The disciplined life: So rare, so valuable

I’m confident you have heard the name Jimmy Doolittle.

Jimmy Doolittle flew those bi-planes in World War I for the United States, and then barn-stormed throughout the 1920’s, taking risks you would not believe. He led our country’s retaliatory bombing of Tokyo in early 1942, a few months after Pearl Harbor. He played a major role in the Allied victory over the Axis, eventually becoming a General. His autobiography is titled I Could Never Be So Lucky Again.

Doolittle and his wife Joe (that’s how they spelled her name) had two sons, Jim and John, both of whom served in the Second World War.

The general wrote about his younger son:

John was in his plebe year at West Point and the upperclassmen were harassing him no end…. While the value of demeaning first-year cadets is debatable, I was sure “Peanut” could survive whatever they dreamed up. (p. 284)

Later, General Doolittle analyzes his own strengths and weaknesses and makes a fascinating observation:

(I) have finally come to realize what a good thing the plebe year at West Point is. The principle is that a man must learn to accept discipline before he can dish it out. I have never been properly disciplined. Would have gotten along better with my superiors if I had. (p. 339)

“I have never been properly disciplined.” What an admission. It takes a mature person to say that.

To put it another way, he had never learned to say no to himself. That is the essence of self-discipline.

He was not exaggerating. Doolittle was a man with a thousand strengths, but his few weaknesses kept creeping up and blindsiding him. Numerous times, even after he became a national hero, the officers in charge of his current assignment would ground him because of crazy stunts like buzzing airfields upside down and flying under bridges and endangering his passengers.

Prior to the Allied invasion of Normandy (June 6, 1944), the actual place and time were the biggest secrets on the planet. Everyone was sworn to silence. Doolittle tells of a general who shot his mouth off in a bar, talking freely about the invasion, speculating on when and where, even though he personally had not been briefed.

General Eisenhower had no patience with such foolishness.

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The abrasive Christian

“The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance, leading to the knowledge of the truth…” (Second Timothy 2:24-25)

In Lynne Olson’s book Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America’s Fight Over World War II, 1939-1941, she has this interesting depiction of Harold Ickes, a member of FDR’s cabinet during the Second World War:

“According to T. H. Watkins, Ickes’ biographer, ‘a world without something in it to make him angry would have been incomprehensible to him.’ A disgrunted Republican senator who had been the target of one of Ickes’ verbal assaults called him ‘a common scold puffed up by high office.’ To one cabinet colleague, Ickes was ‘Washington’s tough guy.’ To another, he was the ‘president’s attack dog.’”

Olsen tells how an assistant secretary of state once refused to shake hands with Mr. Ickes and described him in his diary as “fundamentally, a louse.”

Having such an irritating person in high government office is one thing; having them in church leadership is quite another.

I’m remembering a woman had a reputation for being a strong witness for the Lord, even to the point of teaching classes on faith-sharing.

One day I called her office following up on something her boss had told me.

I was amazed by her reaction.

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The humble pastor brags on himself

I’m a pastor. I know the trade secrets.

I hope none of the brethren get upset by my letting the rest of the world in on our little quirks here.

When we want the audience to know of our (ahem) advanced degrees and superior education, we tell stories.  They sound a lot like this…

….When I was working on my doctor’s degree–I mean the first one, not the second one–I was having a hard time with my dissertation…. (The fact is, he got that degree from a mail-order institution for reading three books and writing two short papers.)

–The other day I met a man at the grocery store.  He said to me, “Aren’t you DOCTOR Rogers?”  I said, “Yes, I am.”  And he said, “Well, Doctor Rogers….” (and the story goes on from there.  Throughout the story, that fellow calls him Doctor no fewer than a dozen times.  This is to alert the audience to the way he wishes to be addressed.)

When we want the audience to know what celebrated circles we run in, we drop names into the sermons….

–“As I was saying to Billy Graham recently, ‘I hate name-droppers, don’t you?”

–“The last time I attended the presidential prayer breakfast in Washington, this time I was seated beside a lowly congressman.  A far cry from the time they seated me beside the Secretary of State.  Anyway, he said to me….”

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Some people sound heavenly; others sound like hell.

