Posts Tagged ‘Daily Devotional’

Simplifying Life: the Pareto Principle

Pareto Principle

When I was working as a management consultant, one of my favorite lessons to convey to clients was the Pareto Principle, which is also known as the 80-20 Rule.  The principle was named for the 19th century Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed that an 80-20 percent relationship applied to many practical aspects of life. For instance, about 80 percent of nonprofit donations come from 20 percent of the donor base.  About 80 percent of sales come from 20 percent of your client base. 

The application of the 80-20 Rule I most like is that about 80 percent of the work on a project is accomplished through 20 percent of the effort.  For example, if it takes five hours to detail a car, you can finish 80 percent of the job in about an hour.  The remaining 20 percent of the tasks will take four hours to complete.  The lesson learned is that if you can accept something less than perfection in a practical task like vacuuming your house or maintaining your lawn, you can save yourself a lot of time and significantly simplify your life.

The Rev. Dr. Alexander Whyte (1836-1921), was a popular Scottish theologian in his day.  His biographer, G.F. Barbour tells an interesting story about Whyte’s encounter with a particular female parishioner who told him, “Dr. Whyte, I just love being in your presence. You are so saintly.”  Whyte replied, “Madam, if you could look into my soul, what you would see would make you spit in my face.”

While the Pareto Principle has many practical applications in everyday life, Rev. White knew that when it comes to God, giving 20 percent of yourself is not enough.  Whyte understood what Jesus means in Matthew 10:37-39 when he says, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (ESV) 

Jesus wants all of you—not 20, or 80, or even 99 percent of you.  He makes this clear when He tells his disciples “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26, ESV)

It’s easy to give part of yourself to God.  You can attend church every Sunday, pray to Him every morning, and tithe 10 percent of your income. Outwardly you might appear saintly, as the Rev. Whyte appeared to his parishioner, but God sees inside us all.  Scottish Theologian Oswald Chambers said, “We are only what we are in the dark; all the rest is reputation. What God looks at is what we are in the dark—the imaginations of our minds, the thoughts of our heart, the habits of our bodies; these are the things that mark us in God’s sight.”  This is why, St. Paul tells us in Philippians 2:12 (ESV), “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

God wants all of you. Therefore endeavor constantly to place Him first in every aspect of your life. And when you fail, as you inevitably will, seek His forgiveness.  As St. Paul encourages us in 2 Timothy 4:7, continue to fight the good fight.   

 

 

 

Stretch Yourself

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“It is perilously possible to make our conceptions of God like molten lead poured into a specially designed mould, and when it is cold and hard we fling it at the heads of the religious people who don’t agree with us.”  —Oswald Chambers

Alison J. Head and Michael B. Eisenberg are the co-principal investigators and co-directors of Project Information Literacy at the University of Washington Information School in Seattle. One of the areas they study is information overload and multi-tasking.

Since 2008 the pair has surveyed over 10,000 college students. One of their most significant findings is that, “Information is now as infinite as the universe, but finding the answers needed is harder than ever.”

In today’s complex, often confusing wilderness of digital information, it’s important that people periodically take time to slow down and think!  Scottish theologian Oswald Chambers said, “Always keep in contact with those books and those people that enlarge your horizon and make it possible for you to stretch yourself mentally.”

I have to agree with his advice. I’ve found that a good way to slow down is to turn off the laptop or smartphone.  Instead, try engaging in meaningful conversations and reading.

My most meaningful conversations usually occur with my wife Linda.  She is one of the smartest people I know. Her logic and ability to find clarity in the midst of confusion have always amazed me. If she were the only person I ever talked with, my life would never lack for interesting, meaningful dialogue.

As for books, it’s hard to know where to begin, but I’d like to suggest a few good ones for Christians hoping to stretch their minds a little.  My top five, in no particular order are:

My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers

Oswald Chambers, who died in 1917 at age 43, is widely regarded as one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century. He wrote only three books in his lifetime, but there are many bearing his name.  They are the products of his devoted wife Gertrude, a professional stenographer who recorded all of Chambers’ sermons verbatim in shorthand.

