Thursday, July 30, 2015

Do The Right Thing

By Allen White

During the time Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate, Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s officers who guarded the doorway, became angry and conspired to assassinate King Xerxes. But Mordecai found out about the plot and told Queen Esther, who in turn reported it to the king, giving credit to Mordecai. And when the report was investigated and found to be true, the two officials were impaled on poles. All this was recorded in the book of the annals in the presence of the king. Esther 2:21-23

If like Mordecai, you and your people were being held captive by a world power, Xerxes’ assassination might not sound so bad. After all, if the powerful leader was gone, then the kingdom would splinter. Territorial leaders would grapple for power. The instability of the region might even allow for the Israelites escape. But, what often seems right to people is counter to what God intends.

Mordecai, being a devoted follower of the One True God, was not looking for the shrewd thing to do. He wasn’t carefully calculating how to manipulate the situation to his advantage. Mordecai erred on the side of generosity toward Xerxes and obeyed the commands of God. It would have been worse for Mordecai to end up being a co-conspirator in a tyrant’s death than to honor God by his actions and thus remain in captivity.

Mordecai did the right thing. He reported the assassination plot. The offenders were immediately executed, and Mordecai was immediately forgotten. There was no reward. There were no honors. There was no celebration. It was a good thing that Mordecai had better reasons for his actions. If he was looking for recognition, he would have been greatly disappointed.

Most of us are not going to ever overhear an assassination attempt. That’s just not very likely. But, what things do we hear, but choose to ignore? Is there a fellow believer who is headed for a train wreck? He’s started another bad relationship. She’s made bad choices at her job. Without becoming a busy body, how does God want to use you to help that person?

What things seem easy for you to get away with these days? What are you tempted to fudge on in your life? What is the right thing to do, whether anyone else knows or not?

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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Thelma and Louise

By Allen White

When the virgins were assembled a second time, Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate. But Esther had kept secret her family background and nationality just as Mordecai had told her to do, for she continued to follow Mordecai’s instructions as she had done when he was bringing her up.
Esther 2:19-20

When life brings us to the brink, many of us are tempted to pull a Thelma and Louise, and just plunge right over the cliff. Whether those feelings are toward literal actions or emotional reactions, they betray our fears and lack of trust. Trust is the antidote for fear.

In the book of Esther, we don’t see a strong prayer life. At this point, the Israelites were a spiritual mess. But, what we do see is Esther’s implicit trust in her cousin and adopted father, Mordecai. In the fog of despair and uncertainty, Mordecai was her guiding light. (“Like sands through the hour glass” – nevermind, that’s Days of Our Lives).

While we see God’s providence all over the book of Esther, God is not mentioned one time in the book. While God is certainly not out of the picture, He is operating behind the scenes. We don’t know anything about Mordecai or Esther’s connection with God. In exile, God’s people seem to have been very disconnected, yet God still endeavored to work on their behalf. And, He’s still there for us today.

The parallel is that even for those who have given up on God or who ignore Him, God doesn’t give up on any of us. God is always arranging circumstances and “coincidences” to draw us back to Him. His desire from the very beginning was to be in relationship with us. That has never changed.

How is your connection with God? Is it a direct connection? Do others help you? God wants to spend time with you. Take two minutes right now to be silent in His presence. Watch the clock if you need to. I do.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The In-Between Time

By Allen White

Before a young woman’s turn came to go in to King Xerxes, she had to complete twelve months of beauty treatments prescribed for the women, six months with oil of myrrh and six with perfumes and cosmetics. And this is how she would go to the king: Anything she wanted was given her to take with her from the harem to the king’s palace. In the evening she would go there and in the morning return to another part of the harem to the care of Shaashgaz, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the concubines. She would not return to the king unless he was pleased with her and summoned her by name. Esther 2:12-14

Twelve months is a long time to prepare for a blind date. In a time before microderm abrasion and photoshop, a full year was apparently necessary to be received by the king. This seems like a lot to put up with.

For most of us, waiting is far worse than the diagnosis. Worrying about a situation takes a greater toll sometimes than the actual rejection. Esther had a full year to wait. She had no idea what the result would be. The difficulty was in the in-between time. Much like Joseph who sat forgotten in prison for two years (Genesis 41:1), when we are in an open loop and closure seems beyond the horizon, it’s easy to fall into despair and doubt. It’s easy to question everything and everyone. It’s easy to give up.

In these valleys, every one of us has a decision to make: do we fight against what we fear or do we cooperate even when we don’t understand the outcome? Now, if you’re in captivity or prison, you don’t have much choice physically but to wait. But, while our bodies can be incarcerated, no one can put chains on our souls.

Whether you face a dead end job, a lifeless marriage, or actual prison, your attitude is up to you. (Those of you who know me well at this point are probably saying: “Hello, kettle, you’re black.”) And, you’re right. I have thrown some pity parties like it was 1999 -- Y2K, you know).

But, as I’ve grown older, wiser and tired of living in the pit of despair, I’ve decided to change some things. I count my blessings more often. I’ve become more accepting of the fact that God has me where I am for a reason. I’ve learned that cooperation achieves far more than competition. Do I still freak out over things? Yes, I do once in a while.

What circumstance are you fighting against these days? How can you become more cooperative in the situation? I’m not saying that you’re wrong and the situation is right. But, how can you allow God to develop His character in you using your situation as a catalyst for growth?

