Tuesday, September 29, 2020

What I Learned by Painting Myself Blue

I've been looking through old posts in my humor blog, Almost the Truth, and found this little gem that turned down the humor and turned up the Truth, originally published June 24, 2008.

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I just finished the first of two weekends full of performances with Giant Step Theatre. (Current production: Aladdin's Lamp, in which I appear as the Genie.) It's always an interesting experience taking the stage surrounded by 70-90 3rd-10th graders, especially when your head is shaved and you've painted yourself blue, but I've actually been led into a slightly deeper mode of thought than normal because of something that happens fairly frequently with Giant Step. . .

It's not unusual (Tom Jones, anyone?) to enter the auditorium and be instantly confronted by a 2 foot, 10 inch, cherub-faced pixie sadly proclaiming, "Dewey? I can't find my prop. I'm supposed to have a rubber chicken for the market scene, and I can't find it." Translation: Dewey? I just remembered that I need to have a rubber chicken for the market scene, but when I stood still and looked around at my feet, I couldn't see it.

The solution is normally to encourage the treasure hunter to actually go to the backstage tables that hold all of the props (physical PROPerties that actors use as part of their onstage roles: a purse, a cane, a golden lamp full of genies, etc.) and look at the spot that has been outlined and labeled "rubber chicken" or "Persian gold" or "Shabeeb's whip." 99.44% of the time, the hopelessly lost prop is found right where it belongs.

This is what got me thinking about Real Truth and not just almost.

It strikes me as odd when people go off in search of themselves. Um...aren't you right there? Isn't it true that, "Wherever you go in life...that's where you are?"

Okay...settle down...I get it. Searching for oneself is actually searching for meaning and trying to find one's place in this gobbledy-gook mess we call life. And the serious point here is that to stare at your own navel and attempt to find purpose and meaning is like looking for a rubber chicken in the dressing room instead of the prop table.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...there is a Creator, and it only makes sense that the Creator would have a better handle on what we've been created for than we do.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

How Hot Is Your Relationship?

Don't worry. This isn't one of those Cosmopolitan quizzes that promises to out you as a hopeless fuddy-duddy.

In fact, it's not a survey at all. It's a quote from an older gentleman named Vernon, whose short piece, "By the Fire", is in Philip Yancey's book, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?

     We shouldn't expect a relationship with God to remain on a constant plane all the time. Not long ago I celebrated my sixty-fifth wedding anniversary. Believe me, when you've been married that long, you don't stay on a plane of ecstasy all the time. Romance starts as a blazing bonfire  -  you know, "You light up my life." After a few decades it settles into something more like a heap of glowing coals. Sure, some of the heat dissipates, but coals are good, too: you can roast marshmallows, or warm your feet. A different level of companionship opens up.

     For as long as I can remember I've spent at least a half-hour daily in prayer. There have been experiences when, as the old hymn puts it, "heaven came down and glory filled my soul." Those are rare. Most of the time I persist because I value the relationship with God, just as I value my marriage relationship. I gratefully warm my feet by the fire.

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Truth is...the comparison of a marriage and a relationship with God is apt. In both, what matters is not the intensity but the integrity.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Bull-headed Belief: Jesus Quote #7

It's a great, big "Can't we all just get along?" world.

It's a culture where "what's true for me may not be true for you."

It's a society where we "agree to disagree" and "celebrate diversity of thought" with no thought of absolute truth or undeniable reality.

Cartoon credit: Judy Horacek

And then along comes a quote from one of the most well-known preachers of all time that dares to suggest otherwise:

Depend on it, my hearer, you never will go to heaven unless you are prepared to worship Jesus Christ as God. ~ Charles Spurgeon

How dare he say such a thing?

Well...maybe because Jesus said the same thing?

I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. ~ Jesus of Nazareth (John 14:6)

Truth is...Jesus didn't stop there. He also made it clear that the "worship Jesus Christ as God" part of Spurgeon's statement was totally appropriate:

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”

Jesus replied, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and yet you still don’t know who I am? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father! So why are you asking me to show him to you? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I speak are not my own, but my Father who lives in me does his work through me." (John 14:8-10 NLT)

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

What I Learned from Penguin-Watching

Consider, for a moment, the lowly penguin...

