Saturday, August 23, 2008


August 22, 2008

While much of the world is plagued with drought and famine, people in this country seem to be obsessed with dieting. In many parts of the globe a starving humanity begs for food while infants with bloated bellies desperately try to suck from dry breasts. Yet in this nation we search for ways to keep ourselves from overeating. The apparent disconnect is startling. America has an eating disorder, and so does the church. However, the root of our problem goes much deeper than our out-of-control appetites. Indeed, what we are choosing to consume is resulting in a population plagued with heart disease—spiritual heart disease. Amidst the plethora of diet fads which are currently flooding the market, my wife and I would like to offer something new, although in reality it has been around for centuries. Allow us to introduce “The Jesus Diet.”
A few days ago Babs was meditating on John, chapter fifteen, where Jesus talks about “abiding in me” (verses 4-7). The phrase “abide in me” literally means “to take up residence in.” Since Babs and I are both struggling to lose some weight her thoughts turned toward the subject of food. The following is an excerpt of her personal journal (used by permission) in which I believe the Holy Spirit inspired her thoughts about our spiritual diet.
So, when we are abiding in/residing in Jesus do [we] know where the pantry is? Do [we] know where the fresh fruit and veggies are? How about pre-packaged meals? (Another subject—they are nourishing but nothing like fresh and natural, and [they] often contain ingredients we don’t need or are not healthy for us.) Is there something in the freezer that needs to be thawed out so it can be eaten? [Do we] take [it] out early enough so when it’s time to eat/feast it will be ready? Jesus said to eat what is placed before you [Luke 10:7]. So, feast on what he has set before you and don’t complain about the spices he uses or ingredients you are not familiar with (ethnic foods).
Since Babs has graciously shared her thoughts with me and with others, I would like to add my own musings to the mix making this a sort of spiritual casserole, hopefully healthy enough for your consumption.
“It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” – Matthew 4:4. Do we truly know where the pantry is? If we do, then why do we so often ignore it opting instead for a worldly diet of television, the internet, computer games, and secular music? How about those pre-packaged meals? I’m talking here of Christian books, devotionals, televised church services, and Christian CD’s. It’s not that these meals are devoid of spiritual nutrition. Indeed they have much to offer. It’s just that they are nothing like fresh and natural, getting into the Word for ourselves and listening to what the Lord has to communicate to us personally.
A steady diet of consuming only pre-packaged meals, or frequenting fast-food restaurants, could lead to some serious spiritual mal-nutrition. Some of these meals contain ingredients which are not all that healthy for us. If these are our only sources of spiritual sustenance our health is in grave danger. Tragically, many of the churches in this country amount to spiritual fast-food restaurants serving up high-fat, high-calorie fare and leaving the patrons over-fed and undernourished. Some churches dish out more healthy meals than others, but even the best can only provide an incomplete diet. If our only source of spiritual nutrition is coming from attending church once a week, whether an institutional church or even a home gathering, we are in all likelihood severely stifling our growth.
I am reminded of the businessman who, pressed for time, decided to have lunch at a local buffet, one which advertised quick service. As he made his way down the buffet line he came across a bowl filled with some type of grayish-brown mush labeled simply, “ABC Casserole.” With an adventurous spirit he spooned a generous portion out and placed it upon his plate. After he had finished his meal, in record time, he asked one of the attendants about the unique casserole.
“We get a lot of business people in here who are very time-conscious,” replied the waitress as she gathered up the man’s dirty dishes. “So we have a crew in the kitchen that chews up a nutritious meal and then spits it out into a bowl. We call it ‘Already Been Chewed Casserole.’”
Now that I have thoroughly ruined your dinner allow me to spew out the analogy. Receiving all our spiritual meals from others who we pay to spend their time chewing up and digesting the Word and spitting it back out for our consumption is tantamount to eating “ABC Casserole.” Digging into God’s Word for ourselves is certainly more time consuming but it will result in far greater satisfaction and much healthier growth (not to mention less contamination from the often biased mouths of others). “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” – 1Peter 2:2-3.
Pulling food out of the freezer relates not just to taking your Bible off the shelf but also to unwrapping its contents and warming up forgotten truths in the oven of your mind. There may be some well known morsels of Scripture which we have long kept in cold storage that the Lord, as our Master Chef, desires for us to thaw out and place on our dinner plates. Doing so early enough so our meal will be well thawed out when we need it refers to beginning each day with preparing our spiritual food. Starting the day with Jesus and His Word allows our feast to be thawing out and slow-cooking in our spirits as its nutrients permeate every living cell of our lives. “He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.” – Isaiah 50:4.
What does it mean to eat what is set before us and not complain about the spices the Lord uses to cook up our “daily bread?” I am a firm believer in reading through the Bible rather than staying with well known and beloved passages or opening up the Word at random. Every morning I read from both the Old and New Testaments coursing through the Word systematically in order. In so doing I insure that I am ingesting all of God’s Word, the veggies along with the dessert, the sweet along with the sour, that which tears down my pride along with that which builds up my spirit. I am guaranteed a balanced diet, healthy beyond measure, adjusted to perfectly match my personal calling, and abundantly satisfying.
Amazingly, this same diet is recommended for all, no matter what your maturity level, spiritual health, calling, or ethnicity. The Jesus diet is perfect for everyone and available free of charge. Best of all it is completely heart-healthy. Not only is it good for those who partake, it also produces a growing desire to see that others around the world are able to feast upon its goodness. Properly followed, this diet will take our minds off of our own over-active appetites and motivate us to reach out to those who are truly hungering and thirsting, both for spiritual food as well as physical.
Am I making you hungry yet? Please feel free to start feasting at any time. The Lord’s banqueting table is always set and piled high with food. However, I suggest you not try to devour this recipe in record time but rather take it slow, savoring every bite, allowing the taste of each delectable morsel to be seared in your memory. I wish I could take credit for coming up with this diet, but it was written down ages ago.
“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.” – Isaiah 55:1-2.
Bon appetit, my friends!