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Monday, July 27, 2015

Someone to Watch Over Me

By Allen White

Every day [Mordecai] walked back and forth near the courtyard of the harem to find out how Esther was and what was happening to her. Esther 2:11

Mordecai was Esther’s rock in a very traumatic situation. No, the harem wasn’t all manicures and pillow fights. It was a rather intimidating place. His presence helped to prevent her despair. When her feelings might have gotten the best of her, Mordecai was around to keep her grounded.

If there was trouble in the harem, no one could really remove Esther from the situation. Mordecai could do very little to protect her from physical harm. But, his role was far more important. He was that calm, persistent presence that stayed nearby and helped her process what she was dealing with.

We all need a non-anxious presence in our lives. For believers, we find that presence in God’s Holy Spirit. Jesus promised that God would send an Advocate, which can also mean Counselor, Comforter or Encourager (John 14:16-17). God’s Spirit is always present with us (Psalm 139:7). He gives us the things to say when we don’t know what to say (Luke 12:11-12). When we don’t even know how to pray, the Spirit prays on our behalf (Romans 8:26). When we need wisdom and direction, it is God’s Spirit, who lives in every believer (Romans 8:9), who inspired every word in the Bible (2 Peter 1:20-21; 2 Timothy 3:16). God’s people, filled with God’s Spirit, interacting with God’s Word, is a very powerful thing.

God also brings other believers in our lives to encourage and help us. But, let’s take that one step further, who has God brought into your life that you can encourage and help? Who can you walk alongside in a difficult time? Your calm reassurance might be just the thing to help them through.

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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Less Talk Equals Less Trouble

By Allen White

Esther had not revealed her nationality and family background, because Mordecai had forbidden her to do so. Esther 2:10

I have far more regrets over things that I’ve said than over things that I haven’t said. Let me qualify that though. Being a typical male, I don’t always tell people how I feel about them. Feelings – they’re just plan scary. So, I am making an effort to let my family know how I feel about them and congratulate folks for excellent work. Those things shouldn’t go unsaid.

But, overall, I find myself talking less these days. Less talk equals less trouble. It’s not that I’m holding back a vast reserve of sarcasm and critical barbs. I’ve just decided that everyone doesn’t need to hear everything that I have to say about every subject. And, things are going much better.

Esther, under the direction of her cousin, Mordecai, didn’t reveal her nationality or family background. While Jews were regarded more favorably under the Persians than under their original captors the Babylonians, it might have been dangerous for Esther to reveal her true identity. Now, we don’t know if anyone had actually asked her about her background. If she had lied about who she was, then that would have been a problem and a sin. But, not telling, well, that’s another matter. As scholar Matthew Henry puts it, “All truths are not to be spoken at all times, though an untruth is not to be spoken at any time.”

We don’t know if being a Jew would have disqualified Esther from the queen competition. If that was a possibility, then why wouldn’t Esther just shout her ethnicity from the roof tops? She could have avoided the whole thing. But, then again, her people would have been wiped out.

Mordecai, by wisdom or intuition, directed Esther in the right way. Esther’s silence, then courageous appeals later, saved her people from annihilation.

How’s your mouth these days? What kinds of things should you stop saying? What kinds of things should you start saying? If you’re not sure, then choose to look very intelligent by keeping it closed.
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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Praying for Your Football Team

By Allen White

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Romans 13:1

According to this verse, every position of power in every country in every age was established by God. I don’t believe that God endorsed the evil of Adolf Hitler, Vladimir Lenin, or Saddam Hussein, but God did establish the authority.

Think about it: in the time of Esther, the Israelites were under the authority and control of the Persians. They had disobeyed God by worshipping false idols. Their punishment was to see their nation fall and to forcibly join the company of other idol worshippers. Sometimes the thing that we think we want is the worst thing that can happen to us.

Most of us have not lived in a dictatorship or in captivity. We have a hard enough time with the opposing political party comes into power, let alone, being ruled by a tyrant.

But, if this verse is true, then why would God put an ungodly person in office to perform His will? That’s a big question. The belief in a democracy is that the collective will of the people expresses the will of God. But, let’s be honest, praying for your political candidate to win is much like praying for your football team to win while the opposing team prays for theirs. If God answered all of those prayers, it would make for some pretty strange championships.

This doesn’t mean that we need to accept whatever decisions someone in power makes carte blanche. Why did God put them there? Did He put them there to wake us up, as in the case of the Israelites in Persia?

Lastly, regardless of whether we agree or disagree with those in power, as believers we should be respectful and civil in our thoughts and deeds toward others. This world is destined for ultimate recycling (Revelation 21:1). But, God’s Kingdom lasts forever. Winning someone over to your political views is not nearly as important as winning someone for the Lord.

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The Why to God’s What

By Allen White

All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. [God] does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?”  Daniel 4:35

We have all heard that hindsight is 20/20. After time passes, we gain perspective and begin to understand why the things that we were counting on didn’t work out. We know now why a certain prayer wasn’t answered exactly the way that we had wished. Once there is some distance between us and the circumstance, most things become clear. For the rest, we will understand it “by and by.” But, when you’re in the middle of it, it’s a whole other story.

When we’re dealing with a problem, our perspective is more 20/200. We lose sight of our goals. We tend to question God’s character. Sometimes, we even wonder if we’ll actually survive. In these times, we need our friends to be for us and to pray for us. We don’t need a great deal of advice or quoted Scripture for that matter.

