The Real Problem!
(Suffering Vs. Temptation)

God’s word does not teach that you will never be called on to suffer more than you can endure. Sorry.

Instead of promising that your suffering will always be bearable, the Bible promises that you will not be tempted beyond your ability to endure. There is a difference. Listen to the apostle Paul:

    No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

So, while there may not always be an assured escape from our suffering, God does promise to provide an escape from our temptation. Well thanks a lot! Does the God who inspired the Bible actually take the problem of temptation more seriously than the problem of pain?

Let that question settle in.

I’ll ask another way. Does God know that temptation is a bigger threat to drive us away from faith in Him than suffering is?

Let’s face it. It was from sin more than from suffering that Jesus came to set us free. Listen to the apostle John: “You know that He appeared in order to take away sins” (1 John 3:5). And to do that, He suffered greatly.

Jesus understood the problem of temptation. In his parable of the soils, the “rocky” soil represented those who joyfully receive God’s word but fall away in the face of temptation (Luke 8:13). Satan tried his temptation tactics on Jesus directly in the desert, without success. Jesus advised His disciples to pray thusly: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:13). Near the end, as Jesus agonized in the garden of Gethsemane, he warned his sleepy disciples on the dangers of temptation, saying; “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” (Matthew 26:4). I’ll say it is!

How about you? Do you have a problem with temptation?

I hope so.

Why would I hope so? Because the people without a problem with temptation are usually those who just let it win. Temptation is a serious problem only for those who actually don’t want to sin. Oscar Wilde testified to the easy out, saying, “The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it… I can resist everything but temptation.”

I prefer C.S. Lewis. In his classic Mere Christianity, he wrote, “Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is.” Lewis observed this when World War II was raging (1942-44). He continued, “You find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in.”

But Germany is not the enemy now. Rather, it is lies, self-righteousness, lust, greed, laziness, profanity, stinginess, adultery, narcissism, homosexuality, abortion, gossip and hate. These enemies are much closer to home and they are winning far too many battles lately. It’s high time to fight back!

I hope you see temptation as a serious problem because I believe in God’s promise that you will not face temptation beyond that which He can help you to endure. But we do need His help, badly! Only those willing get God’s help in our battle with evil impulses make progress toward the good.

Let’s give C.S. Lewis the last word: “No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good.”

Painting the Plight of the Poor

For the first time since the ‘60s, one in seven working-age Americans live in poverty (46.5 million Americans in 2012 or 15.9 percent). In 2000, it was 11.3 percent. For children, our 2012 poverty rate was 21.8 per¬cent. Ouch!

Of course, statistics can point our concerns in different directions. For example, 97 percent of poor households (by today’s standard) have a color TV; 78 percent have a VCR or DVD player; 76 percent have air conditioning; 73 percent own a microwave oven; and nearly three-quarters own a car.

While poverty can often be a matter of perspective, it remains a matter of serious concern. Pain and deprivation come to human beings in many different ways that defy measurement with statistics. It is helpful to also turn to the arts for a richer perspective (pun intended). Art pulls the heart into the “composition.”

To picture poverty, let’s go first to 19th century Russia. Ilya Repin (1844 –1930), a Russian/Ukrainian realist, was the son of a soldier (a private) who grew up in poverty and hardship. His Barge Haulers of the Volga (see above) was finished in 1873 and it led the way for other painters to portray the harsh realities of peasant poverty in Russia. This powerful work made Repin a leader of a new movement of critical realism in painting. Each character in the composition is a metaphor for Russia. For the leader, Repin painted the portrait of an unfrocked priest he knew to represent the wisdom of the people. He also includes an ex-soldier, a Siberian, a Greek, an old prizefighter and more. These characters are diverse in age, origin and nationality but they are united in a common role as human beasts of burden.

On the Road, the Death of a Resettler; (1889, Tretjkow Gallery, Moscow), by Sergey Vasilyevich Ivanov (1864 –1910).

