Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Serving with Excellence

In 1860 the Pony Express was launched as a brave entrepreneurial endeavor. The service delivered the mail from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California, a distance of some 2000 miles. It took nearly 100 different riders for the mail to make the 10-day journey. However, President Lincoln’s Inaugural address was delivered in a record 7 days and 17 hours. The cost was $2.50 an ounce—extremely expensive. Riders ranged in age from 11-40 and did not weigh over 125 pounds. The longest ride was made by Bob Haslam, who rode 370 miles. Each rider was expected to ride around 75-100 miles per day. Though the advertisements recruited riders that must be willing to “risk their lives,” there wasn’t much action. 99% of the riders just rode their horses in mundane and ordinary circumstances in silence with no spectators, yet these men did their job with excellence.

That same thing can be said of most of us who live out our Christian faith in very mundane ways with no lime light or spectators. However, if you live your life for God, it makes no difference who sees or who doesn’t because you are living your life for God.

Mordecai, who is found in the intriguing story of Esther, is one such man. Mordecai had an enemy who hated him. This enemy was Haman, a powerful official in King Xerxes’ kingdom who hated Jews like Mordecai. Haman, through deception, devised a plan to kill Mordecai and the entire Jewish population. He was so sure of his plans that he prepared 75 feet gallows to hang Mordecai on. However, there was one detail that Haman overlooked—Mordecai’s God.

Just as Haman was gaining the power he needed to eliminate Mordecai, God intervened in his sovereign way. The king could not sleep, so he called for the record books to be read to him. In so doing he discovered that Mordecai had saved the Kings’ life by uncovering a plot to kill the king. The King demanded that something be done to honor Mordecai. The king asked, “Who is in the court?" Now Haman had just entered the outer court of the palace to speak to the king about hanging Mordecai on the gallows he had erected for him. His attendants answered, "Haman is standing in the court."
"Bring him in," the king ordered. When Haman entered, the king asked him, "What should be done for the man the king delights to honor?" (Esther 6:4-6)

Haman is so arrogant that he actually believes that the king is preparing to honor him, so he gives him a wonderful list: "For the man the king delights to honor, have them bring a royal robe the king has worn and a horse the king has ridden, one with a royal crest placed on its head. Then let the robe and horse be entrusted to one of the king's most noble princes. Let them robe the man the king delights to honor, and lead him on the horse through the city streets, proclaiming before him, 'This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!'" (Esther 6:7-9)

Haman was humiliated as he led Mordecai through the streets and proclaimed “This is Mordecai the man the Kings desires to honor.” This would have been a pretty heady moment for most, but not for Mordecai because he was committed to living his life in excellence for God. The next verse is an eloquent testimony to the life of Mordecai:

“Afterward Mordecai returned to the king's gate. But Haman rushed home, with his head covered in grief, and told Zeresh his wife and all his friends everything that had happened to him.” (Esther 6:12)

Alexander Raleigh wrote:

A proud ambitious man would have said to himself, “No more of the king’s gate for me! I shall direct my steps to the king’s palace, and hold myself ready for honor…which surely must now be at hand.” Mordecai seems to have said with himself, “If these things are designed for me in God’s good providence, they will find me. But they must seek me, for I shall not seek them. Those who confer them know my address: “Mordecai, at the king’s gate,’ will still find me. Let the crowd wonder and disperse. I have had enough of their incense. Let Haman go whither he will, he is in the hands of the Lord. Let my friends at home wait; they will all hear in time…I can wait best at the old place and in the accustomed way—At the Kings’ Gate.”[1]

[1] Alexander Raleigh, The Book of Esther (Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black, 1880), 155-156.

Thursday, November 14, 2013


Every year around this time I like to write about gratitude. It is such a noble virtue that completely changes our outlook on life. It makes us different and more attractive to the people around us. The reason it is important to work on gratitude is because without realizing it we often take so many things for granted. Here are a couple of examples.