“In thy presence there is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).

“Cast out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:30).

If the atmosphere of heaven is joy and praise, then the noxious fumes of hell must be composed of equal parts anger, complaining, bitterness and blaming.

If your heart is in heaven, your head should be in the clouds.

Okay, I’m playing with metaphors here and admit it. But I am overwhelmed by all the scriptures which keep telling us that the atmosphere around the throne of Heaven is praise and joy and gratitude. Worship, in other words.

There is Psalm 16:11 (above) which is just about as good as you could ask for.

In John’s vision of Heaven which we call Revelation (or more often “Revelations”), he tells us that near the throne stood “four living creatures, each having six wings…. Day and night they do not cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God, The Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come’” (Revelation 4:8).  Around the throne, the praise is continuous.

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Lord, make me a silken Christian.

“The silk we love for its softness and beauty is also one of the strongest and toughest fibers in the world. It has a strength of around five grams per denier compared with three grams per denier for a drawn wire of soft steel.” (From “The History of Silk,” by Harold Verner, quoted by Liz Trenow in her novel “The Last Telegram.”)

Soft and beautiful; strong and tough. What a combination.

Some in our day call this “a velvet-brick” or “a steel magnolia.” Soft and beautiful on the outside, strong and tough on the inside.

A pretty apt description of our Lord Jesus Christ, isn’t it?  We see His softness and beauty in a hundred things He did: the time He took to receive the little children and bless them, respond to the cries of the leper who had touched him, restore a dead son to his grieving mother, forgive an adulterous woman who had been publicly humiliated by religious bullies, and save a five-times married woman of Samaria.  He invited the dying thief on the cross to spend eternity with Him in Paradise, and prayed for His executioners.

Our Lord said, Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).

No wonder people have been so enamored by this Lord Jesus Christ from day one.

He was a beautiful man.

But the Lord’s strength and toughness are also visible–on full display, even–throughout the Gospels. 

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10 ways to know you rule your own spirit

“He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” (Proverbs 16:32).  And on the other hand, “Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls” (Proverbs 25:28). 

Self-control is a mighty good thing to have.  And as rare as Spanish doubloons in the Sunday offering plate.

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).  So, the much-desired quality of self-control is found among the nine traits making up the “fruit of the Spirit,” which is also a pretty solid description of Christlikeness.

The ability to master one’s own spirit is not as recognizable as its opposite, the failure or inability to control one’s inner self.  That trait–a spirit out of control–is quickly on full display whenever its owner is offended, attacked, questioned, called to account for something he/she has done, or otherwise challenged. The uncontrolled spirit has no defenses against temptation, no muscles for hard tasks, and no patience with difficult people.  “Love one’s enemies”? (Luke 6:27) The uncontrolled spirit has difficulty loving its own friends and thus nothing in reserve for its opponents.

The angry motorist determined to set another driver straight cannot control his own spirit.  The disgruntled employee who returns with a gun to settle accounts cannot control his own spirit.  The gossip who simply cannot resist the urge to pass along the juicy morsel about someone cannot control their spirit.

The list is endless.  And so depressing.

So, let’s take the positive approach! Here, straight out of the wonderful book of Proverbs, are ten traits of the person in control of his/her own spirit.

One.  You can take chastening from the Lord and appreciate discipline when you have it coming.

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No place for sarcasm in the Lord’s work

“Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person” (Colossians 4:6). “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification, according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).

Mary Todd Lincoln was gifted in the dark art of sarcasm. Her sister Elizabeth said of her, “She was also impulsive and made no attempt to conceal her feelings; indeed, it would have been an impossibility had she desired to do so, for her face was an index to every passing emotion.  Without desiring to wound, she occasionally indulged in sarcastic, witty remarks, that cut like a Damascus blade, but there was no malice behind them.”  Lincoln’s biographer notes, “A young woman who could wound by words without intending to was presumably even more dangerous when angry or aroused.”  (Honor’s Voice: The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln by Douglas L. Wilson).

Woe to the person bound in marriage to one gifted in sarcasm.  Lincoln bore many a scar from the blade his wife wielded.