When my wife and I were in the thick of it with our first child in intensive care, by the grace of God no one quoted Romans 8:28 to us. While I believe that verse, I would have told that person what they could do with it. In the middle of a problem, the tunnel looks dark in both directions. But, even in dark circumstances, there are glimpses of hope.

Daniel was exiled with the Israelites in a foreign land. This was far different than being shut up in your house for two days because of snow. To the best of his knowledge, Daniel and every other Israelite would spend the rest of their lives in captivity. It would have been easy to question the promises of the Promised Land. To Daniel and the others, it certainly felt like broken promises.

In the middle of Daniel’s darkness, God gave Daniel some needed perspective: “All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. [God] does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?”  (Daniel 4:35). It sounds like we’re right back to being “dust in the wind” again. But, consider what Daniel is saying.

Sure the Israelites in captivity are nothing. But, the captors are also nothing in comparison with God. “God does as He pleases.” God is a big boy. He can take care of Himself. And, He can take care of us.

We don’t understand all of the why’s to all of the what’s about God’s work. But, we can understand that God is good (Psalm 73:1) and that God has our best interest at heart (Luke 12:7). His ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9). Thank God for that.

Now, while you’re fixin’ to “encourage” your friends with God’s word, get this: this revelation came to Daniel directly from God. Often we think that we’re helping others, when we are actually coming across more like Job’s “friends.” Even with the best of intentions, these “blessings” will not be received as such. We can be there for each other and pray for each other, but we need to hold back on the advice giving.

The other side of this is that God wants to encourage you. God wants to encourage you in your situation. God wants to encourage you in a particularly personal way. To receive God’s encouragement, we only need to listen to Him. How do we know if it’s God? Well, if it doesn’t contradict God’s Word, then you’re on the right track.

As Thomas Merton put it, “The ever-changing reality in the midst of which we live should awaken us to the possibility of an uninterrupted dialogue with God. We must learn to realize that the love of God seeks us in every situation, and seeks our good” (From New Seeds of Contemplation).

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

God Hasn’t Forgotten You

By Allen White

When the king’s order and edict had been proclaimed, many young women were brought to the citadel of Susa and put under the care of Hegai. Esther also was taken to the king’s palace and entrusted to Hegai, who had charge of the harem. She pleased him and won his favor. Immediately he provided her with her beauty treatments and special food. He assigned to her seven female attendants selected from the king’s palace and moved her and her attendants into the best place in the harem. Esther 2:8-9

If “harem” could be translated “spa,” then this passage might not be so bad. Beauty treatments and special food might sound more like a generous gift certificate rather than orders from a tyrant. But, this was another place, a long time ago and far, far away. It’s hard to imagine.

This scene was less like a slumber party and more like a women’s prison. No woman voluntarily joined a harem. They were either given as a gift from a powerful ruler, or they were enslaved. Esther and the other women who were rounded up didn’t have a choice. So, here in an unwelcomed and horrible circumstance, Esther finds favor with the guy in charge, Hegai. Unlike Joseph, who also found favor during enslavement, and yet escaped a sexual advance (Genesis 39:6-16), Esther was being prepared for one. It seems unbelievable that this would be part of God’s plan.

Yet, here in a much less than ideal circumstance, Esther was singled out from among every young woman in the kingdom. Esther found favor with the king’s servant. We don’t know how much Hegai’s kindness wiped away Esther’s despair, but we do know that she was especially looked after and cared for. Perhaps she had a small glimmer of God’s favor as well.

While we can often identify with the people and circumstances in the Bible, this one is more than a little challenging. Not many of us could comfortably put ourselves in Esther’s shoes. But, if we’ve ever been in despair or felt that God has forgotten about us, then we might have a sense of what Esther experienced.

What situation do you feel has been forced on you these days? When have you felt (or do you feel) that God has abandoned you? What circumstance are you facing that you would rather avoid?

How has God shown favor to you? What person has God brought along to help you? What advantage has He given?

God has a plan for each of our lives. It often takes many unexpected twists and turns. God hasn’t forgotten you.

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Monday, July 20, 2015

Life is Not Like the Hallmark Channel

By Allen White

Now there was in the citadel of Susa a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, named Mordecai son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, who had been carried into exile from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, among those taken captive with Jehoiachin king of Judah. Mordecai had a cousin named Hadassah, whom he had brought up because she had neither father nor mother. This young woman, who was also known as Esther, had a lovely figure and was beautiful. Mordecai had taken her as his own daughter when her father and mother died. Esther 2:5-7

In a perfect world, a person would bend over backwards to help another person, whether it was taking in an orphan, befriending an outcast, or adopting a stray, and in return their lives would be blessed and problem-free. But, here’s the deal, whether you’re raising kids or cats, they will make noise, throw up on your carpet, go #2 on your sofa, make a mess, cost a lot of money, and cause heartache anyway…oh, and so will the cats.

Noble causes don’t always reap positive rewards.
Hadassah, aka Esther, had nowhere to go, so her cousin Mordecai took her in. He raised Esther as his own daughter. He gave her everything that she needed to have a good life. I would imagine that Mordecai had hopes and dreams for Esther: marry a nice Jewish boy, settle down, and start a family, and maybe even return to the Promised Land one day.

