What Is “Normal”?

heart surgeryA couple years ago, our daughter had heart surgery. We didn’t even know there was a problem until she passed out. We were sitting in a restaurant in a very remote area in another country. One second Amy was talking to her mom, and the next second she slumped over in her chair, out cold. I picked her up and carried her outside, praying all the way. After a couple hours she was pretty much back to normal, but she sure gave us a scare. There wasn‘t a hospital anywhere even close to us.

Amy had passed out a couple other times several years prior. Doctors could never find a problem so we just let it go. This was a biggie, though, and it caused us great concern. So lots of tests ensued, including Amy wearing a heart monitor for a month. She loved that … or not.

The physicians did, however, determine that she has an arrhythmia. Her heart just starts to race. No apparent reason. It just takes off. The heart monitor revealed at least one episode during that month where Amy’s heart rate was near 200 beats per minute. She wasn’t doing anything to cause it. No running or heavy lifting. Something just clicks and the heart goes wild.

As we discussed it, Amy told us that she has this happen often. In fact, it’s been happening as far back as she can remember.

“So, why did you never tell us?” we asked her.

“Why would I?” she responded. “I just thought it was normal.”

That’s when the light went on in my mind. She has never known anything different. She had no idea that everyone else didn’t experience the same thing. She had no reason to realize that these racing-heart episodes were not something that everybody encountered. For Amy, it was normal.

In much the same way, I think all of us live in a subpar manner most of the time. Sin has marred our existence here on Earth. Nowhere is this more evident than in the arena of worship. What we call worship falls so far short of the heavenly pattern, that I have to wonder whether we even understand a small inkling of true worship. But for us, what we have experienced is normal. Just like Amy’s racing heart, it’s all we’ve ever known. Maybe, just maybe, there’s something more, something different, something closer to the worship in Heaven.

(Excerpted from Worship In Heaven … and Why On Earth It Matters, by Tom Kraeuter, ©2014 Training Resources, Inc., Hillsboro, Missouri. Get your copy at http://WorshipInHeaven.com)
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Rescuing the Restaurant Server

waitressSome time ago, an acquaintance of mine and his wife went to a restaurant. Their server that evening was a woman who was apparently not having a good day. She was far from being the fun, outgoing server common in many restaurants today. Her eyes showed sadness, even anger. Her demeanor was unpleasant, and her talk was curt and to the point. She said very little outside of the essential questions that were necessary for taking their order. The couple ordered their dinner and the server abruptly turned and left.

As soon as the server left their table, my friends decided they were going to endeavor to change her attitude—to redeem her, at least for the moment. So when she returned, they were laughing and they managed to include her in their conversation. They drew her in and talked with her, not just about themselves but also about her. They smiled and laughed and asked her questions. Soon she opened up and responded.

It wasn’t long before she confided about some recent events in her life that had caused her to become distraught. As she talked, she became far more congenial. In fact, she ended up giving them far better service than is customary in most restaurants—larger portions, free drink refills, and very attentive care. She even sat with them, invited, of course, for a few moments at the end of their meal. When the couple stood to leave, the server hugged the woman and thanked them both profusely.

It would have been easy, perhaps even normal, for this couple to ignore the woman, or, worse yet, to treat her just as she was treating them, even leaving a minuscule tip at the end of the meal to make a point. Instead they chose to respond in a very different manner. They acted like Jesus in that situation. Instead of lambasting her, they cared for her. Their obvious care made a tangible change in her.

This couple didn’t cast stones. They reached out in love. Jesus said it like this, “Love your enemies, do good to them… Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:35‑36).

(excerpted from the book, Reflecting God’s Mercy in an Unmerciful World, by Tom Kraeuter, ©2008 Training Resources, Inc., Hillsboro, MO. Go to http://reflectinggodsmercy.com/)
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A Word of Caution

BonhoefferOver the years, I have looked often at the life story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great German theologian. Bonhoeffer was a solidly-biblical Christian and a man of great conviction. Each time I encounter that story, I am amazed at how quickly the churches in Germany capitulated to Hitler’s requests. Many churches, and their pastors, readily – seemingly far too readily – compromised what they claimed to have believed. The things the church had confessed for centuries were laid aside for the sake of expediency.

Of course, I recognize that by doing this, they avoided governmental persecution, which was sometimes harsh. Additionally, because of the ongoing Nazi propaganda, that also turned into societal persecution. People, slowly but surely, became convinced the Nazis were right.

So, ignoring what the Bible actually said became the easier path for those who claimed to be Christians. It required less physical and emotional pain. It meant family and friends could still be together.

Moving away from an adherence to the Bible became the norm. Anyone who persisted in holding onto the doctrines of Scripture was seen as radical. They were going against the new standards. They were pushing against what society had now accepted. And that made the “Confessing Church” – a movement Bonhoeffer helped to lead – very much the outsiders, even in the “religious” realm.

I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

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Thanking God … in the Midst of Pain

bandaged burned handMy high school art teacher, Al Markworth, was very instrumental in my early spiritual formation. If not for him, I might not even be in ministry today. At the very least, I’m sure my life would have been radically different if not for his influence.

I remember once, when I was still in high school, Al burned his hand quite badly. I never saw the burns—his entire hand was bandaged—but he described it in vivid detail as only an artist could. After the description I was glad I couldn’t see it.

Have you ever had a serious burn? Not just a little red mark, but a serious flesh-searing, skin-consuming burn? It is not only painful when it happens, but for several days afterward also. Each time the bandage is changed, it can cause a ripping and more agony. It’s not at all an enjoyable process.

Although Al was in obvious pain, I still remember him thanking God that it happened. He said that his hand hurting helped him to remember that he was not going to have to endure eternal fire, just a minor inconvenience here. He was—as Psalm 34 says— boasting in the Lord, even while in the midst of pain.