My Utmost for His Highest is a book of daily devotions written by Mrs. Chambers. It draws from dozens of her husband’s sermons. First published in 1924, it is the most popular Christian devotional ever written.  The idea of total abandonment, i.e. completely surrendering one’s life to God, is at the center of its message. As the book’s title suggests, we must strive daily to do our utmost for God.

Chambers said, “We have the idea that we can dedicate our gifts to God. However, you cannot dedicate what is not yours. There is actually only one thing you can dedicate to God, and that is your right to yourself (see Romans 12:1). If you will give God your right to yourself, He will make a holy experiment out of you— and His experiments always succeed.”

The language of the original text is somewhat challenging for modern day readers due to its use of Scottish vernacular. Fortunately, there are versions available in modern English.  Personally, I find that working through the original version simply adds to the exercise of stretching my mind. When read as intended—one short devotion per day—this book will help you stretch yourself for an entire year.

Your God is too Small, by J.B. Phillips

J.B. Phillips was a canon of the Anglican Church.  He died in 1982.  His seminal work, Your God is Too Small, was published in 1952. According to Phillips, from childhood we are taught to package God in a tiny box conforming to our personal beliefs and preferences.  Look for all of the answers and you’ll find them by turning God into something simple and understandable. Phillips calls this “God in a box,” which is also the title of the book’s seventh chapter.

Oswald Chambers cautioned us against such shaping God in our own image, saying, “Our danger is to water down God’s word to suit ourselves. God never fits His word to suit me; He fits me to suit His word.” (Not Knowing Whither, 901 R).

David wrote in Psalm 8, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”

Your God it too Small leads its readers through a series of intellectual exercises designed to expand their concept of the God who created the universe. If you find yourself marveling at God’s creation, unable to wrap your mind around it all, this book will help you see God in a totally different way.

The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis

Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963) is one of the most popular and prolific Christian authors and apologists who ever lived. He penned over 30 books.  Today he is best known for his classic series The Chronicles of Narnia, which have been transformed into an extremely successful series of films.

Originally published in 1942, The Screwtape Letters is arguably the Lewis’s most unusual book.  It is written in the format of a series of letters from an uncle attempting to mentor his young nephew through an important task. This would be nothing unusual, were it not for the fact that Screwtape is a senior demon and servant of Satan.  The letters are written to his nephew Wormwood, a junior tempter.  Wormwood has been given the task of ensuring the damnation of a British businessman who is referred to only as “the patient.”  Screwtape provides his nephew a clear strategy on how to undermine the patient’s faith and lead him into sin.

Lewis’s book is a dissertation on the human condition—a deep analysis of man’s inner makeup, with all of its strengths, frailties, temptations and struggles. Screwtape, through his keen understanding of human behavior, explains to Wormwood the best methods for ensuring the patient’s ultimate demise. The book paints an in-depth picture of spiritual warfare and the ultimate triumph of God.  It is guaranteed to make you think about your own inner self.

Luther:  Man between God and the Devil, by Heiko A. Oberman 

Originally published in German in 1982, this book is considered by many German scholars to be the most comprehensive biography every written on Martin Luther (1483-1546).  Luther was the central figure of the Protestant Reformation and remains one of the most influential theologians in history.

Even without the discussion of Luther, Oberman’s book would be worth reading just for its political, cultural and religious discussion of the Reformation.  However, it offers much, much more. Unlike many Luther biographers before him, Oberman attempts to describe Luther’s thoughts and deeds as something much more than just a medieval German monk who rebelled against the authority of the Catholic Church.

Oberman contends that Luther was convinced of the reality of the devil and viewed his own life as a continuous struggle against evil. (Not unlike The Screwtape Letters).  Luther viewed the world as an enormous battleground where God clashes with Satan. Approaching him from this angle lends a whole new perspective to Luther’s theology. This book is guaranteed to stretch your mind!

Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus, edited by Michael J. Wilkins and J.P. Moreland

If you’re a middle-aged Christian like me you might recall hearing about a popular movement in the 80’s and 90’s centered on “the quest for the historical Jesus.” The movement, which still has some momentum today, was epitomized by the Jesus Seminar.  The Jesus Seminar was organized by the Weststar Institute in 1985.

According to the institute’s website, its purpose was to, “to renew the quest of the historical Jesus and to report the results of its research to the general public, rather than just to a handful of gospel specialists. Initially, the goal of the Seminar was to review each of the sayings and deeds attributed to Jesus in the gospels and determine which of them could be considered authentic.

The seminar began with a group of 30 Bible scholars, but eventually grew to around 200. Put simply, this movement was an attempt by Bible scholars, not necessarily Christian scholars, to refute the divinity of Jesus Christ by framing him in history as nothing more than a typical, popular Jewish teacher of his day.

Jesus Under Fire is a compilation of essays by eight prominent Christian apologists written to challenge the methodology and conclusions of the Jesus Seminar.  The book’s introduction describes the furor surrounding Jesus:

“Today some people say that Jesus never said most of what is recorded of him in the Bible.  Some pronounce further that Jesus never did most of what the Bible records he did.  They claim that Jesus of Nazareth was a far different figure than church history and the creeds have believed him to be.  Therefore, if we are to be intelligent people, even intelligent religious people, we must not simply accept what the Bible records Jesus claimed for himself and what the early church claimed him to be.  If we are to be truly modern in our religious quest, we must not simplistically hope that Jesus’ actions as they are recorded in the Bible are factual, or that they have any relevance for us today.  Jesus must be stripped of ancient myths that surround him as to what he said and did, so that the modern person can hear his true message.  Jesus must be brought down to earth from the status to which the early church elevated him, so that we can understand who he was as he walked under Palestinian skies and comprehend what, if any, religious relevance he has for us today.”

The chapter titles of Jesus Under Fire describe the authors’ response to the Jesus Seminar:

  • Where do we start studying Jesus?
  • Who is Jesus? An introduction to Jesus studies.
  • The words of Jesus in the Gospels: Live, Jive or Memorex?
  • What did Jesus do?
  • Did Jesus perform miracles?
  • Did Jesus rise from the dead?
  • Is Jesus the only way?
  • Jesus outside the New Testament: What is the Evidence?

This book is for serious mind stretchers only.  It is probably the most difficult book I have ever read…and reread.  I found each of the essays intellectually stimulating—the sort of stuff that makes me go back and reread each paragraph, underlining sentences as I go.  I spent about six months working my way through it the first time…and it was time well spent. I hope you will find it equally as enjoyable.

Give yourself a special gift this Christmas and start reading one of these wonderful books.  You won’t regret it.

 

 

 

 

 

Living Without a Compass

Compass

Today we are engaged in a deadly global struggle for those who would intimidate, torture, and murder people for exercising the most basic freedoms. If we are to win this struggle and spread those freedoms, we must keep our own moral compass pointed in a true direction.      –Barack Obama

A few days ago I was on the phone with my good friend Joe, who lives in California. Joe and I have each spent a lot of time in the Middle East, so our conversations often drift into the current events there.  Naturally, we couldn’t have such a discussion without mentioning the Islamic State (ISIS), the radical group currently wrecking havoc in Syria and Iraq.

I was busy bloviating about the ISIS situation when Joe interrupted with a short but cogent comment summing up the entire problem. “This is typical of what eventually happens in every society that doesn’t have Christ.”

Wow!  I wish I’d thought of that.  Joe is right.  History is replete with examples of the same kind of godless butchery that is the ISIS trademark.  Not all of it was beheadings and ethnic cleansing, but it was ruthless and chaotic nonetheless. The cruelty of ISIS appears feeble when compared to the likes of the Roman Empire, Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot and dare I say the People’s Republic of China, the country upon which the economy of the United States so depends.