Those dreams ended the day that the king began to enlarge his harem and “interview” candidates for queen. This wasn’t what Mordecai had hoped for his adopted daughter. A dictator’s edict ended all that Mordecai had dreamed for Esther. All of his efforts appeared to be for naught.

All of us have taken on causes that never really played out the way that we thought. Sometimes when you befriend the friendless person at work, instead of receiving gratitude, you’re stabbed in the back. Then, you understand why that person was friendless.

Life is not fair. Most of the undertakings in life, especially the heroic ones, do not always have happy endings or don’t become made for TV movies on the Hallmark Channel (No offense to Hallmark. They paid for half of my college).
So, here’s the big question that you are going to hate me for asking: Do we do things to make ourselves feel good or do we do things out of obedience to God? If we do things merely to feel good, then when things don’t work out, we wonder why we got into it in the first place. If we do things out of obedience and fall on rough times, often we also question why we got involved, but we trust that God has a plan. Regardless of how we feel, what others think, what others are doing, or even what we think, obedience to God’s plan is far more valuable than any reward or acclaim that we might otherwise receive.

Where are you becoming weary in well-doing? What are you about to quit or escape from? What does God say? Even if you got in it for the wrong reasons, you’re in it. How do you need to obey God today?

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Sunday, July 19, 2015

Exerting Control Won’t Gain Respect

By Allen White

On the seventh day, when King Xerxes was in high spirits from wine, he commanded the seven eunuchs who served him—Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar and Karkas -- to bring before him Queen Vashti, wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles, for she was lovely to look at. But when the attendants delivered the king’s command, Queen Vashti refused to come. Then the king became furious and burned with anger.

Since it was customary for the king to consult experts in matters of law and justice, he spoke with the wise men who understood the times
Then Memukan replied in the presence of the king and the nobles, “Queen Vashti has done wrong, not only against the king but also against all the nobles and the peoples of all the provinces of King Xerxes.
Therefore, if it pleases the king, let him issue a royal decree and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media, which cannot be repealed, that Vashti is never again to enter the presence of King Xerxes. Also let the king give her royal position to someone else who is better than she.

Then the king’s personal attendants proposed, “Let a search be made for beautiful young virgins for the king. Then let the young woman who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.” This advice appealed to the king, and he followed it.
Esther 1:10-13, 16, 19; 2:2, 4

Powerful people are prone to doing dumb things. Xerxes had conquered all of his enemies and was a tyrant over nearly everyone in the known world. His kingdom stretched from modern day Pakistan to the Sudan. He ruled with brute force. Xerxes was the Saddam Hussein of his time, except that there were no other powers to keep him in check. Xerxes had power over all. Absolute power had certainly corrupted absolutely.

Yet, power, intimidation and brute force don’t bring about respect. Just like a bad boss or an incompetent CEO could force people to work, they certainly can’t get the best out of people. A visit to the break room will quickly reveal how much respect they have earned.

Xerxes called for his wife, Vashti, to walk the runway and once again impress all of his subjects. She refused. Vashti, much like Tina Turner, had just had enough. After all, what’s love got to do with it? She didn’t want to be treated like his property. She just said “No.” His control didn’t gain her respect.

Xerxes had a problem. This wasn’t merely a lovers’ quarrel. If the queen, as his subject, refused to obey his commands, then what other subjects might refuse? It wouldn’t take long to slide down that slippery slope.

The easy solution, according to his advisors, was to find a replacement for the queen. She would certainly never say “No” again. Xerxes regained his control, yet he continued to lose respect.

Who do you find disrespects you? Few people do things simply because their supposed to. “Because I said so” stopped working long ago. What have you invested in the person who disrespects you? Do they understand your motives? Do you understand theirs? Do they know that you are on their side? Do they know that you care? Exerting control won’t gain respect.

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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Excuse Me Sir, Could You Spare…?

By Allen White

Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 1 Peter 4:9

When we hear “hospitality,” we think “Martha Stewart. Well, that is Martha Stewart the gracious hostess, party planner, author and television personality, not the Martha Stewart, felon and former federal prisoner. But, this verse is actually closer to the second Martha Stewart.

Peter is not telling believers that we should throw gracious dinner parties for each other with fine china and crystal without complaining about it. Why would be complain about that? It’s fun.

Hospitality here is not in terms of feeding the well fed. Peter is encouraging to help other believers who are without food and shelter and to not grumble about it. Now, I understand where the grumbling comes in.

We have all had an experience where someone who probably hasn’t showered for a few days approaches us out of the blue to ask for money for food, lodging or transportation. It’s uncomfortable. It’s awkward. We evaluate whether we really believe they are hungry or if this just a better approach than asking for money to buy crack cocaine or alcohol. When we don’t give, we feel guilty. When we do give, we wonder if somehow we just got ripped off or if we’re supporting a habit that will lead to this person’s destruction. If I help them, is it really “help”?

Then, I think, should I even be evaluating this? Isn’t this one of God’s children? Shouldn’t I just give them something? But, then I think, I don’t just give my children money without asking them a few questions? It’s a difficult issue.

So, this is what my family does: we support two children through World Vision. One is Elsa in Peru that we’ve supported for more than 10 years. The other is Paul in Uganda who we’ve supported since the Third Day concert in San Jose about 9 years ago. Supporting these two is less than my monthly cable bill, yet it’s created an entirely different life for them. I don’t need to worry that the money is going to the wrong things, because I know that World Vision feeds, clothes and educates them both.