The penguins' farcical walk is quite deceptive. Those stiff feet, so ill at ease on land, act as a rudder underwater, allowing penguins to make hairpin turns at speeds of over thirty miles per hour. They are the fastest maneuverers and deepest divers of any bird; emperor penguins can reach depths of over sixteen hundred feet. These seabirds spend 80 percent of their lives as slick predators, but we only get to see the 20 percent spent staggering around on land like Charlie Chaplin.
     "Our perception of animals is based on where we are able to ob­serve them," Dr. Rory Wilson explained. "Seeing penguins stumble around being failures on land is like seeing the world's greatest athletes stumble around in the dark and never re­alizing what they are capable of. It's impossible to swim like a penguin and run like a cheetah on land." (From The Truth About Animals by Lucy Cooke ©2018)

Take your pick as to what lesson you want to waddle away with from this:

  • You can't judge a book by its cover.
  • Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their moccasins.
  • Never compare your best moment to someone else's worst day.

Truth is...Yahweh is able to avoid all these cliches. "The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7)

And the really good news is, even though God knows us so clearly, He still loves us so dearly. "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows." (Matthew 10:29-31)

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

The Gospel According to You

I was cleaning out the inbox of one of my email accounts and found a poem I had sent to myself back in 2006. There was no author named, so I went searching on the poem's main phrase to see if I could find out who wrote it.

I found a couple different versions, one credited to Paul Gilbert, one to Arthur McPhee...neither an exact match for what was in my email, which I happen to prefer:

Men read and admire the Gospel of Christ
With its love so unfailing and true.
But what do they say and what do they think
Of the Gospel according to you?
You are writing each day a letter to men -
Take care that the writing is true;
‘Tis the only Gospel that some men will read,
That Gospel according to you.

It immediately brings to mind a song my wife has been singing for years as she presents talks and concerts around the country. It's on her fourth album, living letters of HOPE, written by Gordon Jensen and titled "You're the Only Jesus".

If not in you, I wonder where
Will they ever see the One who really cares?
If not from you, how will they find
There's One who heals the broken heart
And gives sight to the blind?

You're the only Jesus some will ever see
And you're the only words of life
Some will ever read
So let them see in you the One in whom
Is all they'll ever need
'Cause you're the only Jesus
Some will ever see

And if not you, I wonder who
Will show them love
And love alone can make things new?
If not from you, how will they learn
There's One who'll trade their hopelessness
And give joy in return?

You're the only Jesus some will ever see
And you're the only words of life
Some will ever read
So let them see in you the One in whom
Is all they'll ever need
'Cause you're the only Jesus
Some will ever see

So let Him shine, let Him show
Let them see Him in you
You've gotta let them know

'Cause you're the only Jesus
(You're the only Jesus)
You're the only Jesus some will ever see

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Truth is...we are Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us (2 Corinthians 5:20). And people pay far more attention to how we live than what we say. So let's get out there and live our lives so full of the Spirit that when someone bumps up against us, they can't help but get sloshed on.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Loving Like Jesus...Yikes: Top 25 Jesus Quotes: #8

I'm not sure what I expected when I started writing about the top 25 quotes about Jesus as listed at azquotes.com, but I certainly didn't expect to be challenged to the extent that these words of Ravi Zacharias challenge me.

"Love is a commitment that will be tested in the most vulnerable areas of spirituality, a commitment that will force you to make some very difficult choices. It is a commitment that demands that you deal with your lust, your greed, your pride, your power, your desire to control, your temper, your patience, and every area of temptation that the Bible clearly talks about. It demands the quality of commitment that Jesus demonstrates in His relationship to us."

You might read that and think that Jesus has an easy job of loving us. He doesn't HAVE any lust or greed or pride that he has to deal with.

Think again.

He has to deal with OUR lust and greed and pride and, and, and....

And that can be a pretty tough row to hoe.

Let's put it in terms you can relate to: What if your special someone came and admitted that they have been cheating on you? How easy would it be for you to forgive? How easy would it be for you to swallow your pride and your sense of being betrayed? How easily could you die to all those feelings of hurt and keep on loving them?

Not easy...but worth it.

Worth it because the alternative would be to continue living in a stagnate pool of low self-esteem and high expectations; wallowing in the muddy sludge of holding a grudge; drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.

Truth is...Jesus loves us in spite of how we treat him. His commitment to desiring what's best for us never wavers. And we are called to love each other the same way. Paul wrote Ephesians 5:25 to husbands, but it can certainly apply to wives as well:
Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

The Surprising Darkness of Peter Rabbit and Friends

If you remember the literary work of Beatrix Potter as cozy little children's books, you may want to rethink your memories.

