Wednesday, July 30, 2003

As those of you who read this site with any regularity know, I am constantly impressed with the daily e-mailed inspirations sent out by Pastor Glen VanderKloot of Faith Lutheran Church, Springfield, Illinois. Here is today's installment of OnLine with Faith:


A Thought for the Day

When there is nothing left but God,

That is when you find out God is all you need.


+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

Bible Verse
Psalm 46:1-2

God is our mighty fortress,
always ready to help in times of trouble.
And so, we won't be afraid!

Contemporary English Version


Lord, help me to remember that no matter what you are with me
and you will give me all that I need. Amen
+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +
QUOTE FOR TODAY: "Humility isn't thinking less of ourselves; it's thinking of ourselves less." (Anonymous, appropriately)
Among the books I've read this summer is Walter Isaacson's Benjamin Franklin: An American Life. Isaacson, one-time editor at both Time magazine and CNN, has written an easily-read, yet scholarly account of Franklin's life.

Franklin, like so many prominent people from the past--and this seems especially true of our country's Founders--has become a cartoon caricature. Franklin is often portrayed as a breezy cad who dabbled in science and threw off one-liners.

But, as Isaacson's excellent book shows, Franklin was a complex man of considerable achievement in a variety of fields. I came away from Isaacson's book finding him, other than Thomas Jefferson, to be the least likable of the American founders. Yet, he was a remarkable person, a full-blown Enlightenment man who, having decided at age 42 that he had enough money, retired from his printing business and lived on modest means as a public servant--one who often gave away his public salary--for the next forty years.

In the coming days, I intend to write some thoughts that have crossed my mind as I've read Isaacson's wonderful book.

Franklin was by far the oldest delegate to the Constitutional Convention and a revered figure. If Franklin, from his lofty eminence, had one great contribution he made to the US Constitution, an incredible document, it was his constant call to his fellow delegates to compromise, to bend a little, to yield.

As Isaacson points out, democracy can sometimes appear less-than-heroic. Over the long haul, democracy neither respects or rewards the flame-throwing ideologue; democracy is nurtured by those of strong opinions being willing to meet the opposition halfway. Democracy doesn't require people of squishy principles, but it does require ones who are able to say, "I could be wrong and you could be right."

The US Constitution came about because able--and often principled--people compromised. Without that compromise, the United States of America, under the ineffectual Articles of Confederation, would have ceased to exist, each state becoming the likely target of conquest by European powers.

One-time presidential candidate Jack Kemp was fond of saying that the Constitution is a divinely-inspired document, on a par with the Bible. Such talk is a little silly, I think. As a Christian, I believe that the Bible is the unique and authoritative source and norm for life, faith, and practice and that God inspired every word. The Bible, unlike the Constitution, is not amendable. But I do think that God answered a lot of prayers when the delegates to the convention which produced it wrote our Constitution. If that's so, then God seems to have endorsed the notion that human beings should learn to compromise.

Near the end of Isaacson's account of Franklin's role in the writing of the Constitution, he writes:

"With the wisdom of a patient chess player and the practicality of a scientist, Franklin realized that they [the delegates to the convention] had succeeded not because they were self-assured, but because they were willing to concede that they might be fallible." (p.457)

How refreshing it would be if we could all concede that today!

I'm told that several years ago, historian Daniel Boorstin was asked what the biggest problem confronting America was. It was, he said, the "hyphenation" of America: the penchant for seeing ourselves as Something-Americans: Caucasian-Americans, African-Americans, and so on.

In a world that is getting smaller all the time, we need to lose the hyphens. Failing to remember the lessons of history, people hyphenate themselves and declare their superiority or implacable commitment to principles, tribes, races, nations, or isms. Partisan hyphenation often prevents governments from actually dealing with issues and problems. Racial and religious hyphenation cause people to kill each other.

We need to learn that it's possible to adhere to our beliefs and still acknowledge that we are capable of being wrong. No group is always right. No person is always right. Two foundational principles for me are these: God is perfect and I'm not God. (A corollary of that is: Thank God I'm not God!)

Isaacson points out that of the list of virtues the young Benjamin Franklin famously set out to pursue, he failed most spectacularly at mastering humility. Of course, none of us masters any virtue. According to the Bible, the most any of us can hope to become are recovering sinners; saints are nothing other than sinners who have been forgiven by a gracious God. When I was a boy, my grandmother saw my galloping ego and couldn't resist buying a sweatshirt that showed a little cartoon megalomaniac declaring, "I'm so nearly perfect, I can hardly stand it." Humility doesn't come to us naturally.