Sixteen years later, Sergey Ivanov, another Russian realist, painted On the Road, the Death of a Resettler. It portrayed an expired day-laborer with his family in despair on a lonely road to who knows where. It was conceived at a time when many Russians were refugees seeking to escape the ravages of a famine.

Across the English Channel in the land of Dickens, many Victorian painters rose to portray the poor in a sympathetic light. Sir Hubert von Herkomer (1849 –1914) was a British painter of German descent who knew poverty as a child. He recalls the time his mother gave him the family’s last half sovereign to go shopping but he lost it, adding to the misery of his family. He recalled, “We were constantly in want of money.”

Hard Times (1885), by Sir Hubert von Herkomer (33.5 × 43.5 in).

Herkomer’s classic, Hard Times, depicts a homeless family of four near his home town of Bushey (England) where migrant farmers often sought work. The wife copes with present uncertainty while the husband looks down the road with equal concern for a sign of future hope.

Bird Scaring (1896), by Sir George Clausen (1852 –1944), Harris Museum.

Children bear a heavy share of the burden of poverty. Sir George Clausen (1852 –1944) devoted himself to portraying English farm life. His work, Bird Scaring (below), reveals the rustic character of a boy charged with protecting seeds and crops the old fashioned way—by scaring off birds. His job required long and lonely hours in the fields, shouting, shaking a “clapper,” and stoking up smoke to scare off crows. His forlorn face tells a compelling story of determination amid fatigue. Many British writers recorded the miseries of bird-scaring.

Pauvre Fauvette (1881), by Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848-1884).

Finally, we come to Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848 – 1884), a French naturalist painter highly revered by fellow artists. After some schooling in Paris and serving in the Franco-Prussian War, he turned his highly refined academic skills to painting simple peasants and common folk with profound sensitivity and respect. Sadly, he died too young at age 36. In Pauvre Fauvette (1881, Poor Warbler Continue reading “Painting the Plight of the Poor”

Where ARE the parents?

This is based on a true story.

A church committee, in hot pursuit of a new look, replaced the old wooden pulpit and communion table with Plexiglas products. This did not escape the notice of the children who, after church, swarmed over the stage checking out the fancy new see-through furniture. With a new minister also moving in (me), this new look marked a new era for the congregation. Out with the old, in with the new!

But there was a problem. The corners on the new furniture were as sharp as they are clear (hard to see). The four pointy ends on the table were about as high as a four-year-old’s ears. Several concerned members speculated about possible bloodstains (from children) on our new rug near the communion table. Yes, that table should remind us of spilled blood but not that of our children.

What should be done?

One parent on the committee opined that the safety of our children is the parent’s responsibility. “Children have no business playing on the stage,” he declared, and then asked: “Where are the parents?”

Okay, parents do indeed need to take responsibility. However, the solution to our Plexiglas problem had to go beyond assigning blame even before an accident occurred. We need vigilant parents but we better round off the edges too.

First, we resorted to duct tape, forging cardboard covers and taping them to the corners. Later, we shipped both items to a plastics company to shave off the sharp edges. The new era for the church was preserved! I wish all church problems were so easily solved.

Protecting children is imperative. Good church leaders identify hazards on the front end, including those that do far more harm than just draw blood. Our young people are increasingly vulnerable to pied pipers who promote sexual experimentation, pornographic entertainment, abortion rights, homosexual marriage, anti-Christian stereotypes, rank profanity and more. Our kids are running into sharp arguments from adult teachers, celebrities or politicians and ending up with injured minds that duct tape won’t fix.

The world is after our kids, church, especially their innocence. If we don’t teach them to follow Jesus, the world will teach then not to.

So, where ARE the parents? Who is transmitting virtues, vices and values to our kids? Morality must be taught (and lived), or it won’t be caught. The primary “school” for such teaching is the home (then, the church). Sadly, the American home is falling apart.