While life in the United States has yet to descend into chaos, there is little doubt that the country is in a state of moral decline.  Create a vacuum and something will fill it.  Take God out of our families and homes, and chaos will eventually replace the divine spirit. The evidence is all around us. American society is rapidly becoming more secular; we are entering a post-Christian era.

For Christians, this could ultimately prove to be a blessing in the final analysis. Christianity has historically endured its greatest tests and proven strongest and most effective when operating from a position of weakness within society as a whole. Jesus was the perfect example of this.  The son of God allowed himself to be crucified, and in so doing took all of the sins of mankind upon himself.

His Apostles all fled in fear after Jesus’ crucifixion and remained in hiding until the resurrected Savior appeared to them in the flesh.  The assurance they gained from this and the manifestation of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost empowered them to spread the Gospel around the known world.  Their faith remained unbroken, even though most suffered a martyr’s death.

Like the resurrected Christ appearing to his Apostles 2,000 thousand years ago, today Christ still manifests Himself to His followers during both the best and worst of times. A good friend of mine who is a priest and former Army chaplain was fortunate enough to visit Russia back in the 1990’s to help re-establish the chaplain’s corps in the Russian army.

Like early Christians of the Roman Empire who had to meet secretly in catacombs beneath the cities, during the Soviet Union era many Russian Christians gathered in secret places to worship God.  After the collapse of communism they were eager to bring the church back “above ground.”  Today, the Russian Orthodox Church flourishes where only a few years ago it was suppressed.

Remarkably, Russia’s current leader and former KGB officer Vladimir Putin is being hailed by some as a defender of the Christian faith.  In December 2013, Putin declared in a speech, “Many Euro-Atlantic countries have moved away from their roots, including Christian values. Policies are being pursued that place on the same level a multi-child family and a same-sex partnership, a faith in God and a belief in Satan. This is the path to degradation.”  The world truly is turned upside down today!

I once had a senior Army officer tell me he preferred to work with men who possessed spiritual values, regardless of their religion.  He explained that having faith in a power higher than one’s self is an indicator of how one will perform under pressure; in this instance, the pressure he was referring to was the stress of combat. However, the truth of his statement applies to every facet of life. People and nations need a moral compass—something to keep them going in the right direction.  The best source of such guidance is a profound belief in God.

Nations rise and nations fall. Every nation has followed this progression from bondage to bondage. The nations of this century will be no different… As Christians we must recognize that nations will rise and fall just as individuals will be born and die. Our civilization will not last indefinitely, but will eventually pass off the scene. Only God’s Word endures forever. We should not put our trust in the things of this world for they are destined for destruction. Instead, we should put our faith in God and His word.    

                                                                                                            —Kirby Anderson, The Decline of a Nation*

*The complete text of Kirby Anderson’s “The Decline of a Nation” is available at this link:

http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/probe/docs/decline.html

Good Friday, 2014 – The Passion of the Christ

 

Jesus on Cross

 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.

 

Isaiah 53 (ESV) – The Prophet Describes the Coming Messiah

Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs

    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.

Luke 19: 41-44 (NIV) – Jesus Weeps Over Jerusalem    

41 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

Luke 23: (NIV) – The Crucifixion of  Jesus

26 And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. 27 And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. 28 But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”  32 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!”36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”  39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

The Death of Jesus.  44 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. 47 Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” 48 And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. 49 And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.

Jesus is Buried. 50 Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. 54 It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning.  55 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid.56   Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments.  On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

 

Take a Lenten Journey

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During the first week of Lent, as part of my personal discipline, I will be writing a daily inspirational lesson for my jobseeker’s group.  Begining on Ash Wednesday, please check in for seven consecutive days to help kick off your Lenten Journey.

Zack