If though, we could ask God to help us act humble even when we don't feel humble, we might find ourselves saying--and really meaning--words that lubricate the machinery of friendships, marriages, governments, and nations. Words like...

"I might be wrong."

"Let's try it your way."

"Explain that to me again."

"I'm sorry."

Proverbs 13:10, in the Old Testament, says, "By insolence the heedless make strife, but wisdom is with those who take advice."

Humility is the engine by which relationships--between people, within societies, among nations--progress. I know of only one sure source for humility: the Savior Who humbly laid aside the advantages of Deity in order to become one of us, to die for us, and to rise to give all with faith in Him new life, Jesus the Christ (Philippians 2:5-11; John 3:16).

John Adams, who Franklin disdained and who, unlike Franklin, was a committed follower of Christ, said that the American experiment with constitutional government could only work if the nation were composed largely of people made virtuous by humbly following God. I believe that's still true. Democracies can only survive among people of goodwill, people who have flushed the hyphens, and who have come to depend on God, not themselves.

That doesn't mean the imposition of some Christian political program on unbelieving neighbors! Christian belief cannot be imposed and the imposition of Christian faith on others is antithetical to the teachings of the Bible. Besides, no political program could ever claim to be perfectly Christian: God is neither liberal or conservative, monarchist or democrat.

But it does mean that both the mission of those who follow Christ and the positive role we can play in our country are clear. We are called, in the words of my friend Steve Sjogren, to "love the world into relationship with Jesus Christ."

When people have a direct, intimate, personal relationship with the Savior of the world, they'll still make mistakes and hurt themselves and others, but they'll know where to go to make things right. When you follow the God Who loves you always, overlooks your flaws, forgives your sin, and commits Himself to be with you forever (Matthew 28:20), you have the ability to do what your pride or inferiority feelings might otherwise prevent you from doing: to compromise, to give in, to yield, to admit that you might be wrong.

Mr. Franklin, I think, was right up to a point. Humility and its concomitant, compromise, are essential ingredients for making our relationships work. But just as Franklin failed in conquering any of the virtues on his own, we will fail if we strive to live humbly based only on our resolves to be humble. We need God's help. Through Jesus Christ, that help is always available!

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Interested in having an inspiring, motivating, encouraging speaker at your next corporate event, community gathering, or Christian outreach? Consider inviting Mark Daniels. Contact him at

Monday, July 28, 2003

CORRECTION: In one of my recent 'Reflections on Proverbs,' I talked about actress-model Rene Russo's search for God. I inaccurately cited the March, 2003 issue of Reader's Digest as the source of her story. Actually, it appears in The Power Behind Positive Thinking: Unlocking Your Spiritual Potential by Eric Fellman, which I had been reviewing in anticipation of my message for Sunday, July 27.

Here's another great inspirational thought from my colleague, Pastor Glen VanderKloot from Faith Lutheran Church of Springfield, Illinois. If you'd like to receive his excellent daily e-mailed inspirations, OnLine with Faith, contact Glen at


A Thought for the Day

All earthly cities are vulnerable.
Men build them and men destroy them.
At the same time there is the City of God
which men did not build and cannot destroy
and is everlasting.

Augustine, 410 AD

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

Bible Verse
Matthew 10:28

Don't be afraid of people. They can kill you,
but they cannot harm your soul. Instead,
you should fear God who can destroy both
your body and your soul in hell.

Contemporary English Version

Lord, help me to value the City of God over
temporary cities of our world. Amen
+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

Sunday, July 27, 2003

“Attitudes are more important than facts.” (Karl Menninger, quoted in Alan Loy McGinnis, Bringing Out the Best in People, p.27)
[Wisdom picked up from the Old Testament book of wisdom, Proverbs]

Proverbs 9:8:
"A scoffer who is rebuked will only hate you; the wise, when rebuked, will love you."

This raises the question of whether one should ever bother rebuking a scoffer, a person who belittles the idea of faith in God. Generally, I don't think that people of faith should rebuke the skeptical. The perfect model of this behavior is Jesus, the One Christians believe was God-Come-to-Earth. Jesus never grew angry, never rebuked, unbelieving people. He was always very patient with them. He embodied the truth that the New Testament preacher Paul points to when he says that the kindness of God leads people to repentance, to turning to God.