Pity the church member sitting under the teachings of a sarcastic pastor week after week.  Such ministry will bear bitter fruit.

These days, Christian leaders are finding themselves apologizing for public pronouncements–in the media, on cyberspace, in print, on radio or TV–in which they were sarcastic toward someone who criticized them or opposed them or questioned them.

We even have websites given to satire and sarcasm. And some claim to be Christian.

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Perhaps the most profound thing our Lord ever said

“Except you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

What’s lacking in the great majority of religious experts–of all tribes, all beliefs, all everything!–is a childlike humility.

–I’ve sat across from the salespeople hawking Jehovah’s Witness and Mormon doctrine door to door and been amazed at the sheer gall and arrogance of these know-it-alls.

–I’ve sat in the auditoriums and classrooms when prophecy teachers were spreading out their charts and telling far more than they could ever know, pronouncing their anathema upon anyone daring to believe otherwise and taking no prisoners in the process.

–I’ve sat in massive conferences among thousands of my peers and heard ignorance spouted as truth but camouflaged with alliteration and pious phrases and encouraged and affirmed by thundering echoes of “amens” and “hallelujahs”.

In every case, I longed to hear someone say, “We see through a glass darkly….”  (I Corinthians 13:12).

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Full-bodied, three-dimensional preaching

I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  (Galatians 5:21)

Grady Cook, a wonderful Mississippi artist, told me how he had improved his technique. “The picture you bought from me last time,” he said, “was all right. But I still had a lot to learn.” I assured him Margaret and I thought it was fine and that it was hanging in our living room.

“Since then, I’ve studied under a wonderful teacher,” he explained, “and have learned how to add darkness to my work.” He said, “Here. Look at this.” Pointing at the picture I would buy from him a few minutes later, he showed the shadows and the blackness of the undergrowth of the forest. It made the picture far more three-dimensional than the earlier one. The trees stood out. It looked like someplace I’d like to explore.

We still have both pieces of art on display in our home, but since he explained the difference, I’ve enjoyed the last one far more.

“There’s something missing in this sermon,” I said to myself. On the surface, it seemed to work just fine. The “fruit of the Spirit” passage of Galatians 5:22-23 is a familiar and well-loved one. I’d studied it numerous times over the years and had preached it on several occasions. I like what it says about the effect of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer who abides in the Lord, that as he/she grows in Christ, they will grow all nine qualities of this “fruit” in his life. The nine qualities are the “fruit,” not “fruits,” and we do not specialize on one or two, but the indwelling Spirit will be producing all of them. Full-bodied believers, I suppose we could say.

And yet, trying to put myself in the place of my people and listen to my own delivery of the message, it felt rather blah. It just lay there, boring me–and if I was bored, how much more the poor hearers would be.  Something was wrong.

Then I realized what it was.

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How’s your joy?

This week I’ve been watching the Women’s College World Series, which is all about softball games.  Oklahoma and Florida State played a best-of-three, which the Sooners took 2-1.  Game two on Wednesday was unforgettable, not so much for the hits and fielding but for the all-out joy and enthusiasm of fans and players alike. Perhaps because their championship calibre team had dropped the first game, but the fans seemed unusually pumped and volatile.

Since Oklahoma City hosts this annual series and since the University of Oklahoma’s team was in the playoff, this was like a home game to them, which means the stands will teeming with Sooners. Not an empty seat in the house, perhaps 15 thousand strong, and they were over-the-top excited.  Every victory from their team, no matter how small–a strikeout, a single, anything–and the fans went crazy.  Furthermore, the team itself was constantly cheering one another, even coming out of the dugout onto the field for some kind of cheer/dance.  It was fun to watch.

Contrast that with the men’s game, which is scheduled for two weekends away.  I’m a big fan and will watch all I can.  Hey, I’m retired and housebound for a while due to a medical thing.  The players will be excited and hollering, but nothing like the women.  In fact, in men’s college football, referees will penalize them for “excessive celebration.”  How crazy is that.  The women are out-of-sight enthusiastic in their celebrating, and the men get penalized.

I’m thinking the men’s rules were set by some Scrooge somewhere, someone who hates the very idea of joy and excitement.

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