Bill, a child of God, more hungry than ever

Saturday, August 09, 2008


August 8, 2008

"On belay!" I shouted as I checked my climbing harness one last time. I took a deep breath and glanced down the steep cliff beneath my feet. One mistake here and this mountain would be my final resting place.
"Belay on," replied my brother, David, from his perch about 50 feet farther up the face of the sheer rock wall.
It was a perfect morning for climbing. The late spring air was fresh and cool; winds were light. A totally clear, azure sky reflected off dozens of small, glacier-fed lakes scattered in the partially snow-covered valleys below as though the Creator had carefully wrapped a handful of precious sapphires in soft, white cotton and deposited them in this high alpine treasury for safe keeping. The Sawtooth Mountains of central Idaho had never looked more beautiful.
I had looked forward to this adventure for weeks. I loved exploring this rugged wilderness area and had spent many days hiking the challenging trails. But this trip with my brother, four years my senior, would be special. David, an accomplished rock climber, was going to teach me some more technical aspects of the sport. The previous afternoon we had backpacked up to our base camp at a tiny, ice-covered pond a few hours' hike from Redfish Lake. The next morning we donned our day packs and continued climbing. We had already negotiated a snow-filled, rock chimney when we came to the base of our objective, the steep, granite cliff that formed the back side of Mt. Heyburn. >From here we would be roped together for the remainder of the climb.
Rising 4,000 feet above Redfish Lake and the Salmon River valley, Mt. Heyburn is an imposing rock formation with towering, needle-like spires reaching toward the heavens. Visible for miles around it is perhaps the most notable landmark in the entire mountain range, and it has attracted rock climbing enthusiasts from all over the world. Now it had lured us to attempt to conquer its rugged beauty. David had already scampered up the first pitch while I braced myself against a rock and gradually fed the rope to him by passing it around my waist in a maneuver called belaying. In case he slipped I would be able to arrest his fall. Now it was my turn to follow him up the cliff while he belayed me.
"Climbing!" I shouted as I turned to face the mountain offering up a prayer for strong handholds and firm footing.
"Climb away," David called back.
My heart began to pound so fast I thought it might bounce me right off the cliff. With equal amounts of excitement and fear I reached for a handhold and began to climb. After a few steps I started to relax and enjoy the exhilaration of scrambling up a sheer rock wall. Suddenly my right foot slipped out from underneath me while at the same time the handhold I had just reached for parted company with the mountain. In a moment of absolute terror I watched between my legs as several boulders shaken loose by my clumsiness bounced down the face of the cliff and shattered on the rocks far below.
"That could have been me!" I thought with increasing panic while dangling by one hand over the valley floor and what could be my untimely demise. But then I was calmed by the grateful remembrance that my brother was holding onto the other end of the rope. "My brother will not let me fall," I reasoned to myself. "After all, what would he say to Mom if he allowed my body to be dashed to pieces on the rocks below?"
However, at precisely the moment of my nearly disastrous plunge into oblivion, David shouted down to me from his belaying perch above.
"Hey Bill, that's a terrific pose. Hang tough a minute while I take your picture!"
The sense of calm that had returned to me vanished in an instant as I fearfully imagined how he could possibly hang onto the rope and take my picture at the same time. In a split second my brother went from being one of my heroes to occupying the top spot on my worth-a-life-sentence-for-murdering list.
It is fascinating to discover what goes through your mind during intense moments of extreme terror. I can still recall the following three philosophical truths born out of my near catastrophe:

1. Gravity is an equal opportunity employer!
2. Anyone who calls himself your brother, yet takes delight in your perilous predicament, is to be highly suspect and not worthy of your complete trust.
3. The thought that your final moment in this life might be caught on film is not terribly comforting.