From The Heroine of Hill Top Farm by John Lanchester:

"Potter's work was always tinged with a bleak realism about death, right from the opening of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, in which we learn that Peter's father has had 'an accident' and ended up in one of Mrs. McGregor's pies. ...

"Even in the lighter stories, such as Two Bad Mice, the main characters experience 'no end of rage and disappointment,' and that is before we encounter the outright evil of the fox in The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck, who encourages Jemima to pick the flavorings and seasonings in which she is to be cooked — a gesture of macabre cruelty which would give pause to Hannibal Lecter.

"This darkness and violence is a central reason to why children like Beatrix Potter. Her bright, brisk, no-nonsense sentences, her sharply observed and beautifully tinted images, and her strong feeling of coziness and domesticity are all underpinned and made real by underlying intimations of darkness, cruelty, and sudden death."

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Truth is...Something similar can be said about the Bible. It's not just a collection of interesting stories about talking donkeys and floating menageries. If we were to make an accurate movie with Scripture as the script, it would certainly be rated R.

In the words of Rich Mullins, "The Bible is not a book for the faint of heart -- it is a book full of all the greed and glory and violence and tenderness and sex and betrayal that befits mankind. It is not the collection of pretty little anecdotes mouthed by pious little church mice -- it does not so much nibble at our shoe leather as it cuts to the heart and splits the marrow from the bone. It does not give us answers fitted to our small-minded questions, but truth that goes beyond what we even know to ask."

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Jesus Seems a Little Needy: Top 25 Jesus Quotes: #9

At first glance, a lot of what Jesus says seems kind of narcissistic and self-serving.

I mean, "If you love me, keep my commands," (John 14:15) is just a churchy way of saying "Come on, prove you love me by doing what I want," right?

Wellll...I guess I can see why a person might think that way. It is certainly what came to mind the first time I read this quote from the 19th-century bishop of Liverpool, J. C. Ryle:
"Abide in Me says Jesus. Cling to Me. Stick fast to Me. Live the life of close and intimate communion with Me. Get nearer to Me. Roll every burden on Me. Cast your whole weight on Me. Never let go your hold on Me for a moment. Be, as it were, rooted and planted in Me. Do this and I will never fail you. I will ever abide in you."

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Truth is...The second half of that quote is when Jesus' true intent starts becoming clear. Pretty amazing that the creator of the universe invites us to give our burdens to him and to use him as a firm, trustworthy foundation for our whole existence. It's not about feeding Jesus' ego. It's about living our best possible life.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

The Lion, the Zoo, and My Father

It was a warm, sunny, summer day in Northeast Indiana. The factory where my dad worked was having a company-wide picnic in the city park next to the zoo.

Part of the festivities was free admission to the zoo, and we gladly took advantage of the situation; strolling past exhibits of spider monkeys, prairie dogs, and venomous snakes.

In one cage, all by itself, was a mountain lion. In front of the small group of people gathered at the cage, a teenaged boy was locking eyes with the cat and quickly moving back and forth, with the mountain lion jumping side to side to keep up with him.

I turned to my father and said, "That's sad. He shouldn't be teasing the lion like that."

My dad said "Nah, he likes it. That cat's having fun."

Fast forward 20 minutes or so. I was walking through the zoo on my own, having convinced my parents that animal-watching was far more beneficial than having seconds of now-warm potato salad.

I found myself in front of the mountain lion's cage and decided it looked bored and needed some of that chase-the-boy-back-and-forth action.

Less than 60 seconds later, I was being firmly reprimanded by a zoo employee for teasing the big cat.

"But my dad said -," I choked out before quickly walking out of the zoo with tears on my cheeks, feeling embarrassed and ashamed and somehow betrayed.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...there comes a time in most folks' lives when they realize their parent is only human, after all. It's shocking and disappointing, but it's also part of growing up and a step toward appreciating that parent in a new way.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Acts 2:40-47 With Footnotes

[And with this, we come to the end of 2nd Chapter of Acts' first album, With Footnotes.]

Peter made his appeal to them and with many other words he urged them, saying, "Save yourselves from the punishment coming to this wicked people!" Many of them believed his message and were baptized; about three thousand people were added to the group that day. They spent their time in learning from the apostles, taking part in the fellowship, and sharing in the fellowship meals and the prayers.

Many miracles and wonders were done through the apostles, and this caused everyone to be filled with awe. All the believers continued together in close fellowship and shared their belongings with one another. They would sell their property and possessions and distribute the money among all, according to what each one needed. Every day they continued to meet as a group in the temple, and they had their meals together in their homes, eating the food with glad and humble hearts, praising God, and enjoying the food will of all the people. And every day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved.

