Why the Lord is so rough on some of His choice servants

“O you of little faith!  Why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31).

The teacher is hardest on the best pupils.

The Master Teacher is hardest on the Star Pupil.

The coach is in the face of the player with the greatest potential, on his back, never letting up.

Check out these words from the Lord Jesus.  “Get behind me, Satan.  You are a stumbling block to me;  for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (Matthew 16:23).

He said those harsh, cutting words, not to the Pharisees, but to Simon Peter, His “star apostle.”

Simon Peter–the disciple with the most potential, the one Jesus renamed as “Rock.”  He called Peter a “satan” (adversary) soon after commending him for his confession that “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).  When Peter said that, the Lord said, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”

Called him blessed one moment and turns right around and calls him a devil.

What’s going on here?

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Pastors and discipline: Maybe we need a ‘plebe’ year.

You may know the name Jimmy Doolittle.

Doolittle flew those boxy bi-planes in World War I for the United States, and then barn-stormed throughout the 1920’s, giving thrills by taking risks you would not believe. He led the retaliatory bombing of Tokyo in early 1942, a few months after Japan bombed 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 the 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.

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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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The best kind of learning is what you teach yourself

From time to time, as I’m sketching at some event, someone will ask, “So, have you had training for this?” Or, maybe, “Are you self-taught?”

I don’t answer what I’m thinking.

What I say is usually a variation of, “I’ve had formal training. But mostly, I’ve worked at it. And I’m still trying to figure out how to draw better.”

But what I think is, “Do you think my stuff looks so amateurish I could not possibly have been taught?”

Can you imagine someone saying to Picasso, Pavarotti or Frank Lloyd Wright, “Did you take training for this?”

My friend Mary Baronowski Smith told me how she made herself learn to sight-read a hymnal so she could play anything she wished on the piano. Even though she was taking lessons, this skill was self-taught.

Here’s what happened.

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Moderately important Christianity

Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.  –C. S. Lewis

How important is the Christian faith? Listen to the Lord Jesus in just two of hundreds of similar statements from Him:

–“I tell you, no. But unless you repent, you shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3,5)

–“Unless you believe that I am, you shall die in your sins” (John 8:24).

The faith of the Lord Jesus Christ is a life or death proposition.

Of the 100,000 excellent things C. S. Lewis said in his writings, and of the hundreds of memorable quotations we pass along from this brilliant British brother, perhaps nothing is of more lasting significance or greater benefit than the way he sharpened the line between faith and unbelief, between weak allegiance to Jesus and the real thing.

“(People say) ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg or else he would be the devil of hell. You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher.  He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

Mr. Lewis would be amazed and more than a little disgusted by the lukewarmness of modern Christianity.

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Something preachers keep forgetting

For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you…. (2 Timothy 1:6). 

I was sitting on the platform, ten feet to the left and rear of the pulpit, studying the 300 people in the congregation. In five minutes, I would walk to the podium and, as the guest preacher, bring the sermon. The thoughts running through my mind were not helpful.

“They know all these things. My sermon is about the church. And these people are at church on a Sunday night, of all things. I might as well go into a diner and speak on the joys of eating. Or to a gym and talk about the need for exercise.”

Then, sanity returned. I knew this was not the case at all.

I thought about the times when I sat where they sit.  I often needed a strong reminder of the proper value to be placed on the church, of how solidly God feels about it, of the price Christ paid for it, of the assignments He has given it, and yes, reminders of the sorry way the church is being treated by some of its friends.

There was a genuine need for this message, and on this night I would deliver it as strongly as I knew how.

I gave it my all. The response at invitation time–not always the best barometer, I know–indicated the sermon had hit its target.

The best barometer, and one I’m not privy to, would be the behavior of the members of that congregation over the next few weeks and months.

It’s easy for preachers to fall into that little sinkhole which had opened up just in front of me, and think, “These people do not need this; they already know it.”