I later found out that I was in little danger due to the fact that David had not only wrapped the rope tightly around his body but had also securely anchored himself to the rock with a series of pitons and nylon straps. Nothing but my pride was going to tumble off that mountain. We never did reach the summit that day, but we shared a glorious wilderness experience and created some wonderful memories. Well, most of them were wonderful.
Since then I have had many mountaintop experiences, most of which have been spiritual in nature. As I have spent many years climbing up the mountain of Christian maturity I have discovered several spiritual truths, most of which have come from pondering over my own missteps.

1. Although all are invited not everyone is allowed to climb. "Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart..." – Psalm 24:3-4. Sin is also an equal opportunity employer and falling is a constant peril. Of course, it helps to be related to the guide. "To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God." – John 1:12. "…So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers." – Hebrews 2:11. Now here is a brother who will never delight in our missteps!

2. The way up the mountain is extremely treacherous. "So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall." – 1Corinthians 10:12. It pays to stay securely roped together with other believers. "Make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose." – Philippians 2:2. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together…but let us encourage one another…” – Hebrews 10:24-25.

3. Make sure whoever you are roped together with is securely anchored to the "Rock." Many are the stories of teams of climbers, roped together, who have fallen to their deaths because one climber's misstep led to the subsequent fall of the rest of the team. Their pitons all came loose from the rock; their anchors did not hold. "The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock in whom I take stronghold." – Psalm 18:2. "We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure..." – Hebrews 6:19.

4. If you ever do slip there is no need to panic. "If the Lord delights in a man's way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand." – Psalm 37:23-24.

When the Lord says, "Belay on," we know we can trust Him to hold us securely. And when He says "Climb away," it is our invitation to do so without fear!

Bill, a child of God, still climbing

Saturday, August 02, 2008


August 1, 2008

They sat across the table from each other, bodies tense, words few and carefully chosen, eyes penetrating, looking for the slightest hint of weakness in the other. One thing they both realized, these critical negotiations would test their individual resolve to the limit. Who would be the first to break under the pressure? Which one would walk away from the table with the better deal? Who would prove to be the master negotiator?
Who were the opponents in this delicate duel? Are we describing the negotiations between a labor union and some company official over a new contract? Are we perhaps talking about two warring countries working out the details to a peace treaty? Or could this be a depiction of a police negotiator working toward the release of some threatened hostages? No, we’re reporting on a test of wills that was far more serious, far more intense, with far greater ramifications when compared to those other minor contests. This duel involved me, and I was not about to lose!
The negotiations took place in the offices of a used car lot in our home town. Now you may be thinking that such a contest is hardly deserving of such a grandiose introduction. But you must realize how seriously I take such haggling and how wonderful it feels to actually get the better of some inexperienced opponent. On this occasion, however, I was not pitted against a novice. On one side of the table sat the seasoned, sinister, diabolical, used car salesman. Across from him sat the wary, determined purchaser. Outside the showroom gleaming in the afternoon sun sat the object of our negotiations, a late model, spirited, well-performing sports car which had caught the eye of our daughter, Trisha. Although it was several years old, the mileage was still low and it appeared to be in near-cherry condition. The vehicle would be perfect transportation for Trisha to take to and from work and school. Her mother and I would be co-signing the loan to enable her to purchase the car; hence we had a compelling interest in the bottom line of the contract.
"Your price is too high; this car's not worth anywhere near that amount," I complained, trying to sound like I knew what I was talking about.
"So how much do you think it is worth?" asked the salesman with an obviously feigned attempt at sympathy.
I made a proposal, he countered. I made another, he countered again. Back and forth went the verbal jousting until finally he stopped and refused to lower the price another penny.
"Do we have a deal?" queried the salesman as he pushed a contract toward my side of the table.
After a thoughtful, dramatic pause, during which I prayed that indeed the best deal was now being offered, I responded, "The deal is done!" Taking the salesman’s pen I signed the document that sealed our agreement. But as I was driving away from the dealership in my new purchase, I couldn't help but wonder if I could have wrestled longer and squeezed out a better deal. Was the salesman even now laughing with his co-workers and bragging how he got the best of me? Was the car really worth that much or would it fall apart on my way home?
Well, that deal was struck nearly seven years ago and Trisha is still driving the same car. The vehicle has not been totally trouble-free, but by and large it has proven to be a good investment. I’m not certain who got the better of that deal but I’m confident that at least I didn’t get snookered by a superior negotiator.
As I have been reminiscing about my deal to purchase Trisha’s car, my mind has been speculating about the scene of another negotiation, a contest vastly different from buying a used car, immeasurably more intense with infinitely more at stake. This was a duel waged eons ago by the two toughest negotiators in the universe. Picture a vast expanse somewhere out of this world divided by two multitudes of witnesses facing each other arrayed for battle. Between the opposing armies the two contestants squared off being careful not to come too close together lest the contest suddenly become physical.
They sat across a massive stone table from each other, bodies tense, words few and carefully chosen, eyes penetrating, looking for the slightest hint of weakness in the other. One thing they both realized, these critical negotiations would test their individual resolve to the limit. Who would be the first to break under the pressure? Which one would walk away from the table with the better deal? Who would prove to be the master negotiator?
On one side sat the seasoned, sinister, diabolical salesman.
"Are you sure you want them?" he asked repeatedly shaking his grotesquely disfigured head in disbelief. "They're nothing but trouble, extremely unreliable, and not to be trusted."
"Yes, I know who they are,” came the reply from the other side. “I made them. Creating them was my idea. I know the evil they are capable of doing. Yet they are still of great value to me!"
"But they are rebellious, totally self-centered, incurable liars and incapable of consistent holiness," badgered the salesman. “They are utterly worthless!"
"They aren't worthless to me," countered the Purchaser. "I love them and I will pay any price to get them back."
A sinister smile crept across the face of the salesman. "Any price?" he asked, clasping his hands together while attempting rather unsuccessfully to hold back an evil laugh.
"No price is too high," answered the Purchaser resolutely, knowing what was coming.
"Then here's my final offer," announced the salesman nearly bursting with glee. "I will take the death of your only begotten Son in exchange for their lives."