The only people Jesus ever upbraided were "good churchgoing people" who claimed to follow God but were full of hatred or indifference to God and people.

If we sense that God is "getting on our cases" sometimes, disutrbing us with guilt pangs in our consciences, it's good to remember what the Scripture repeatedly affirms: God only rebukes and disciplines those who are in relationship with Him. Hebrews 12:6 says, “...the Lord disciplines those whom He loves, and chastises every child whom He accepts.”

Sometimes, guilt is God's wake-up call to our hearts and minds, calling us to align parts of our lives where we may be rebelling against God back in line with Him and His will.

Occasionally, the guilt we feel is inappropriate. We may be shouldering more blame than we need to take.

Two things should be remembered:

(1) If you feel guilt, chances are you're spiritually healthier than many people. The only people certain of not being guilty for anything are people without consciences or contact with God.

(2) No matter what may make you feel guilty, you can talk it over with the God we meet in Jesus Christ, turn your life over to Him, be made new, and know that you have forgiveness and new life. Jesus died and rose to give these blessings to the whole guilty world! Second Corinthians 5:17 says:

"So if anyone is in Christ Jesus, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!"
Changing Your World: Through God's Abundance
John 6:1-13

(Shared with the people of Friendship Church, July 27, 2003)

She was a nun now in her retirement years. Truth be known, she had been an indifferent nun whose prime distinction was her mediocre performance. But, at a time of life when she might be expected to sit back and do nothing, this unremarkable woman was on fire with a crazy idea, one she was pitching to her superiors. “I have three pennies and a dream from God to build an orphanage,” she said. They gently chided her. “You can't build an orphanage with three pennies.” The woman smiled and said, “I know. But with God and three pennies I can do anything.” That day, Mother Teresa of Calcutta was given permission to start an orphanage with just three pennies and God...and it was enough!

When Mother Teresa passed away, the whole world mourned. Why? Because she knew that if she offered what little she had and what little she was to God, God would use it and her to share His abundant love and change the world.

You and I have a call from God: In the Name of the crucified and risen Jesus, we're to be agents for positive change in an often-negative world. We’ve been talking about the ways we can do that. Today, I want to talk about how God can change the world by sharing His abundance through us.

We see God sharing His abundance in an unlikely and miraculous way in our Bible lesson for this morning. It tells about one of the most famous incidents in the life and ministry of God-Come-to-Earth, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. Jesus and His followers are being mobbed by crowds wanting to be touched and healed by Him, taught by Him, served by Him. Jesus goes up to the top of a mountain and the whole mess of people follow Him.

Now, whenever Jesus goes to the top of a mountain, you know that He’s about to do some heavy-duty teaching. So, like a good inductive teacher, Jesus turns to one of His disciples, Philip, and asks, “Phil, where will we get the money to pay for the food needed to feed this mass of folks.” Today’s Bible lesson says that there were 5000 people there. The three other accounts we have of this incident, from the New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, tell us that there were 5000 men there and probably lots of women and children too. Scholars agree that there were maybe 12-15,000 gathered on that mountain. So, imagine a Shoemaker- or Cintas Center full of people, hungry and hanging on Jesus’ every action and word. So, in response to Jesus’ question, Philip surveys the crowd. He pulls out his calculator and does some figuring. “A half-year’s salary wouldn’t cover the bill for feeding this army!” he tells Jesus.

After this discouraging report, Andrew, the earnest younger brother of Peter, scurries up to Jesus. He’s gone among the crowd and found that a little boy has five pieces of bread and two fish. But he tells Jesus, “Of course, that won’t even begin to feed all these people.”

Now John, the writer of our Bible lesson, makes it clear that Jesus knew what he was going to do all the time, but wanted to test the faith of His followers. So far, they have flunked the test. Although they have seen repeatedly what Jesus can do for those who trust Him, they just can’t imagine that He can solve this. They think that the hungry thousands are too big a problem for Him to handle. But it isn’t. No problem is too big for Jesus Christ and you and I should always remember that! The building in which we are worshiping this morning is testimony to that simple fact.

But Jesus isn’t impatient with His followers. He doesn’t stomp His feet, telling them how stupid they are. He doesn’t pout. He issues a simple command. “Tell the crowds to sit down,” He says.

After offering thanks to God the Father, Jesus takes the five loaves and the two fish offered by the little boy and turns it all into a feast for that huge group of people. There are even leftovers that are gathered into twelve baskets.