In such situations, it’s good for the man of God to remind himself of three facts:

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Waiting on the Lord may be the hardest thing we are asked to do

They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength….  (Isaiah 40:31)

I waited on the Lord and He inclined to me and heard my cry…. (Psalm 40:1)

So, wait on the Lord.  Be strong. Let your heart take courage.  Yes, wait on the Lord. (Psalm 27:14)

Are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour?  (Mark 14:37).

It takes time.

God has all the time in the universe.

Throw away your watch and your calendar, follower of Jesus.  You’re on heavenly time now and nothing happens on your schedule.

I suspect most of us are like the fellow who prayed, “Lord, give me patience–and give it to me right now!”

You’ve been praying for a loved one. And you don’t see an answer.  You keep praying.  For years, you pray and wait and hope.  Then the one you were praying for is in a traffic accident and killed.  Clearly, God never answered your prayer.  You are devastated. So disappointed.  Your faith in God wavers.  You’re so unsure any more.  What is the point in praying and in trusting?

And then one day, years later, something happens.

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Take time for a child: How the elderly doctor did it

This is the story of Dr. Joe Bailey of Tupelo, Mississippi.  He told it in 2004 as a tribute to his mentor.  I hope you love it as much as I do.

His family were farmers, says Dr. Joe Bailey, but since his mother refused to live anywhere but in town, they lived in Coffeeville, population 600. That was precisely across the street from the town doctor, H. O. Leonard.

As far back as Joe Bailey remembers, he wanted to be a medical doctor. In fact, when he was 10, his father suggested that it was time for him to begin helping out on the farm. Young Joe took a deep breath and told him that “if I was going to be a doctor, it would be better if I had a job that would teach me about people.”

The truth is, I really enjoyed the farm, but at age 10 I went to work in the local grocery store for 25 cents an hour (in 1957). I kept the job until I finished high school in 1965. By then I was making $1 an hour and the experiences of dealing with people those eight years have proven invaluable to me.

In the middle of that vocational experience, however, little Joe Bailey began his medical training. Here’s how it happened.

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The passion of the pastor–and presumably, of every believer

A 10-year-old girl said something that has had me thinking about passion ever since.

That word “passion” gives us compassion, passive, dispassionate, and a host of related concepts. At its core, from the Latin, “passion” means “to suffer.” It’s opposite, passive, or impassive, means “unfeeling.”

I was teaching cartooning to children in the afternoons following vacation Bible school. At one point, I had to take a phone call and turned the class over to my teenage grand-daughter who was assisting me. Ten minutes later, I told the children about the call.

“One of the editors of a weekly Baptist paper in another state called about using a certain cartoon. I found the drawing in a file and scanned it into the computer and emailed it to her. Next week, that cartoon–which is still in that file cabinet in my office–will be seen in 50,000 newspapers in homes all over that state.”

Then I asked the question on their minds but which none dared to raise.

“Now, how much money do you think I made doing that?”

Some kid said, “Thousands.” The rest had no idea.

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Lose the naivete, Christian!

On a state or secular college campus, the atheistic professor has complete freedom to spout religious views and opinions without protest from the students or interference from the dean. However, let a Christian instructor relate his personal story to inform the students of his worldview so they can better understand where he’s coming from, and he’s harassed and soon out of a job.

At a convocation of students on the average secular campus, freedom of speech and the First Amendment are championed. However, let a student stand and own up to being a follower of Jesus Christ who attempts to live by the Bible, and he/she is hooted down.

Ironic, isn’t it, the hostility those of a secular bent have toward belief in Jesus Christ. And they call themselves open-minded champions of free speech.

It’s more than just a prejudice, however. It’s a full-blown hatred.

That hatred is born of a fear of Jesus.

If in reading the gospels you have wondered how in the world things in that remote day came to the point where reasonably-minded people moved to arrest and crucify the Lord Jesus Christ, He who never lifted a finger against a human on the planet, the Prince of Peace, then take a look around you.

Human nature has not changed in the last 2,000 years.

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