If we do want to help someone locally, there are many fine organizations in the community that are much better equipped to assist the homeless than I am. I would encourage you to support Miracle Hill, Triune Mercy Center and the Salvation Army in Greenville, SC. If you don’t live in Greenville, then ask your church about what to do.

Now, if someone approaches you, pray a quick prayer and ask what God would have you do. I have found that it’s better to plan my “hospitality” than to be caught in the spur of the moment. What does God want you to do?

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Our Superiority Complex

By Allen White

Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. James 4:11

This chapter in James starts with a question: “What causes fights and quarrels among you?” (James 4:1) It’s followed by a rhetorical question: “Don't they come from your desires that battle within you?”

The opposite of encouragement is slander. Our nature is to bad mouth other people, to point out their flaws for ill, and somehow to enlarge ourselves by belittling them.

There’s an old adage that asks, “How do you keep crabs in a basket? You don’t need a lid. You just need two crabs. One will make sure the other doesn’t climb out.” Boy, sometimes we can certainly be crabs. Unless we’re the star, unless we get the attention, unless we stand head and shoulders above the rest, we’re not satisfied.

James points out that slandering other believers doesn’t just damage our relationship, it damages the Faith. To put another believer down is to say that we believe God values us more than them, that our contribution is more significant than theirs, and that God’s plan for them is not as important as God’s plan for us. God doesn’t see things that way.

God has purposed for each of us to have part of His plan. He has gifted and equipped every believer to fulfill His calling on their lives. When we criticize other believers, we are actually slandering God’s work in their lives. If we love them and seek to help them, then we should talk to them and not just about them.

Who have you found yourself bad mouthing lately? Why do you feel superior to them? Why do you want to put them down? What do you think God thinks about this?

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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Absence Makes the Heart Grow…Forgetful

By Allen White

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:25

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. Hebrews 3:13

There’s an old phrase that says “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” I don’t know that it’s true. From my experience, it seems that absence makes the heart grow forgetful. There’s a story about a college girlfriend in there, but I’m not going to bore you with that.

The writer of Hebrews penned this letter to Jewish Christians who were leaning toward abandoning Christ and returning to the Old Covenant (Hebrews 4:1-11). What was familiar to them was overcoming their newfound faith. The writer’s job was to show them how much better the New Covenant was. (It’s an interesting study just to count the number of times the writer uses “better” in the book of Hebrews.)

Meeting together and encouraging go hand in hand.
When believers are together faith is renewed. Lives are refocused on Christ. Fears are eased. Courage is gained to face what is next.

Left to ourselves, we don’t do so well. The cares of this world creep in. Even those of us who pride ourselves as “good soil” (Matthew 13:1-23) find that there are more thorns growing up than we care to acknowledge. We were not meant to live our lives alone. God intends for us to do life together.

Now, our faith can be encouraged by meeting together with several thousand fellow believers on Sunday morning. We sing together. We receive powerful teaching. We might even have a few brief conversations in the concourse. But, the early church added one more element to their weekly meeting.

According to Acts 5:42, they met in temple courts (think: Sunday mornings) and they met house to house (think: small group). Meeting people on Sunday morning is like drinking out of a firehouse. It could happen, it’s just a challenge. There are many ways to connect: small groups, classes, recreation, women's ministry, men's ministry, Singles, choirs, serving teams, and the list goes on.

How are you intentionally connecting with other believers on a weekly basis? I mentioned in my message a few weeks ago that I am an introvert. Left to myself, I tend to seek quiet and aloneness. But, what is comfortable to me does not help me grow spiritually.

So, I intentionally started a small group two years ago. We meet every Wednesday for lunch. I didn’t know any of the guys in my group before the group started. Today, you couldn’t pull us apart if you tried.

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Monday, July 13, 2015

Our Responsibility to Provoke Others

By Allen White

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Hebrews 10:24


A spur is not a gentle suggestion. The author didn’t say, “Let’s consider how we may nudge one another or egg each other on.” He said “spur.”

We associate spurs with the cowboys of the Old West. Their spurs were a means of motivation. They didn’t hate their horses. They just wanted to get the most out of them. They wanted to get the best out of them.

So, why would the author of Hebrews apply the verb “spur” to human beings? Sometimes we get stuck. Have you ever had one of those days when you just wanted to throw the covers over your head and wallow in self pity just a little bit longer? Does a loving spouse tuck us in or pull the covers back and tell us to get up and get over it? Which option sounds like a spur?

What about the friends in your life who are stuck on the same issue? You have had the same conversation with them over and over again. It’s like Groundhog Day. Do you patiently listen once again or do you tell them, “I love you, but it’s time to move past this.” Which is a spur?

Some translations use words like “provoke” or “stir up” or “incite.” These are powerful words. The church today has become rather meek in comparison to these words. But, I’m not sure that “meek” is an accurate description.

We have actually become apathetic toward our fellow believers. We have enough of our own stuff to deal with. Why would we enter the danger with someone else? Well, because we’re called to.