I wonder how that little boy felt. When he climbed that mountain after Jesus, he no doubt thought that he had just enough for a lunch and maybe a snack. This little guy may have been hungry. He may have felt skeptical when Jesus or one of His disciples asked him, “Would you be willing to share your food with everybody?” But when he gave the contents of his little bag to Jesus, Jesus was able to use it to bless thousands of people. He saw that with God and a little food, God could feed thousands!”

Now, there are is a huge lesson I draw from this incident. It’s this: God wants to use us to accomplish good things that would be impossible without Him. He wants to use us to share His abundant love with a spiritually-impoverished world.

David Graebel calls himself a “trucker who got a few good loads.” He’s chairman and CEO of Graebel Companies which manages all sorts of a moving and storage jobs throughout America. A few years ago, Graebel Moving was growing when, one day, it got its first million-dollar contract, a move to Dallas for a major company. To fulfill the contract, David Graebel bought six new trucks and hired additional help. The move was to happen on a Monday morning. The Thursday before that, Graebel got a telephone call. It was the president of the company that was to move to Dallas. “David,” he said, “you’ve been straight with us. I have to tell you that on Monday, we’re seeking Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and there is no way we can honor our contract with you.”

Graebel felt that his world was crashing in around him. He could conceivably get rid of the equipment he had bought and let the people go he had hired for this job. But he knew that it would hurt his reputation and hurt a lot of people. “Finally,” he said, "I realized it was time to put my beliefs to the test. I came up with a plan to exercise some faith in my business..."

Graebel gathered his six regional sales managers and told them what an opportunity this setback had presented to them. They had new trucks, new equipment, more personnel. While at first they thought he had gone out of his mind, they eventually caught his enthusiasm and began generating ideas about what they could do.

Finally, they decided that on faith, with no prospect of repayment, they would make the million-dollar move. They figured it might help the bankrupt company and earn them goodwill in the business community and among their employeed. Graebel called the president of the company and asked: “Would it help you get back on your feet if we went ahead with the move and got your headquarters relocated to Dallas?”

The stunned company president said that it would help and that’s exactly what Graebel Movers did. The nearly-bankrupt company did get back on its feet and two years later, even though it wasn’t legally obligated to do so, paid Graebel Movers in full for the move they made as an act of daring faith! God wants to use us to accomplish good things that would be impossible without Him!

There’s a fable told about what happened in heaven after Jesus had died and risen from the dead. He speaks with the angel Gabriel. “Well now,” the angel says, “I had a lot of fun announcing your birth. But tell me, how did things go after that? Did you accomplish all that you set out to do?” “Yes,” Jesus is supposed to say, “I died and rose so that all who believe in Me will live with God forever.” “That’s great,” Gabriel says, “That will really change people’s lives.” The word angel, you know, means messenger. So, perhaps sensing a major new assignment for himself and all the angels in heaven, Gabriel asks Jesus, “How are you planning on spreading this good news in the world?” Jesus tells them, “I’ve given the message to people who believe in Me on earth. They’re going to spread the good news by their lives and their words.” Gabriel is flabbergasted. “But what if they mess up. People haven’t always been very reliable, Lord. Do you have a back-up plan?” “No,” Jesus says, “there is no other plan.”

You and I are Jesus’ plan for sharing His over-abundant love with a world that needs God’s love, forgiveness, hope, and power. There is no other plan. If Jesus believes in you and me that much, maybe we ought to believe in Him enough to, like the little boy with five loaves and two fish, offer the little we have and see what Jesus can make of it...and of us!

Last week, I issued a challenge, asking each of you to prayerfully consider where a large group from our congregation could go for a mission trip in about eighteen months’ time. It seems to have grabbed people’s hearts. Many folks have already made suggestions–Guatemala, Mexico, Jamaica, an Indian reservation in South Dakota. Let’s keep praying and make a decision about where we will go in about six months from now. And if you feel that you or our congregation are too small to dream such dreams, that’s okay. Remember the little boy. Remember Mother Teresa. We may be small. But the God we know in Jesus Christ is big enough to accomplish a world of good through people who follow Him!

[The true story about Mother Teresa comes from The Aladdin Factorby Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen. The true story of David Graebel and Graebel Movers comes from The Power Behind Positive Thinking: Unlocking Your Spiritual Potential by Eric Fellman.]