My young mind thought, A minor inconvenience?! I would certainly not want to endure such an inconvenience.

It was a powerful lesson for me, one that I still remember forty years later. It caused me to wonder how I would react in such a scenario. Al’s willingness to glorify the Lord during a very trying time caused my heart to soften.

(Excerpted from Worshiping God in the Hard Times, by Tom Kraeuter, ©2009 Training Resources, Inc., Hillsboro, Missouri. Get your copy at http://training-resources.org/worshiping_god_in_the_hard_times.html)
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Cathedral Monstrosity

Erfurt Germany churchesPopular author T. Davis Bunn has a unique way of weaving historical facts into his fictional novels. In one scene from his book, The Amber Room, Herr Diehl is giving a tour of Erfurt, Germany. From the town marketplace they climb a broad staircase that is nearly three hundred feet high. At the top are two very large old cathedrals.

 “The first is the one on the left,” Herr Diehl told them as they climbed. “It was erected in 1154 as a monastery and remained true to the faith, so the story goes, through kingdoms and centuries. During the Reformation, the monks ridiculed the Pope’s political ambitions and refused to back his demands for a war against their Protestant brethren. In reply, the Pope commanded that a second church be built, close enough and big enough to dominate the original.”

One church alone would have been majestic. The two together looked ridiculous. Both were vast structures whose spires reached heavenward several hundred feet. Vast swatches of stained-glass windows arched between flanking buttresses of stone and dark-stained mortar. Nearby four-story buildings were easily dwarfed by the twin churches.

“And so stands a warning to the church of today,” Herr Diehl said. “A witness to what can happen when doctrine becomes more important than the straightforward laws of love given us by a simple Carpenter. Whenever one of us opens our mouth to condemn the way another worships, we set another brick in the wall of such a monstrosity. We offer our beloved Savior up to the nonbelievers as a point of ridicule. If we as the saved cannot agree to disagree in peace and love and brotherhood, what do we show the nonbelievers but the same discord and disharmony from which they seek to escape?” [T. Davis Bunn, The Amber Room, Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 1992.]

What a great illustration and a great question. I’d love to hear what you think.

(Excerpted from the book, Are There Terrorists in Your Church, by Tom Kraeuter, ©2005 Training Resources, Inc. Hillsboro, Missouri. Get your copy at http://training-resources.org/are_there_terrorists.html)
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The Old Woman at the Gas Station

pumping gasSeveral years ago, some dear friends of mine, Michael and Linda, were out shopping when they realized that their automobile was in need of gasoline. As they drove toward the gas station, they found themselves behind a car driven by an elderly woman. She was going very slowly—much too slowly from Michael’s perspective—but there was no place to pass. As a result, Michael drove, albeit somewhat impatiently, behind her.

When they came near the gas station, he hoped she might keep going, but, instead, she too turned in to the station. As she ever so slowly approached the pumps, the woman hesitated, apparently unable to decide which side of the pump to pull toward. When she finally made a decision, she, of course, went to the same side that Michael had wanted. Unfortunately, she parked at such an angle and took up so much room that he was left with no choice but to wait for her to finish.

The woman got out of her car and walked hesitantly toward the pump. She looked at it, then looked toward her car, then back toward the pump. She was clearly confused. Michael was becoming exasperated and muttered something under his breath about hurrying up. I’ll admit that as he shared the story, I could definitely relate to his exasperation. I wanted her to hurry up, and I wasn’t even there.

“Now, honey, you don’t know her situation,” said Linda. “Just be patient. We’re not really in that much of a hurry, are we?”

“Oh, I suppose not,” replied Michael.

“Maybe you should go offer to help her.”

Michael looked wide-eyed at his wife, and then reluctantly got out of the car. As he approached the woman, who still had not even begun to pump her gas, Michael asked if he could help.

The woman was startled, but as she turned toward him, she had tears in her eyes.

“Oh, yes please… would you?” She hesitated just a moment, and then began crying harder. “My husband… just passed away… and I’ve never in my life… had to put gas in the car.”

In that instant the entire scenario changed. This was no longer a major inconvenience, an obstacle that needed to be overcome. It was now a chance to help someone in need, an opportunity to demonstrate kindness.

I pray that this story alters how you deal with people around you today.

(excerpted from the book, Reflecting God’s Mercy in an Unmerciful World, by Tom Kraeuter, ©2008 Training Resources, Inc., Hillsboro, MO. Go to http://reflectinggodsmercy.com/)
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Sin?

cure for sinA recent op-ed piece in a large newspaper has garnered a lot of interest. In essence, the writer stated that what’s right and wrong changes over time. In other words, truth evolves. Although this may be accurate in certain areas of culture – fashion, for example – it is not true in all areas of life.

The writer of the above-mentioned editorial wants the Church to change the definition of sin. The reality is that we don’t have that option. We human beings don’t get to decide what is morally right and wrong in God’s eyes. Only He can do that. And He has.

He has stated clearly and plainly that there is a line that we can cross. When we traverse that line, we have sinned. Jesus uses the word “sin” and its variations (sinful, sinner, etc.), more than nearly any other word. According to the Lord Himself, there is right and wrong.

The fact of the matter is that if we reject the idea of sin, then we reject the core of what Jesus came to do. If we have no sin, then we don’t need a Savior. If we can do whatever we want, based on our own inclinations, then Jesus’ death was for nothing.

But it wasn’t for nothing. Sin is real. God has stated that there is right and there is wrong. There is a clear demarcation between those two. And we don’t get to change that because the mores of society change.

The prophet Isaiah said it well: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil…” (Isaiah 5:20)

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