The instances where I have avoided bringing something up to someone had more to do with not wanting to make me uncomfortable rather than not wanting to make them uncomfortable. In these situations, I simply loved myself more than I loved the other person. This is not right or appropriate in the body of Christ.
While I don’t think this passage gives us license just to go out and tell everybody off, it does spur us toward helping the people that we are in relationship with see things about themselves that they are completely blind to. What is so obvious to me is hidden from the other person and vice versa. They need my perspective, and I need theirs.

So, how do we spur one another on without it backfiring? Well, we don’t necessarily get that guarantee. But, here are a couple of things I would suggest before we strap on our spurs:

1. How well do I know this person and their situation?

2. Do I understand the cause of their behavior? This is not to make an excuse, but to give context.

3. How have I built into this person’s life? How well have I helped and encouraged them so far?

4. Have I prayed about how to address the situation?

5. Am I eager to lower the boom or am I reluctant? If you’re eager, then repeat #4. If you’re reluctant, then most likely you are ready.
If we know someone well and have a good relationship with them, what’s holding us back from spurring them on? Maybe we don’t want to rock the boat. Some boats need to be rocked. Maybe we don’t want to experience the discomfort. Maybe we don’t want to risk losing the relationship. Both of these are selfish reasons.

If there is someone in your life that you are reluctant to confront, I would encourage you to read all of Matthew 18, not just the “church discipline” part. Your spurring on another believer could very well win them over.

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Sunday, July 12, 2015

Some Days I Feel Like Just Giving Up

By Allen White

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11

“Every person you see is a person in need of encouragement.” – Chuck Swindoll

Today, you will rub shoulders with people who are on the verge of giving up. Some are ready to quit their jobs. Some are ready to walk out on their families. Some are about to leave the church. Some feel like giving up on everything for good.

You don’t know who this person is. It’s not just the person with the frown on their face. Sometimes it’s the person with the smile on their face. You just don’t know what hell that they are going through emotionally.

Right now, stop and ask: “God, who do I need to encourage today?” What name just came to mind? I’m not trying to get spooky on you. I’m trying to help you hear God’s voice.

Now, find a piece of paper and write them a note. Tell them something that you appreciate about them. Tell them something that you admire about them. (Don’t substitute paper for email here). Now, find an envelope and a stamp (do you remember those) and drop your note in the mail today.

Now, the next person that you see (that you know), say something good about them. If you’re having trouble coming up with something, remember that even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Now, keep this up today. Encourage someone once every hour. People will wonder what’s wrong with you, but they will appreciate it.

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Thursday, July 9, 2015

Equality in Christ

By Allen White

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Ephesians 5:21

Mutual submission creates sort of a funny image. You picture two people standing at a double door. Each is holding a door open and telling the other, “After you.” “No, after you.” “No, after you.” Ad infinitum. How do you make any progress if you’re stopping to allow another to go ahead and vice versa? It’s reminiscent of teenage couples asking: “What do you want to do?” “I don’t know. What do you want to do?” It’s a maddening cycle.

Submitting is the admission that “I am not over you. I am submitting myself to you.” Scripture’s request that we submit to one another also shows that our submission is a choice. And, we do have a choice, so we are not submitting to someone who is over us. We are not over them. They are not over us.

In the body of Christ, we are equals. Equals don’t deserve submission from another, and they choose to submit to each other. The “higher” up you go, the more people you serve. Now, I don’t mean “serve” in the sense of politicians who serve the people meaning that “since the people are stupid, they need the ruling class to think for them.” That’s not service or submission.

The motivation for our submission is out of reverence for Christ. Jesus is the Head of the Body (Ephesians 5:23) and yet, Jesus is the servant of all (Mark 9:35). He willingly set aside His rights and privileges as God to become one of us and to serve us all by dying for our sins (Matthew 20:28). Christ’s greatness stems from His humility. No one else can compare.

Where are you on this submission issue? Do you expect others to do for you, but you don’t do for them? Have you gotten to the place where there are things that are beneath you? Things that you don’t feel like you should have to deal with anymore.

Sometimes the best thing for the high and mighty is to come home and take out the trash or clean up after the dog. What are you having trouble submitting to these days?

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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Neighborhood Bar and the Local Church

By Allen White

Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, Ephesians 5:19

My first response to this verse is “What the heck?” Are believers supposed to sing to each other like some sort of off-key, demented opera? If you look at the verse more closely, you’ll discover that the singing is only directed to the Lord. You and I are to “speak to another…” If we are to literally quote lyrics of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to each other, then here goes…nevermind.

Context can help us a great deal with this “spoken song one another”:

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:18-20

Rather than getting drunk and joining together in revelry and the subsequent stupidity that it brings, believers should seek the filling of the Spirit, which leads to joining together to thank God. This is the significance of corporate worship. Believers gather together on a Sunday morning and in unison sing about the most important part of their lives: their relationship with God.

Before we look down our noses at inebriated bar patrons crooning “Danny Boy,” we must realize that we both want the same things. We want the camaraderie of like-minded people. We both want an experience that elevates us above our circumstance. One group just gets to avoid the hangover.

This passage points out something else about the believer’s relationship with God. We get so caught up talking about our “personal relationship” with God that we forget that it is impossible to serve God apart from Christian community. Now, I know that Anne Rice just gave up on the church and any kind of organized religion calling itself Christian. There are days that I am tempted to side with her.

But to separate ourselves from the Body of Christ is equivalent to performing some sort of spiritual appendectomy in which we are the appendix. There’s not much use for a detached appendix filled with old gum (that’s where my mother used to tell me my gum went if I swallowed it).