I wake up in the mornin' and start cryin'
All the folks around me are dying
Oh, they never heard
About Jesus, the Living Word
Why can't they hear the Good News?

Well because they're too busy watchin' T.V.
Never takin' time to read in the real book of life
All they know is war and killin'
Yet their spirit's dead ain't filled
They haven't received the Light
They're just walkin' in the night

Father, I know you can hear my prayer
About all of those people that are dyin' way out there
Open my ears and tell me what to do
So I can do my part and get your Holy Word through
So they can hear the Good News
So they can hear the Good News

Why can't they hear the Good News?

"Good News"
©1974 Latter Rain Music and Word Music, Inc.

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Truth is...While most of what happens in this blog assumes a certain level of belief and faith amongst the readers, I also admit to a hope for those who don't believe and aren't people of faith to come along for the ride with hearts willing to be transformed by Christ.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

What IS the Bible?: Top 25 Jesus Quotes: #10

There are plenty of opinions floating around about the Bible...

  • The Bible is a collection of oral traditions put in writing...ancient myths given credence through publication.
  • The Bible is a book of lies, foisted upon humanity as a bid for control.
  • The Bible proves itself, through contradiction and illogic, to be a faulty, man-made work of fiction.

And yet...

  • There is more handwritten manuscript support for the Bible's contents than any other piece of ancient literature. (By far.)
  • Millions of people attribute a positive change in their lives to the teachings of the Bible.

Perhaps the Bible's longevity, integrity, and effectiveness are partly due to the truth of what Alistair Begg has said about it:

The Bible is one book, written by one Author, with one subject: Jesus Christ and the salvation God...provides through Him.

Truth is...our faith is better grounded on the God of the Bible than on the Bible that talks about God, but when Jesus gives testimony to its trustworthiness, it wouldn't hurt to pay attention: 

It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the smallest point of God’s law to be overturned. (Luke 16:17 NLT)

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Taking Care of Business

It would be pretty easy to be jealous of the apparent ease of existence for the financially-successful among us. To be able to purchase whatever one fancied without regard to the price tag? Who wouldn't want that?


It seems to be so common that it's almost a cliche: The sharp-as-a-tack business person who loses their grip on what's really important in life.

Ray Stevens sang about it in his song "Mr. Businessman" way back in 1968.

Itemize the things you covet
As you squander through your life
Bigger cars, bigger houses
Term insurance for your wife
Tuesday evenings with your harlot
And on Wednesdays, it's your charlatan analyst
He's high upon your list

You've got air-conditioned sinuses
And dark disturbing doubt about religion
And you keep those cards and letters going out
While your secretary's tempting you
Your morals are exempting you from guilt and shame
Heaven knows you're not to blame

You better take care of business, Mr. Businessman
What's your plan?
Get down to business, Mr. Businessman
If you can
Before it's too late and you throw your life away

Did you see your children growing up today
And did you hear the music of their laughter
As they set about to play?
Did you catch the fragrance of those roses in your garden?
Did the morning sunlight warm your soul
Brighten up your day?
Do you qualify to be alive
Or is the limit of your senses so as only to survive?

Spending counterfeit incentive
Wasting precious time and health
Placing value on the worthless
Disregarding priceless wealth
You can wheel and deal the best of them
And steal it from the rest of them
You know the score, their ethics are a bore

Eighty-six proof anesthetic crutches
Prop you to the top
Where the smiles are all synthetic
And the ulcers never stop
When they take that final inventory
Yours will be the same sad story everywhere
No one will really care
No one more lonely than
This rich important man
Let's have your autograph
Endorse your epitaph

You better take care of business, Mr. Businessman
What's your plan?
Get down to business, Mr. Businessman
If you can....
©1968 Ahab Music Co.

Truth is...What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your soul? (Matthew 16:26 NLT)

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Acts 2:38-39 With Footnotes

Peter said to them, "Turn away from your sins, each one of you, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins will be forgiven; and you will receive God's gift, the Holy Spirit. For God's promise was made to you and your children, and to all who are far away  -  all whom the Lord our God calls to himself."

