The Buzz Factor

Isn’t it amazing how little things can get your attention and upset the quality of your life?

My zapper for the television is on the blink and it drives me to distraction trying to land on the right channel. I guess I could always get up and change it manually or buy a new zapper but that would take a lot of the adventure out of life. Anyway, I don’t want to get up to change channels. Can you imagine anyone doing that?

I have to admit, though the zapper is small I’ve been tempted to smash it against the wall or throw it on the floor and stomp on it (I haven’t).

Little things. The piercing scream of one tiny mosquito in your bedroom at 3 a.m. in the morning rivets your attention as much as an Al Qaida terrorist would. Now your run of the mill mosquito weighs in at 2 to 2.5 milligrams, and when he sups on you he only drinks about 5 millionths of a liter of blood. You can spare that can’t you?

But that’s a very strategic 5 millionth, as far as I’m concerned. On the scale of actual damage to your life, a mosquito attack probably ranks about 1/100th of 1% on a scale of 100. But he sure causes us to think about him.

Have you noticed that life is often like that? Most days we don’t deal with issues like cancer, family breakups, financial disaster, job loss, or attacks from angry elephants, though all of us will face things like this in the course of our lives (maybe not the elephant attacks).

Still we manage to lose our focus and our joy because we concentrate on the mosquitoes of life—the idiot that cuts us off in traffic, the lady that’s always gossiping about us at work, and the pastor’s favorite who always gets to sing specials at church and everyone who has ears knows he can’t sing.

Add to these earth-shaking trials others like dirty dishes, crying babies, unpaid bills, a wish for a new car, my team lost again, my wife nagging at me to take out the garbage, etc., etc., etc. “Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!”

It’s an old story. God sends a powerful revival to Nineveh through the preaching of Jonah. He really bears down on the doom of the city part but he doesn’t want them to know there is hope of grace. He gets mad because he wants God to kill them instead of saving them.

So after he preaches, he parks himself on a hill overlooking the city, watching, hoping for the worst.

The hot sun weighs on his hard head but overnight a vine or a little tree springs up and next day he has shade. What a blessing to be able to sit in the shade while you pout. Then a little worm comes and feasts on critical parts of his vine, it dies, and he gets even more depressed.

God asks him a question, “What right do you have to get angry about this shade tree?” Jonah said, “Plenty of right. It’s made me angry enough to die!”

God drives his point home to his sulking prophet, “What’s this? How is it that you can change your feelings from pleasure to anger overnight about a mere shade tree that you did nothing to get? You neither planted nor watered it. It grew up one night and died the next night. So, why can’t I likewise change what I feel about Nineveh from anger to pleasure, this big city of more than 120,000 childlike people who don’t yet know right from wrong, to say nothing of all the innocent animals?” (The Message)

Are we like Jonah? Of the approximately 6.5 billion people in the world, 1.7 billion have virtually no access to the Gospel. “Boy that guy down the road makes me mad! Wonder who the Cowboys are playing this week?”

Probably over a million people die each year of malaria. If things keep on as they are, a horrible percentage of African children will be orphaned by the AIDS epidemic. “Ah! Tuna fish sandwiches for lunch again? Doesn’t that woman know anything but tuna fish?”

Let’s let God teach us priorities. There will be those who miss the Lord’s return. You know why?

“But take heed to yourselves and be on your guard, lest your hearts be overburdened and depressed (weighed down) with the giddiness and headache and nausea of self-indulgence, drunkenness, and worldly worries and cares pertaining to [the business of] this life, and [lest] that day come upon you suddenly like a trap or a noose; For it will come upon all who live upon the face of the entire earth.” Luke 21:34 AMP

The part that really worries me is that “worldly worries” thing. We guard against drunkenness and self-indulgence—well at least drunkenness–but worldly worries? We all have a hundred each day! We must be careful because we can get so full of these little mosquito bites that we think of nothing else.
Let’s look to the Lord and trust Him to take care of these daily things. We all have them. But let’s use our energy on the big issues, things that are really important.
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Peter Puddlehead

Our friend Peter Puddlehead nods off at the end of the television movie. It’s late. Then he starts awake. “I’ve got to go to bed,” he murmurs, yawning and smacking his lips. “Big day tomorrow.”