There’s an old reformed tradition where if a family was facing grief or hardship, their fellow church members would file into the family’s house, gather around the piano, and sing hymns to the family. No sermons were given. No prayers were prayed. They just sang and left. The music spoke to the deep parts of the family’s wounded emotions.

I don’t know if we should start a “sing and run” ministry necessarily or just send folks a favorite from iTunes. The gist of all of this is how we express our thankfulness and lift each other up. So, sing it up, until the cows come home.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Bible Verses I’m Tempted to Delete

By Allen White

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:32

I almost wish that this verse wasn’t in the Bible. Almost. This verse feels completely counter to who I am. I’m a driven, task-oriented guy. I don’t really have time for a verse like this. Seriously.

I’ve always thought it was a bit of a joke that God would take a guy with the personality of Attila the Hun and give him the spiritual gift of pastor. I mean I can try to live out this verse for like five minutes, then I need to go lay down.

Then, one day, the light bulb went off. This verse doesn’t say, “Thou shalt be kind and compassionate…” If you read it with a legalistic voice in your head, it might sound like, “You’d better be kind and forgive, because God did forgive you after all. If you keep screwing up, He might revoke His forgiveness.”

This verse doesn’t point to my worthiness for Heaven. I’m not worthy for Heaven, except for the last phrase, “just as in Christ God forgave you.” The verse doesn’t say, “God forgave you, now get with it.” Our forgiveness, our ability to forgive others, even kindness and compassion flow from our relationship with God. Our nature is fight or flight, do or die, dog eat dog. God wants to elevate our nature by developing His character in us.

Those who are close to me are quick to remind me that I’m not the curmudgeon that I make myself out to be. Every time I go to a concert, I end up sponsoring another child in a third world country. I’ve had to stop sponsoring new ones or else my children will end up on those World Vision cards for another family to sponsor. I sometimes cry at sappy movies on television. Now, I need to go eat some hot wings or something.

I’m not trying to become the Humanitarian of the Year. That would be laughable to most people. But, I am trying to allow God to work in me to develop my character. Nothing is impossible with God. Little by little I’m getting there.

And, it’s probably good that no one has ever let me edit the Bible anyway.

How’s your compassion these days? How is your kindness showing? If these things seem impossible or at least unlikely, ask God to do this work in you. He might just surprise you.

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Monday, July 6, 2015

When the Mighty Fall

By Allen White

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Ephesians 4:2

Ruth Bell Graham, wife of Billy Graham, chose an interesting epitaph for her tombstone. “End of construction. Thank you for your patience.” She saw this message on a highway sign and thought that it just summed things up.

We are all works in progress. When we are trying something new, when we are trying to figure something out, or when we’re trying to get our act together, we would appreciate if people would “bear with us.” Their patience and gentleness when we are under pressure is both welcomed and necessary.

Paul turns this thinking around a little bit. Following the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12), the apostle instructs us to treat others like we would want to be treated. Have you ever made a mistake? Then, be humble toward others. Have you ever been treated abruptly? Then, be gentle in your response. Have you ever been treated rudely? Then, be patient with others. Have you ever felt the pressure? Then, bear with one another in love.

Jim Collins, an author and Stanford University professor, has written a number of books on successful organizations including Built to Last, Good to Great, and his latest, When the Mighty Fall. I heard Collins speak recently at Willow Creek’s Leadership Summit. It is interesting that he attributes the failure of many leaders to a lack of humility.

Arrogance says, “I’ve made it. I did it myself. I am so great that I don’t need to listen to anyone else, depend on anyone else, or give anyone else credit.” The arrogant leader’s attitude is “my way or the highway.” They are locked in a bubble of self. People stopped telling them the truth long ago, because these leaders already know everything, they think.

Collins argument is that no one is invincible and no one has ever succeeded by themselves. The antidote to arrogance and the source of humility, according to this business author, is to count your blessings. When we take out a sheet of paper or open a blank document and begin to recount all of the blessings that we’ve received and all of the people who’ve helped us get there, we suddenly realize that we’re not as big of a deal as we think we are. Humility kicks in. And, here’s the beauty of this: humble leaders are successful. Arrogant leaders tend to implode, even when everything is going up and to the right.

When God chose to gather a people to call His own and use them to perform His will, He didn’t imagine developing a better class of people who are above sin. God knew exactly what He had to work with: us. The hope for success is that God works in us, not to make us perfect, but to make us better.

God knows that when we think we’re more important than others that things will fall apart. When we mistreat others, the task might get accomplished, but there are bleeding wounds in our wake. When we work with others, we tend to be forgetful about how patient God is with us, and we tend to deny others the same courtesy.

The only way that this God-envisioned enterprise called the Church will work is if we bear with one another in love. Otherwise, how is the Church different from any other enterprise in the world?

If Ruth Bell Graham, the wife of possibly the greatest evangelist in history and mother of five, was a work in progress until she was completed on the other side, what stage are we at?

I would challenge you today to take five minutes and jot down the first 50 blessings that come to mind. Remember the parents, the teachers, the coaches, the friends, the employers, the opportunities, the education, the lenders and everyone else who gave you a leg up in life. If it wasn’t for them, you would have nothing to be proud of.

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Sunday, July 5, 2015

Can Godly Behavior Lead to an Ungodly Attitude?