A well-to-do businessman passed an old woman selling pretzels on the street on his way to his office. Every day he would rush by and toss a quarter in her cup, but never take a pretzel. He did so for several years, and finally one day he put down his quarter, and the lady took him by the arm and looked at him. And he looked at her and said, “You probably want to know why every day I leave twenty-five cents in the cup and never take a pretzel.” And she said, “No, I just want to tell you that pretzels are thirty-five cents now.

A man asked the postal clerk to fill out a postcard because he couldn’t write. When the clerk was finished he asked the man if there was anything else he needed. The man replied, “Write, ‘Please excuse the handwriting.’”

Though these stories are humorous, they are so typical of human behavior. It is actually quite easy to take people that God has placed in our lives for granted. When we overlook who they are and what they do for us, we miss seeing God’s hand working in our lives in wondrous ways.

The dictionary definition of gratitude is the quality of being thankful. What are you thankful for today? Let me tell you a few of things that I am thankful for. I am grateful for my parents and their investment into my life.  I am grateful for my wife, to whom I have been married for forty-two years. I am grateful for my three children and their spouses and for my five grandchildren. I am thankful for God’s faithful provision to me and my family over the years. I am grateful to God for his mercy and grace that He has poured out on me in the form of so many blessings that I did not deserve. I am so grateful for Jesus. I am thankful that he has saved me and cleansed me by his blood. I am thankful for the promise of eternity in heaven with Jesus and with all of God’s redeemed. David wrote many of his psalms with a grateful heart. Here is one of those psalms filled with gratitude:

Psalms 103:1-14
Praise the Lord, O my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits — 
3 who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
5 who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.
6 The Lord works righteousness
and justice for all the oppressed.
7 He made known his ways to Moses,
his deeds to the people of Israel:
8 The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
9 He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Good Advice

Good advice is hard to come by. In fact, people pay high dollars to experts for their advice. There are financial experts, legal experts, medical experts, psychological experts and exercise specialists. However, often the common sense advice we need for daily living is even harder to find. One man named John wrote some letters in the New Testament that are filled with good common sense advice. He was one of Jesus’ disciples, and he was in his 90’s when he wrote these letters. Here are the basic guidelines for living:

Don’t Dabble in Sin: 1 John 2:1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin.

Stay Close to Jesus: 1 John 2:1  …But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense — Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.

You Have an Advocate: 1 John 2:1-2 ….But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense — Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

Live Like a Child of God: 1 John 2:3-6 ….The man who says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him…This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.

Our Obedience Reveals Our Respect for God: 1 John 2:5 But if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him:

Let Jesus Be Your Hero: 1 John 2:6 Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.

There you have it—six basic rules that will literally make a difference in our lives. When we really understand how dangerous sin is, we will stay away from it. That means we will remove ourselves from the temptation the way Joseph did when he ran from Potiphar’s wife. John advises us to take the scriptures literally.

When my grandson Donovan was two, he had to undergo some eye exams. It was bit of a scary process for him, so he clung to his mom. They needed to take one more x-ray from a particular angle, but he didn’t want any more of this. He had his arms and legs wrapped around his mother. My daughter said, “Donovan they just want to take a picture of you.” Then without relinquishing any of his grip on her, he looked at the doctor and nurse and said, “Cheese.” He was staying close to his mom.

There are times when we will all mess up—we will sin. John says, “Don’t forget you have an advocate who will go to the Father for you.” He has never lost a case, and the evidence he presents doesn’t depend on your goodness, but on Christ’s atoning death. John won’t let us off the hook in this letter. The man who says he loves his wife and family but is unfaithful—is a liar. The woman who is rude and unkind to her husband is a liar, John says. The man who says he loves God but doesn’t live like it is a liar and a hypocrite. Our actions validate or invalidate our words.

John loved Jesus so much that he was known as the Apostle who loved Jesus. The more we love Jesus the more he will mean to us. Solomon said it this way, Jesus is “altogether lovely” (Song of Solomon 5:16).