He puts on his pj’s, brushes his teeth and just as he’s anticipating crawling between the beckoning sheets of his bed, he remembers that he hasn’t prayed today. The bed draws him like drugs fascinate a heroine addict but Pete is convinced that spiritual disciplines are necessary for a solid Christian life. Plus he doesn’t want God mad at him so he kneels by his bed for a long period of prayer—five minutes at least.

“Father, I come in the Name of Jesus…” he pillows his head on his arms as he prays, “…and I praise you and I ask you to …” Here his voice trails off as he slips into la, la land. A steady chorus of “snxxyrx, snarf, snooooore!” provides background music.

There’s nothing unusual here because this is what usually happens when old Petey prays. Sometime in the night, he gets a bit cold and slips between the covers, never to think another conscious thought until the alarm shakes him back into this world at 6:30 a.m.

Tonight isn’t a usual night though. At 2:30 a.m. a bellowing voice finds him in his dreamworld and startles him awake. “Peter!”

“Wha..what? Who?” He rubs the sand out of his eyes and there before him is an … “no, it can’t be!” A seven foot angel stands beside his kneeling figure. “I didn’t do it! Let’s me alone,” he stammered. What would you say if you woke up staring in the face of a seven foot angel? (I know you men are going to say, “I wake up to an angel each morning.” You were going to say that weren’t you? )

But this one was real. The room filled with his radiance, the light that seemed to come from God’s throne. “Peter, I want to show you something,” the angel boomed. He didn’t mean to be that loud but you can’t squeak or croon with a voice like his.

“You know that situation at work that’s been causing you so many problems? Let me show you what’s going on.” Suddenly the wall looked like a movie projection screen. Peter saw his workplace, his colleagues, and himself. Lately there had been a lot of conflict and frankly Peter was getting sick of it.

But on the screen it was as if he saw vague outlines of unseen forces, striving to ruin the unity of the work team. “If you had time to read you Bible, Peter, you would know that you are in a spiritual struggle as well as a natural one. The Lord told you through Paul,

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

“He said one of your greatest spiritual weapons was prayer.” Peter shook his head dumbly. What could he do but agree? Would you disagree with a seven-foot angel?

“God told you,

“pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.’

“Are you praying, Peter?” “Well, I, yeah, uh … you know I’m so busy with important stuff.”

“Like the late movie that was on until 12:15?” Ouch!

“Peter, when you start your day reading God’s Word and praying, you’re not just doing your duty, you’re winning battles. You can change the world through prayer. Don’t you know that? Even the Lord Jesus, the Son of God, had to pray in Gethsemane in order to win the battle of the Cross. If He needed to pray, what about you?”

The weary fellow said nothing. What could he say? He just shook his head slowly and prayed, “Father, forgive me. Give me the heart of a prayer warrior.

“Briiiiiiiiiiiinnng!” Peter awoke again and looked around. “Boy, I need to tell them to leave those onions off my hamburgers if I eat after 10 pm,” he thought. Then he recalled his dream. But was it a dream?

Peter decided that by God’s help he was going to use this powerful weapon that God had given him. “Lord, teach me to pray and give me the strength and will to do it!

Telephone Terrorist

I once had a friend who was a terrorist with a telephone. Don’t get me wrong, he didn’t bomb me or threaten me but he sure impacted the quality of my life.

Stan had fought a long battle with alcoholism and at that time was free and coming to our church in Luxembourg. I’ve found , though, that when you take alcohol away from the alcoholic the underlying problems often bubble to the surface. My talkative friend used to call two or three times a day, jabbering like a Boeing 747 roaring down the runway for takeoff.

And all this was in French. I would inject a “oui” from time to time, but most of the time I gritted my teeth and bore it, until I finally had to limit him to ten minutes a call. The cumulative effect of so many high-energy calls began to get to me.

He wasn’t the only caller either. Add to Stan a strange woman who came to the church at the time. I think her mother must have rocked her too close to the wall because something didn’t work right in her head. Her calls wore me out.

Then add Dan to the mix. Ah, Dan…the sound of his voice could tilt me toward depression, even on a happy morning while the birds sang.

It reminds me of what another pastor observed about a lady in his church, “I always know it’s her calling because of the way the phone whines when it rings!”

Can you imagine that sometimes I didn’t want to answer the phone? “It’s for you, I can tell,” I would inform my wife when the torture device rattled.

Have you ever felt like God refused to answer the phone when you called?

God always responds but there are a few things that cause communication problems. If we don’t seem to be getting a response or we find ourselves talking ninety to nothing but not doing a lot of good, we need to ask some questions. Why aren’t we getting any answers?