By Allen White

It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don't use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that's how freedom grows. For everything we know about God's Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That's an act of true freedom. Galatians 5:13-14 (The Message)

Paul was prompted to write to the Galatians because the believers were headed back toward legalism. Even Peter was embracing legalism. Paul had some choice words for Peter (Galatians 2:11-14). Having embraced the freedom of Christ, it made no sense at all to return to the bondage of legalism.

The allure of legalism is a sense of security. If I follow a list of rules, then I will be in right standing with God. If I violate the rules, then I deserve to be punished. If I obey the rules, I will be blessed. So, here’s the problem: sometimes rule followers face difficult circumstances and sometimes rule breakers are successful. Here’s what’s worse: if following the rules causes me to become self-righteous, then “godly” behavior has led to an ungodly attitude.

An expert in the law asked Jesus: “What is the greatest commandment?” (Matthew 22:35-36). The expert’s goal wasn’t to become a better Pharisee. He was setting a trap.

Jesus replied: “'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).

In the words of Gomer Pyle: “Shazam!” There are only two rules worth keeping:

Rule #1: Love God with everything you’ve got.
Rule #2: Love your neighbor like you love yourself.

That sums up all of the teaching of the law and prophets. No loopholes. No bureaucracy. No red tape.

According to Paul’s teaching, the antidote to legalism is serving one another. When we focus on the needs of others, we don’t have time to pour our energies into rule following or rule breaking. As we invest in others the allure of sin and legalism dissipate.

How well are you loving others these days? Have you let your friends know who you feel about them lately? Do the people you know have their basic needs met? Is anyone going through a hard time? A call, a helping hand, a cup of coffee might just be in order.

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Thursday, July 2, 2015

Could 38,000 Christian denominations be wrong?

By Allen White

I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. 1 Corinthians 1:10

How many churches were in Corinth? One. There was one church in Corinth. You could go to any church you chose, as long as it was the Corinthian church. If you left the church of Corinth, you didn’t go to church. Laodicea was too far to commute.

Today, we have many choices. In fact, according to Wikipedia, there are about 38,000 Christian denominations in the world. ( There are about 400,000 churches in the United States.. If I don’t agree with you, I have plenty of other choices. If you don’t agree with me, then I’ll just find another church who does.

The Corinthians didn’t have this choice. I would daresay that they were better off. Why? It was essential for the believers to work out their differences so that the mission could be carried out and so that the work of Christ could flourish in their lives. The significance of unity stems from our willingness to lay aside our stubbornness and pride and to show humility. That doesn’t mean that we simply agree with what everyone else wants to do, but it also doesn’t mean than we become obstinate. We actually try to work things out.

The church is not the place for people to lord it over each other (Luke 22:24-26). The church is to be different from the world. It’s not just the powerful or the wealthy that have a say. It’s a place where everyone has a say. And, it’s a place where we give others the same consideration than we expect from them.

Unity takes effort. Unity takes time. If it’s “my way or the highway,” then no wonder the highways are so crowded.

What should we be united on? We should be united on the things that are essential to our faith: God, His Word, His Son, His salvation, His work on this earth, and His return. When it comes to methods, we need to be flexible. When we don’t understand something, we should take the time to gain understanding.

It’s not wrong to disagree. But, it is wrong to create division. Humility says that “I’m not right about everything all of the time.” Ego says, “I’ll never back down.”

Where are you at these days? How are you tempted to create division? Where might you need to back down? After all, it may be more important to be humble than to be right.

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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Kissing Is Optional

By Allen White

Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ send greetings. Romans 16:16

Greeting one another with a holy kiss is the most mentioned “one another” in the New Testament (Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26), so pucker up.

We don’t live in a kissing culture, except for a couple of creepy single guys and old aunts. We often see world leaders from European and Middle Eastern cultures kissing on both cheeks as a greeting. Americans prefer to shake hands, knuckle bump or high five, except for Donald Trump. He’s a germaphobe.

So, are we somehow disobeying the holy writ by avoiding the sacred smooch? I don’t think so. When we look at a passage like this, we have to decide what is universally relevant and what is particular to a culture. “Greet one another” is obviously universal. The kissing is cultural, unless you’re a Hollywood-type wearing big sunglasses with a sweater tied around your neck.

Really, what’s the big deal? We say “hi” to people. We ask how they’re doing. They politely tell us that they’re good whether they are or not. We shake hands. This is an easy one.

Let’s go the other way. Have you ever experienced a person who won’t talk to you? They don’t say “hi.” They don’t ask how you’re doing. They never shake your hand. How does that feel? You really end up in one of two places: either they are a big snob or I’m a big loser. Either they are too good to acknowledge you or you’re not worth being acknowledged.

A greeting seems like such a simple thing, yet Paul gives this instruction four times to three different churches. And, it’s been passed down for 2,000 years to us. It’s significant.

In the membership class, Perry tells a story about the early days of the church when a woman asked him if he would touch her husband. At first, it seemed like a strange request. But, then he realized that he had changed how he walked into the auditorium. He used to walk through a particular door and this man would be sitting there. Perry would touch him on the shoulder and greet him. When Perry changed doors and directions, he didn’t have this exchange with this man. Something so simple was very meaningful to this fellow.
People want to be noticed. They want to be acknowledged. They want to know that they matter to you. And, you want that too.

Greet one another! Kissing is optional.

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