express it somehow.  They had to sing.  They had to dance around and whoop and holler.  About God.  He had become their song.

Maybe you are thinking, “Yeah, of course, so…?”  Or, “Duh…”  But that idea began to hold new meaning for me, Mr. Slow, this morning.  I’d sung that line so many times without any thought, without any excitement.  And yet, this morning, when I began to think through an actual list of how God has been strong for me, how His power has been evident in the circumstances of my life and of how He has become my strength and salvation, then I began to want to sing about it.

On that list was a time I had impulsively picked up a hitchhiker on the way to Cheyenne.  Without boring you with the details, as I dropped him off that day, I knew,in the pit of my soul, he had just delivered a personal message to me from God.  He had been a messenger, what the Bible calls an “angel.”  Alone in the car that day, I burst into loud and raucous song.  I couldn’t stop, I couldn’t sit on it.  I didn’t have words for my song but it didn’t matter.  I just had to express my wonder and excitement.  Because God had showed me He would be my strength, He just had to become my song.

What’s your list?  Take a moment to add it up.  If you’re having trouble, ask God to show you.  Kind of like that “Footprints” thing.  About 150 years ago, someone, whose name has been lost, must have been doing that as he wrote these words:

No storm can shake my inmost calm

While to that refuge clinging;

Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,

How can I keep from singing?

 

What Smokey Says to Churches

What’s the worst thing about church?  Ask ten people that question and the chances are most of them will say something about hypocrisy.  Too many church people robe themselves in the look and sound of Christian-eze, while on the inside they struggle like all the rest of us.  Sound familiar?  

If so, you may be intrigued to know how Jesus taught his boys to act when they began to attract great adoring crowds of followers.  He did not tell them how to greet people with spiritual sounding phrases.  He did not tell them to raise their hands during the praise choruses, or to look pious during prayer time.  He taught them to watch out for trying to act all holier than thou just because they were His disciples.  

In the meantime, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, he began to say to his disciples first, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.  (Luke 12:1-3)

Boys, He said in effect, it’s so easy to put on airs when you see how many people have showed up, to start acting like you are better.  Watch out!  Be real.  Don’t be hypocrites!

Of course, in our day, the same caution applies to the folks who show up at church, not just to the leaders.  There is an awful lot of pretending that goes on in the lobby.  Words and expressions that don’t match what we really think and feel.  True, that stuff frequently goes on in many other places – not just at church.  But Jesus knew hypocrisy is cancer in a church.  Because, if people feel judged, they will never get to know the One Who did not come to judge them but to save them.

And the way to fix it begins with you.  Like what Smokey the Bear says: “Only you can prevent…”