>>>Am I really trusting Him?

“But when Peter saw how strong the wind was, he was afraid and started sinking. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted. Right away, Jesus reached out his hand. He helped Peter up and said, “You surely don’t have much faith. Why do you doubt?” (Matt. 14:30, 31, CEV. Actually the little faith he had was in the shout for help. And it worked).

>>> Am I asking unwisely, out of God’s will?

“Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” (1 John 5:14, KJV).

As that great “theologian” Garth Brooks wailed in his song, “Unanswered Prayers,” “Just the other night at a hometown football game. My wife and I ran into my old high school flame … She was the one that I’d wanted for all times. And each night I’d spend prayin’ that God would make her mine … Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers…Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.”

>>>Are there areas of my life where I’m in flagrant disobedience to God?

“If I had been cozy with evil, the Lord would never have listened.” (Psalms 66:18, The Message)

>>>Might God be building something in me as I wait? He’s sorting through things in me, or maybe it’s me sorting through them. In the fire of trials things spring up that I didn’t even dream lived in me. The perseverance that He accomplishes in us as we wait, serves us well even after the trial is gone. Often what He does in you counts for much more than what He achieves for you.

“ … let us exult and triumph in our troubles and rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that pressure and affliction and hardship produce patient and unswerving endurance. And endurance (fortitude) develops maturity of character (approved faith and tried integrity). And character [of this sort] produces [the habit of] joyful and confident hope of eternal salvation. Such hope never disappoints or deludes or shames us, for God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3, Amplified)

>>>I know this thing is God’s will but is it God’s time to do it? God’s time is as important as God’s will. When we get ahead of Him in doing what He’s called us to do, that can cause nearly as many problems as disobedience.

“But when the time arrived that was set by God the Father, God sent his Son …” (Gal. 4:4, The Message).

If God doesn’t seem to be answering the phone, we need to consider why.

Who Is the Enemy?

I’ve been moved this week at the reports of the murders in the Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania. The whole world watched as details of this heinous crime unfolded. We tried to make sense out of it. I’ll confess that I haven’t been able to.

The Amish people have stepped up big and offered forgiveness to the killer and even aide to the widow and children of the offender. One man told the story of an Amish man who wrapped his arms around the killer’s father and tried to comfort him in his grief and disbelief at this son’s act.

The Amish explained that their motivation was Jesus’ command to forgive those who hurt you.

Some have reproached them for their pacifism but there seems to be no lack of courage among these unusual people. One report said that the two oldest girls in the schoolhouse asked to be shot first, evidently hoping that this might in someway help the others to escape.

Yet one of the most disturbing parts of the whole scenario is that we’re already forgetting. The story is being pushed off the front pages by a Congressional sex scandal.

If an El Kaida terrorist had done this we would be outraged and looking for someone to strike at. That would have seemed so much worse and our memory would have been much longer. To me, this act rivals the evil of September 11. That day, people who hated us attacked innocent people hoping to forward a twisted ideology.

But what do you do when the “terrorist” is the neighborhood milkman? In Pennsylvania, the gunman looked like us. The terrorists attacked strangers; this man butchered neighbors. The terrorists killed indiscriminately; this man deliberately singled out the most vulnerable innocents—little girls.

His evil surpassed that of Osama Ben Laden to my way of thinking.

We’ve spent billions of dollars and thousands of brave men and women have given their lives to try to stamp out the evil behind 9/11. I’m just afraid that we’re going to forget the horror of that Pennsylvania schoolhouse and make no effort at all to defeat the enemy that perpetrated it. Will we stop long enough to consider what makes our own do such unthinkable things?

Who is the enemy? Who do you bomb? Where is this “terrorist” hiding and when will he strike again? We could identify a lot of candidates—violence in the media, child pornography, etc. that may have contributed. I’m sure that we’ll come up with some culprits. The congressman caught in his own scandal seemed to want to blame others and other things for his indiscretions (sins) …

I can’t explain it, but I have a deep sense that people who love the Lord Jesus have an important role to play in the solution. In the Bible, Nehemiah was horrified to learn of the pitiful state of his people. He mourned; he fasted and called out to God in prayer; then he got up to do something about it.

King Josiah learned from God’s Word how rebellious his nation had become. God’s law had been lost and they didn’t even realize that some of the horrible things they were doing were wrong. But when God’s Word was read to him he tore his clothes, which was a sign of mourning, and he wept. He tried to make things right before God. Then he got up and began to obey God and to clear out the sin, where he had the possibility to do it.

