|A Whole Lot of Nothin
|Thursday, November 30, 2023|
The lights are on, but nobody’s home.
Okay, it’s not exactly a house—it’s a restaurant. Or at least it was.
A while back, a team with a dream took a long look at a cavernous bar with a concrete floor. In its place, they envisioned a killer French restaurant. It would be the crown jewel of eateries in Chicago’s River North community.
But the dream would take a significant investment. For about a year, I watched truckloads of contractors pouring in and out of the old bar. They cored through the cement, reworked the electricity, curved the drywall, hung new lights, and laid terrazzo floors. Talk about investment!
In January, the place finally opened led by a chef celebrated in Paris and New York. But you know what that restaurant is serving today? A whole lot of nothin’. It closed in just ten months.
Think of all the financial backers who bought into this idea. Instead of a return on their investment, they’re getting a whole lot of nothing. Not so much as a forkful of bœuf bourguignon or the flake of a croissant.
The lights were on in the begrudging gray of an early morning, so I peered in at the restaurant that wasn't. The beautiful booths are still there, but given the restaurant's ghost town status, the floors might as well be tumbleweeds as terrazzo. As I snapped a picture, a thought arrested me.
What about the people who have invested in you and me spiritually? What kind of a return are they getting? Did your parents help lead you to Christ? Perhaps a Sunday School teacher or Awana leader poured into your life. Or was it a pastor who counseled you and prayed for you? What are they getting for their investment?
They've spent time, energy, and money on you, dreaming that someday you might nurture others in Christ. Is your soul a banquet of life-giving nourishment for others? Or are you—like that defunct restaurant—serving a whole lot of nothing?
|A Discipline Called Thankfulness
|Thursday, November 23, 2023|
If you are a little child visiting our home, you can expect a warm welcome and a horsey ride. We will gladly sit down and play your favorite game or laugh at your favorite joke. Truthfully, you can probably even expect a yes to your snack request.
As I often explain to friends, it's not that we never say no, it's just that we work real hard to say yes! But there are a few things we will not tolerate: children who refuse to say please and thank you.
We demand it. Insist on it. In our experience, unless you do, you end up with ungrateful brats. Sorry to be so blunt, but it’s true.
Thankfulness doesn’t just happen. It’s not like the flu—some get it, and some don’t. Honestly, thankfulness is a choice, a discipline.
No one becomes thankful by accident. It takes training. It's a commitment.
Thankfulness is not a mystical cloud that settles over us once enough good things come our way. It's a decision we make a hundred times a day, a learned skill that comes only with practice!
So, if you ask for a piece of pumpkin pie while seated at our table, your request had better come wrapped up in a "please." Otherwise, you'll be told, "I don't think I heard you." And when someone passes you the whipped cream, we'll wait to hear a thank you. Or remind you if you forget.
Why the tough-guy approach to thankfulness? Because it’s that important to God. He commands it no less than 44 times in Scripture.
Enough said, I hope. But since it’s Thanksgiving, could I please ask you to pass the pumpkin pie—and the whipped cream? Thank you!
|Before Billy Graham was Billy Graham
|Thursday, November 16, 2023|
On November 21, 1948, a tall preacher with a North Carolina drawl stood in the pulpit at the Van Orin Gospel church. It’s a small chapel in a small town surrounded by other small Illinois towns like Green Oak, Kasbeer, and Zearing.
The preacher could never have known that just one year later, he would speak to 350,000 people in his Los Angeles crusade. If you visit the Van Orin Gospel church, as we did this week, you’ll see the plaque and pulpit that recall Billy Graham’s appearance. But they bring a question to mind.
Before Billy Graham was Billy Graham—world-famous evangelist—what was he like? Answer: humble enough to speak at a small church in a small town.
I think that's why God could and did use him. Though a fine preacher, I'm sure we've heard better. Though a compelling evangelist, God could have selected someone else. Yet God chose Dr. Graham over thousands of others. Of course, nothing in the Bible says that if we serve in small spaces, that leads to large places.
Faithfulness is the goal, not famousness.
Faithfulness, not bigness, is what God values.
Exactly 75 years ago this week, Billy Graham stood in that rural church in that unknown town and preached the gospel. Today, there are still small towns and small churches and small spaces looking for someone small enough to serve.
Are you small enough?
|Talk Like David--Here's Why!
|Thursday, November 09, 2023|
Sauntering off the plane in Colorado Springs, I paused to reassemble the contents of my backpack and then left the airport for lunch with a friend. Only later did I realize what I’d left behind at the airport: my iPad.
Response? I started trashing myself for stupid irresponsibility. How could I have been so careless, so foolish? A nasty net of anxiety strangled my soul.
For me, the iPad is much more than a tablet for surfing the web, checking email, or playing a game. I practically live on it. It's my laptop. I've written entire books on it! Tons of articles, blogs, sermons, and book chapters (still unfinished) had vanished. The thought of that loss made me nauseous.
Ironically, just 24 hours previously, I'd preached a sermon based on David's Psalm 25:15, which testifies: My eyes are continually toward the Lord, for He will rescue my feet from the net.
Time to heed my sermon—to talk like David. Know what I did? I prayed with a friend, quoting that verse. Next, we called the airport, filled out a form online, and waited.
All afternoon, I fought off repeated blasts of anxiety with the same indestructible weapon—the Word of God: My eyes are continually toward the Lord, for He will rescue my feet from the net. While I still felt concern (and guilt), the verse brought sanity and structure to a thought life under siege.
At dinner that evening, my phone rang—the airport. Remarkably, some honest soul had turned in the iPad, and we could pick it up at the baggage counter.
I'm not suggesting that God will always step in and bail us out when we do foolish things. But I am saying His Word can enable us to walk through trouble in a God-honoring way—without bashing ourselves in the process.
Even if God had chosen not to reunite me with that iPad, I could look back at the day and know that instead of being immobilized by a net of anxiety, I had chosen to turn my eyes toward the Lord continually. With God's enablement, I really did talk like David.
Consider. To talk like David is to talk biblically. To talk biblically is to honor God. To honor God is to be blessed by God—in this life and the life to come.
So, let’s start talking—like David!
P.S. Can I email you a colorful PDF graphic containing the text of this Psalm that you can print out in several sizes? Email me at Jon.firstname.lastname@example.org and say, “Send me that verse—I want to talk like David!”
|What Fascinates You Most?
|Thursday, November 02, 2023|
Are you more intrigued with earth than heaven?
Let me rephrase the question: How fascinated are you with heaven?
The temptation is to answer this question with what we know to be the correct Sunday School answer: "Well, of course, I'm looking forward to heaven."
But there’s a foolproof way to know the truth.
Your praying (and mine) tells the real story.
Attend your church's prayer meeting, and what are most of the requests you hear? We pray for physical healing, well-being, jobs, houses—that sort of thing. Most of it is temporary in nature.
But look at all the prayers in the New Testament. Overwhelmingly, they are not about temporal problems—the stuff we tend to focus on.
Hear me clearly—you won't hear me or Scripture suggesting you should never pray for sick people—quite the contrary. We should!
I’m simply pointing out that our prayers are generally too focused on temporal things. How often do we pray for:
When was the last time your small group prayed for perseverance or endurance? When was the last time you prayed for your state's governor by name—asking for their salvation?
When our fascination is heaven, we’ll pray mostly about eternal things.
When our fascination is earth, we’ll pray mostly about earthly things.
What fascinates YOU?
Your prayers say everything.
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