Goin' home
I'm always goin' home inside
There's an ache in my heart that I can't bear
Take me home
Take my hand and lead me home, oh Lord
I'm so broken up inside
I need to hide in your love, in your hand
So take me home

I'm not sayin' you don't give me joy
I just need more of you
How I love you
And I want to be changed just like you
So take me home

Help me wait on you, Lord
Until the day you come
All my ways need a grave
So I can rise with you when you come
To take me home

"Goin' Home"
©1974 Latter Rain Music and Word Music, Inc.

"All my ways need a grave." That's the proper response to Peter's instruction to "Turn away from your sins each one of you, and be baptized." That's a correct interpretation of Paul's words in Romans 6:3-6...

Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.

Truth is...It's hard to listen to this song without feeling some of the longing with which it was written and sung.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Your Life or His: Top 25 Jesus Quotes: #11

Today's Jesus quote could also qualify as another "You Have Heard That It Was Said" entry.

It comes to us from Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the moral and public policy agency of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.

I've got just enough of the 1970s left in me that those credentials would normally be enough for me to move on to a different quote, but these six sentences contain some things that deserve some consideration:

For too long, we’ve called unbelievers to “invite Jesus into your life.” Jesus doesn’t want to be in your life. Your life is a wreck. Jesus calls you into his life. And his life isn’t boring or purposeless or static. It’s wild and exhilarating and unpredictable.

I understand, of course, that there are plenty of people who will immediately take umbrage at the phrase "your life is a wreck." And I don't blame them. At surface level, not every unbeliever is living a miserable life. For that matter, at surface level, not every believer is having a grand ol' time.

But let's get beyond the surface level. When you think about deep satisfaction, sense of purpose, eternal significance...how are you doing?

In those kinds of categories, I don't need a Jesus-shaped bandage or a gulp of God-elixir to temporarily cover-up my hurt or disguise my symptoms. I don't need a Jesus wristband or a Holy Spirit bobblehead as an accessory.

Truth is...I need to back up several yards, get a running start, and hurl myself full-tilt into "the reckless, raging fury that they call the love of God."

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Eleven Things I've Learned About Love By Listening To Music

I've learned a few things about love by listening to songs on the radio.

Love will find a way.
Love will keep us together.
Love is all you need.
Love isn't always on time.
Love is an open door.
You've got to hide your love away.
Can't buy me love.
Only love can break your heart.
Love is a battlefield.

When a man loves a woman, he can't keep his mind on nothin' else. He'd change the world for the good thing he's found.

According to Johnny Cash, love is a burning thing, and it makes a fiery ring. A ring of fire into which one can fall.

More than anything else, we hear about falling in love. Like it’s something that uncontrollably happens to you.

Yes, there is a certain level of the unexplainable that happens when you find yourself being attracted to one person instead of all the other people you’ve met, but the love that Paul wrote about in First Corinthians isn’t a lacy, fuzzy-focused thing like an emotion. The love that couples say “I do” to isn’t as flimsy as a feeling.

Brides and grooms promise to love each other as long as they both shall live, but that's not a feeling or an emotion. You can’t promise to feel a certain way for the rest of your life.

“I will always like Frosted Flakes more than any other cereal! The Beatles will always be my favorite band!”

You can’t do that, but you can promise to behave a certain way. You can commit to being patient. You can promise to be kind. You can devote yourself to humbly putting the other person’s needs first and to always protect, always trust, always hope and persevere.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...Love hurts, but I don't care what they say, I won't stay in a world without love.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Acts 2:36-38 With Footnotes

"All the people of Israel, then, are to know for sure that it is this Jesus, whom you nailed to the cross, that God has made Lord and Messiah!"

When the people heard this, they were deeply troubled, and said to Peter and the other apostles, "What shall we do, brothers?"

Peter said to them, "Turn away from your sins, each one of you, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins will be forgiven..."

I don't wanna go home
Without sharing the Word
How He came to wash us
With His blood precious
And I start crying

Don't you wanna be free?
Things that hassle your soul
Keep your life from livin'
And your give from givin'
Are you dying?

If you could do it from the start again
And change those things that you'd rather hadn't been
Stop your lying

Jesus offers the way
You can be born again
All your past forgiven
And new life to live in
He's worth trying

Now you can do it from your heart, my friend
And change those things that you'd rather hadn't been
Stop denying!
Are you dying?
Stop your lying!

"I Don't Wanna Go Home"
©1974 Latter Rain Music and Word Music, Inc.

Truth is...once I stop lying to myself; stop pretending that I'm basically a good person and start believing the bad news that my sin nailed Jesus to the cross...once I do that, then I'm able to appreciate the good news that it's because of that sacrificial death that I can go Home with a clear conscience.