Marriage is what makes a home. As Jesus defined it, marriage is sacred. “A man shall leave his father and mother,” he preached, “and cleave to his wife.” He explained, “And the two shall become one flesh.” Then, Jesus added, “What God has joined together, let no man separate.” (Matthew 19:5-6).

Let no man recompose or decompose it either.

Clearly, the words, “I now pronounce you husband and husband,” should never come from the lips of a Christian clergyman. Neither should, “I now pronounce you husband, wife, wife and wife.” Creative contemporary renditions of marriage simply do not qualify–at least not if you follow Jesus.

I do not qualify to play in a Super Bowl. I cannot vote in France. When they ask veterans to stand at Memorial Day services, I qualify to keep my seat—and applaud those who stand. The standards for a PhD exclude me from claiming the title, “Doctor.” In the same way, the definition of marriage excludes a bunch of roommates looking for tax or health insurance benefits or seeking social status. When standards exist, some options don’t qualify. Everyone is free to marry but not to redefine what marriage is: a union between a man and a woman who have mutually consented to live as husband and wife in wedlock.

Homosexuals in America are free to behave in ways that displease their Maker. But forcing others to sanction such behavior with the ordinance of marriage is a desecration of decency. Various experimental constructions of “marriage” must find other names.

As with the dangerous communion table, parents must be the first to take responsibility. Then comes the church. Looking beyond the Plexiglas, children are the first and worst casualties when marriage is decomposed. We all play a part in protecting children from physical or spiritual dangers. Let us teach children to honor marriage on God’s terms. Take tangible measures against the mutilation of marriage. Changing church furniture is fine but changing Jesus’ definition of marriage is deeply dangerous for kids.

What Baptism Demands!

There is a river that connects the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel with the Dead Sea in the south. It has a history.

  • On the banks of this river some 3,300 years ago, the children of Israel listened to the entire book of Deuteronomy recited before entering the land of promise. Finally, when the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant stepped into that river, it dried up for the people to cross.
  • About 400 years later, in the days of the prophet Elisha, a highly respected captain (Naaman) was healed of leprosy in the waters of this historic river.
  • Nearly 900 years later, Jesus Christ was baptized in this river by John the Baptist in order to fulfill all righteousness.

Great moments of promise, provision, healing and hope are connected with this river. It is tiny compared to the Amazon and the Nile. Most of it runs under sea level making it one of the lowest rivers on earth. Yet, no river is more famous. It is the Jordan River, but you already knew that.

Still, not everything about this river is glorious. It flows from a freshwater lake teeming with life into a lifeless sea of salt. Its lyrical legacy in poetry and folk music reminds us of the death we all must meet before Michael rows us to the other shore. So, whether you float down the Jordan River to the Dead Sea or cross over it, it carries a connotation of death.

This, of course, makes it a perfect place for baptisms.

Baptism demands your death:

    Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? (The apostle Paul, Romans 6:3)

This is not about the inevitable death we pay doctors to help us put off, but a death some people fear far more: death to our sinful self! Preachers call it repentance! We pay entertainers, politicians, celebrities, journalists, psychologists and other soothsayers (including some preachers, sad to say) big bucks to help us put off that “death.” We prefer slavery to sin over death to sin. Baptism, however, declares that there is new life on the other side this death to sin. Listen to Paul:

    Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:4)

No one wants to die. Even Jesus, praying in the garden of Gethsemane, did not want to die. Nevertheless (I love that word), because He knew it was God’s ultimate solution to the sins of humankind, He did. And by participating with Jesus in His death through our baptism, we find the key to new life–eternal life—through His resurrection. Before He died and rose again, Jesus offered the following ultimatum:

    If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23)

Jesus’ reference to a cross, even before he died on one, raises the stakes beyond mere denial to death itself. Stakes don’t get higher than that.