"Yes, I know the price," said the Purchaser as He lowered His voice realizing the gravity of this moment.
"Then do we have a deal?" queried the salesman pushing the contract toward his opponent.
After a dramatic pause, with a roar like a mighty hurricane, the Purchaser thundered His response. "IT IS FINISHED!!!"...and He slowly, deliberately signed the document with the blood of His Son.
A collective gasp rose from the ranks of the witnesses behind the Purchaser. The other side immediately erupted with shouts of joy and celebration. Quickly the salesman locked away the payment in his bank vault and sealed the door. The deal was done; the transaction was complete. The Son lay dead in the vault, and a doorway swung open allowing countless millions a way back to the home of their Creator.
So which one walked away with the better deal? Did the salesman gather his co-workers about him and brag about how he got the best of the Purchaser? Did the Purchaser walk away from the negotiating table with a smile and a wink to His associates? And what was the expression on the salesman's face when he returned to the bank three days later and discovered the vault was empty? The Purchaser's "check" had bounced...bounced back to life!
"The deal is off!" screamed the salesman. "You took back the payment!"
"The contract is paid in full," answered the Purchaser with a hint of a chuckle. "You asked for the death of my Son, and die He did. You never stipulated how long He was to stay dead. So, I felt 3 days was sufficient."
The salesman furiously retreated along with his minions to take out his vengeance upon those who were purchased. And the Redeemer sent forth His Spirit to convince as many individuals as possible to be included in the agreement.
Was this how the "deal" actually went down? Was this how Satan came to be snookered by the greatest negotiator of all times? I would have loved to have been a witness to that duel. I suppose in this life we will never know all the details of the negotiations, but some of the "fine print" of the contract has been preserved for us.
"You are worthy...because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation." – Revelation 5:9. “You are not your own; you were bought at a price.” – 1Corinthians 6:19-20. "For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed...but with the precious blood of Christ..." – 1Peter 1:18-19.

Yes, in the eyes of our Purchaser we really are that valuable. So how does it feel to be the object of such intense negotiations, to have the entire spirit world fighting over you, to have the Creator giving up heaven’s greatest treasure just to bring you back into fellowship with Him? Now let me ask a provocative question. In the years since you chose to be included in the greatest deal in history, how close have you come to continually living up to your purchase price? If your answer is “nowhere even close,” then welcome to the club. But just because we continually fail on a daily basis to reflect the improbable price placed upon our heads doesn’t mean our Redeemer will trade us in for another model. As long as we continue our desire to remain in the deal, He will continue to cover our purchase price, not because we deserve it, but because His grace demands it. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” – Ephesians 2:8-9.
So the next time life has you feeling worthless just remember the negotiating session that set the highest price ever paid for a ransomed soul. Yes, we are truly worth more than silver or gold! Yes, God has certainly lavished His love upon us! And yes, God did get the better deal proving He is the "Master Negotiator." If only He could stand in for me next time I face a used car salesman.

Bill, a priceless child of God