When the prophet Jeremiah perceived the great destruction which lay just ahead for his nation, he exclaimed, “Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears! I would weep day and night for the slain of my people.” (Jeremiah 9:1, NIV).

The last few years the United States seems to have had one wave after another pass over it—September 11, hurricanes, war, school shootings. Shouldn’t we as God’s people cry out to him for forgiveness and mercy for the nation? Nehemiah hadn’t sinned but he repented for the sins of his people, including himself among them. He cried out for forgiveness (Nehemiah 1).

And God heard him!

Maybe we need to treat these things as more than just another news item on CNN. “That’s terrible!” we say, and go about our lives as before. Maybe we need to slow down and think, see if we can see what is behind all this, and cry out to God for our nation, our children, ourselves.

If God’s people aren’t stirred, who will be?

Enough Pain

Having babies must not be that hard. After all, ladies have been doing it for hundreds, even thousands of years and they just keep it up.

My wife did her part well. She gave birth to three little rugbugs. It did get a bit complicated at times though, especially until we got the hang of it. Our firstborn (actually our first unborn who became our firstborn) kept us running back and forth to the hospital with false labor.

Actually the first trip might not have been as false as all that. I had left her with her mom while I was off preaching somewhere. When I got back that night they were at the hospital, so off I sped to see what was up.

In those days hospitals did things a bit differently, so there were three ladies in the same room, all in labor at the same time. I guess they moved them later from the early labor room to the serious labor room to the delivery room. Or something.

Evidently the doctor hadn’t finished his evening coffee just then and didn’t want to come out, so the nurse gave my wife and the other two ladies a shot to slow their labor pains. And their labor stopped!

When it became evident that no one was going to have a baby that night, the African American lady in the bed near my wife moaned with frustration, “I done had enough pain to have this child.”

Steve finally showed up a month later one and we all lived happily ever after. But that lady’s words have stuck with me over the years. Sometimes I get in a tough place and I want to tell the Lord, “I done had enough pain to have this child!”

Enough pain…

Discouraged Elijah waits to hear from God. He’s a man of action and power and he expects God to speak to him the same way—wind, fire, or earthquake. A few days earlier he thought the revival had arrived when the fire fell and the rain fell and the people fell on their face and cried, “The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!”

Horrible pagan priests were massacred and wicked king Ahab was docile, meekly doing what the prophet told him. But then his witchy wife Jezebel showed up and our prophet friend found that the revival might not have been as ingrained as he had hoped.

He boogied out of there as fast as he could to try to save his skin.

Then he settled into depression. Let’s stop here a minute, though. It’s easy to beat on old Elijah but think of what he’s been through–three years of hiding out. His picture decorating every post office would have proclaimed “Israel’s Most Wanted Man” with frontal and side mug shots. People were blaming him for the drought and subsequent famine.

He thought people were going to love and serve the Lord and now…nothing!

Everything had fallen apart, and he was on the lam again.

I remember passing through a troubled period in a church we were pastoring. Then one night we had a wonderful service. People were touched by God’s love and I thought my problems were over.

But it got worse, so I quit.

Ever been there? Exhausted from praying about that financial need that never quits? Weary of talking to people about the Lord with seemingly no results? Frustrated with people who don’t seem to change? Dog-tired of that trial that just seems to go on and on and on. You thought it was better and “pow!” Same old thing.

“Lord, I done had enough pain to have this child!”

What do you do? Quit? I’ve done that and it didn’t solve a lot. I found that further on down the road I kept meeting the trial that I ran from. Sooner or later I had to win the battle.

Elijah heard God’s voice and it was enough for him. The Lord spoke in a “still, small voice” that cut straight to the prophet’s heart.

Things weren’t as bad as Elijah had supposed. Seven thousand people still refused to bow before Baal. God was still moving and He had some big things planned just ahead.

I wonder how many times I look for big, BIG, flashy answers and God just speaks in that still small voice? Am I willing to listen? Is He doing things that I don’t see yet?

Our son didn’t come that night at the hospital. It took some more waiting and some more pain but he was well worth it (the other two, also).

You may feel like you can’t go any further. You’re so tired of holding on. You’ve had enough pain and frustration. Take a lesson from Elijah and go to God with you fatigue and frustration.

He’ll give you the strength you need until the answer comes.