In 1937, German pastor and author Dietrich Bonhoeffer described the cost of Christian discipleship this way: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” This is an invitation to repent and be baptized, the same invitation the apostle Peter offered on the day Jesus’ church was born (see Acts 2:38). Baptism is the water grave where the old man is put to death and a new man comes to life. Unless we die to self, however, baptism is nothing but a bath.

As Jesus decided to die, so must we. As Jesus trusted in the power of God to raise him up again, so must we. Like the Jordan River, baptism leads us not around death but straight through it to the promise of eternal life—God’s gift. Baptism may chill the body but not the soul.


Dare to Discipline Your Dreams

In America today, dreaming is the ticket. It’s the current key to every city and many hearts. For example:

  • To sell a product, first sell the dream.
  • To run for an office, promise dreams.
  • To build a lavish movie-making industry, call it “Dreamworks.”
  • To pass a law that enables immigrants to bypass the law, call it the Dream Act.

And so on.

In 1939, a popular fantasy film about following a yellow brick road was really about following your dreams. Dorothy sings;

    Somewhere, over the rainbow, way up high;
    There’s a land that I heard of once in a lullaby.
    Somewhere, over the rainbow, skies are blue,
    And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.

    (E.Y. Harburg and Harold, sung by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz)

The next year, the world’s most famous fictional cricket crooned:

    When you wish upon a star
    Makes no difference who you are
    Anything your heart desires
    Will come to you…
    Like a bolt out of the blue
    Fate steps in and sees you through
    When you wish upon a star
    Your dream comes true

    (Ned Washington and Leigh Harline; introduced in 1940 in the Disney classic; Pinocchio).

Anything your heart desires?

Jiminy Cricket, as narrator and guide, tells of a carpenter named Geppetto who makes a wish that his wooden puppet could become a real boy. A blue fairy grants to Pinocchio the breath of life but he remains a puppet with dreams of his own. The fairy informs Pinocchio that to become real, he must prove himself to be brave, truthful and unselfish–virtues that are by no means automatic. Soon, Pinocchio was diverted from school into a life of chaos, lies, gambling, smoking, drinking and vandalizing. There are consequences, as every reader “nose.” Finally, a brave deed leaves Pinocchio washed up on a beach no longer alive. It’s a conversion by death. The fairy grants him a second chance (like Jonah), this time as a real boy. Clearly, dreaming can be dangerous when separated from honesty, loyalty, study, discipline and sacrificial love.

Hollywood is the consummate dream factory. There have been exceptions (like Pinocchio, perhaps) but romantic dreaming is often Hollywood’s sparkling alternative to such boring realities as faith, family, truth-telling, sacrificial love and courage.

Actually, I am a big fan of dreaming when done in conjunction with faith, family, truth and godly hope. Without these qualities, however, all dreaming has to offer is “empty consolation.” (Zechariah 10:2). I am not a fan of those who appeal to our dreams apart from godly values to seduce us into selfishness and exploitation.

For instance, President Obama appealed to unlimited dreaming to celebrate and encourage legal abortion. Here’s what he said on the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade:

    On this anniversary, we must also recommit ourselves more broadly to ensuring that our daughters have the same rights and opportunities as our sons: the chance to attain a world-class education; to have fulfilling careers in any industry; to be treated fairly and paid equally for their work and to have no limits on their dreams. That is what I want for women everywhere. (January 22, 2009).

In other words, we shouldn’t let human life itself stand in the way of our dreams. This sort of dreaming holds too many Americans in its toxic and deadly clutches.

There is nothing demonic about dreaming unless or until we use it to flee from moral conviction, godly discipline and from the real world filled with real people who need us. In his brilliantly practical book, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world. He does not abandon us to those rapturous experiences and lofty moods that come over us like a dream. God is not a God of the emotions but the God of truth.”

There is a better alternative to undisciplined dreaming. Nearly 3,000 years ago, a wise man made this clear: “Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore stand in awe of God.” (Ecclesiastes 5:7).


I did not designate it as “Part One,” but here is a previous article titled “Why Not?” on the same topic: