Standing in the Wrong Line Could Be a Good Thing

I’m fascinated with “chance encounters.” History is full of them. And so is your life.

  • Ever made a left turn when you should’ve gone right?
  • Ever knocked on the wrong door?
  • Ever stood in a long line only to discover 30 minutes later you were in the wrong line?

We don’t usually see these as life-changing encounters. But they could be. We may miss them for what they could be because we’re too busy complaining that we took a wrong turn … knocked on the wrong door … stood in the wrong line.


James Chadwick stood in the wrong line—and science is glad he did.

James Chadwick (whose birthday we celebrate on October 20) was only sixteen when he enrolled at Manchester University. This young upstart had his eye on studying mathematics—until he got in the wrong line.

Kids these days don’t appreciate the work it used to take to enroll in classes every semester. These days, they lie in bed, munch on a Pop Tart, and choose their classes over the Internet. They’re done before they ever get to the second Pop-Tart.  But back in the day, you had to walk from station to station, sometimes from building to building, to sign up for each class you needed. That was my experience in 1976.

Chadwick faced a similar routine in 1907. He got in line to register for mathematics, but it turns out he was registering for physics. He decided to stay enrolled, though, because he liked the professor he talked with: Dr. Ernest Rutherford.

This wrong line and chance encounter led to a lifelong friendship and partnership. Was that a big deal.? Well, yeah. Rutherford, who mapped out the atom, instilled in Chadwick a love for physics. Chadwick went on to discover the neutron and became a pioneer in nuclear science.

All because of the mistake of getting in the wrong line.


I’m not going to tell you that every mistake or wrong turn in your life is divinely ordained by God.  But since you’re there, look around. God may want to use you in that situation.

  • Does He want to teach you something in the place you find yourself?
  • Does He want you to talk to … pray with … encourage someone you encounter?
  • Does He want you to help or serve someone else?

Maybe. Maybe not. Just don’t assume your mistake is just that: a mistake. That mistake could be an opportunity.

The following verse pops into my head every morning when I first wake up. Seriously.

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps. 118:24).

The truth of that verse really sets my mood. But let me modify it. (Pryorphrase it, if you will.)

This is the moment the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” 

See those wrong turns and “chance encounters” with a random person as opportunities. Seize the moment.

Seize this moment and encourage others by sharing this post on your social media page. 

 

 

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You Don’t Have to Be a Forger to Make a Good Imitation

Ever been so good at your work that it got you in trouble? Deep trouble?

Yeah, me neither.

Han van Meegeren on trial.

That was not the case for Han van Meegeren. This week marks the birthday (October 10) of one of Holland’s best painters. Yes, he was an incredibly gifted painter—of other people’s work. That’s right. He was a forger.

But it wasn’t his forgery that got him in trouble. It was his inability to prove he was a forger.

Early in his career (in the late 1920s), van Meegeren’s own art pieces were panned by the critics. He was cheesed by this, so he set out to prove he was as good as any of the masters. He studied their lives and techniques, crafted brushes like theirs, and developed paints that would mimic both color and age. He got good—really good—at copying the paintings of Johannes Vermeer. He copied 14 Vermeer paintings that were so good art critics praised them. The Rembrandt Society purchased one and Dutch museums showcased what they thought were original Vermeer paintings. Van Meegeren made, by today’s standards, about $25-30 million selling imitations.

“Christ with the Adulteress” – the fake Vemeer that got van Meegeren in trouble.

But then the Nazis arrived. In 1942, van Meegeren’s agent sold one of his fake Vermeer paintings, and it ended up in the collection of Hermann Göring. Now let’s cut to the end of the war when the Allies were recovering stolen art and returning them to their rightful place. They found Göring’s “Vermeer”and arrested van Meegeren because he had sold off art that belong to the Dutch. He was accused of being a Nazi collaborator.

The only way van Meegeren could clear his name was to fess up that the painting he sold was not an original, but a fake.  Which is worse? Going to jail for art forgery or for being in cahoots with the Nazis? Van Meegeren chose the former.

There was just one problem. Van Meegeren was so good at his work, no one believed it was a fake. It took six weeks to get others to step up and admit they knew van Meegeren was a forger and his works were fake.

Van Meegeren served one year in prison, but that was much better than what he could have faced as a Nazi profiteer.


“Be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Eph. 5:1).

I want to be so much like Jesus that people can’t tell us apart. To love like Jesus, to see people as Jesus does, and to be gracious like Jesus is my life-long goal. I’m a far cry from it, but I’ve come a long way.

I’m not this yet …

… but I’m no longer this:

And so I press on.

Can We Return “Christian” to What It Means?

Names often have a way of losing their original meaning.

The original Motorola car radio

Motorola. This week (September 25) marks the anniversary of this company that we all associate with cell phones. But when the Gavin Brothers launched the company in 1928, they were working on a car radio most people could afford. Two years later, they had it, so they combined the words “motor” with the name of the widely-popular Victrola phonograph and came up with Motorola.

7-11. The original U-Tote-Em convenience stores changed their name to 7-11 in 1946 to instill in people’s minds their extended hours: 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.. That’s ironic, since for over 50 years, most of their stores are open 24 hours.

Canon. The company’s first camera was called Kwanon, named after the Buddhist goddess of mercy. To make the camera more appealing in America, they changed Kwanon to Canon.

Saab. At the outbreak of World War II, the Swedes needed airplanes. Svenska Aeroplan Aktie Bolag (Swedish Airplane Corporation) opened for business and supplied the Royal Swedish Air Force with planes. When the war ended, they switched to manufacturing cars, but they keep the name SAAB.

Lego. Want to say “play well” in Danish? Leg godt. 

Sharp.  In 1915, Tokuji Hayakawa invented the “Ever-Sharp Mechanical Pencil.” Although business was quite good, an earthquake destroyed the plant in 1923. They decided to move from pencils to radios, but they kept the name Sharp.

We have three examples of company names.

  1. Some companies are still accurately reflected in their names.
  2. Some companies have added extensively to their catalog of products and are known for far more than what they were originally known for.
  3. Some companies moved completely away from the product that established them.

I am aware of one name that, unfortunately, has done all three.

Christian.

Some people carry the name Christian, but they have added so much more to its meaning. They’ve added politics … or rules … or rituals … or cultural expectations.

  • If you’re a Christian, why wouldn’t you vote Republican?
  • Real Christians don’t  get tattoos … or watch those shows.

They’ve added so many layers that have nothing to do with walking by grace and faith in Christ.

Some people wear the label of Christian, but they define it by their own standards.

  • Sure, I’m a Christian, but I’m not hung up on the whole church thing.
  • I think Jesus can be found even in Hinduism, but I choose to worship Him as a Christian.
  • Being a Christian means you love Jesus who won’t judge you for your lifestyle.

Both approaches have made Christian something it’s not. The word literally means an adherent—a devotee— of Christ. The word only appears in the Bible three times, and each time, it carries a hint of derision.

  1. The Gentiles in Antioch first called the followers Christians (Acts 11:26). It was a way of making fun of them for the way they stood out from the culture.
  2. When Paul was defending himself before King Agrippa , Agrippa had no interest in the gospel and said, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” (Acts 26:28). Can you hear the disdain in his words?
  3. Peter wrote to the church about persecution and how to respond “if you suffer as a Christian” (1 Pet. 4:16).

In each case, Christian had to do with how the outside world saw believers. They meant it in jest and contempt, but believers embraced the name along with the suffering they endured for the name of Christ.

Let’s return to our name. Let’s be identified as those who are truly devoted and committed to Jesus Christ. Let’s lose  it as merely a sign of family heritage. Let’s lose it as a political identity. Let’s lose it as just a way to explain our religious views.

Let’s be Christians.

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Candid Camera and Your Reputation

Before there was Impractical Jokers, Punk’d, and a host of other hidden-camera realty TV shows, we had Candid Camera. Candid Camera started it all in 1948. For over twenty years, the original Candid Camera showed ordinary people encountering something unusual or peculiar and recording their reactions.

If you’ve ever seen the show, I’m sure you can say the tag line:

“Smile! You’re on Candid Camera!”

The creative brain behind it all was Allen Funt, whose birthday we celebrate on September 16. Funt hosted his show, so he was a familiar face to the public. That familiarity—and his reputation as a prankster—helped a tense situation in 1969.

1969. Before the days of tight airport security, it was easy to walk onto a plane with a gun. Or to enter the cockpit and make threats. In a five year span (1968-1972), American planes were hijacked 130 times! In his recent book, The Skies Belong to Us, Brendan Koerner called this the golden age of skyjacking. And a popular destination was Cuba.

It was February 1969 and Allen Funt was flying with his family to Miami.  During the flight, the captain came over the loudspeaker and announced they had hijackers and the plane was now headed to Havana.

It would be a tense situation for sure. But then some of the passengers recognized Allen Funt and laughed. They were on Candid Camera! Of course, not everyone bought into it, but a small group of passengers relaxed and even gave kudos to Funt for his stunt.

But it wasn’t a stunt. Allen Funt and his family were just as concerned as others, but in spite of his assurance that this was no prank, a few of the passengers blew it off as part of the gag—and for the rest of the flight to communist Cuba, they enjoyed the experience.

Allen Funt’s reputation colored some people’s perception of what was really happening.


Your reputation precedes you and colors everyone’s perception of you.

I have an overactive sense of humor. I am notorious for bad puns and dad jokes. For several years on April Fools, I’d slip into my co-workers’ offices and place a small post-it note on the bottom of their computer mouse. The post-it note covers the optic sensor, and the mouse stops working. Yeah, I know. Hardy-har-har. I was always the first person suspected. My reputation preceded me.

Other things in life I take far more seriously. For example: my integrity and my walk with Christ. I want people’s perception of me to be colored by a reputation for being loving, gracious, and a man of my word—because their perception of me reflects on their perception of Jesus Christ.

“A good name is more desirable than great riches” (Prov. 22:1). 

Why is a good name so desirable? Because I am an ambassador of Christ. My name—my reputation—reflects on Him.

You are the light of the world…. let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:14,16).

Based on your reputation, what do people perceive about you? What do they perceive about Jesus?

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Trying to be Neutral in a Very Small World

Is it OK just to sit on the fence in a world gone mad?

Confession: As an American, I don’t like getting involved with the problems of other countries. I don’t want to be the world’s police force.

There’s a precedent for that sentiment. Today—August 31—is the anniversary of the neutrality act signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935. Two European leaders—Hitler and Mussolini—were beginning to rear their fascist heads and rattle their swords, but FDR was determined to keep us out of whatever was brewing in Europe. Neutrality, though, did not mean the United States would simply bury its head in the sand. For example, the act stated:

  • Americans could not sail on ships from hostile nations.
  • An embargo was imposed on selling arms to “belligerent” nations.
  • The U.S. would increase its patrol of foreign submarines near American waters.
  • The U.S. could cooperate with other “similarly minded Governments to promote peace.”

Most Americans agreed: Let’s be neutral. And George Washington would’ve agreed too.

In 1793, Washington issued the Proclamation of Neutrality, declaring that the United States would remain neutral in the conflict between France and Great Britain. Our country was divided between those who wanted to support Britain, and those like Thomas Jefferson who wanted to support the French. (After all, it was the French who helped us in our own fight with the British.) But Washington remained adamant: it’s not our continent. It’s not our war.

Washington’s issue was not simply with Britain or France. It was with any long-term entanglements—whether friendly or hostile—because such relations would cloud our judgment.

And for most of our history, that has been the stance of the United States. We stayed out of World War I as long as we could, and we were pulled into World War II because we were directly attacked.

So, again, I like the idea of keeping our nose out of other country’s business, but …

… our world is significantly smaller now.

Satellites, air travel, and technology have made our world extremely small. When one country falls politically or economically, it has a domino effect. I can bury my head in whatever sand I find in Middle Tennessee, but I am still affected.

Even if we could be neutral as a country, should we? To what degree should we be neutral, and to what degree should we step in and help? That is a discussion with a lot of political and economic layers, but it’s a discussion worth having.

Let me take this to the personal level. As a follower of Christ, I cannot be neutral to the needs around me. I cannot pretend I see no injustice. Of course, I can’t step in and feed every homeless person … stand up for every bullied and harassed person … or right every wrong in a sin-filled and unjust society—but I can do something. 

Martin Niemöller was a German pastor in Nazi Germany. He initially supported Hitler and shared some of his anti-semitism. However,  Niemöller changed his tune and became an outspoken critic of Hitler. Consequently, he spent seven years in a concentration camp. He survived and, after the war, he often shared this poem.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

I can’t be neutral.

“If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:17-18).

I can’t be neutral.

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).

I can’t be neutral.

To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice” (Prov. 21:3).

I can’t be neutral.

Where Popularity Misses the Mark

We all have those red-letter days: milestone dates we recognize—even as they are happening—as days that define us. We don’t just remember the event; we remember the date on the calendar. Life-shaping dates on my calendar include:

  • My anniversary
  • The births of both my sons
  • The first day I started my current ministry

You have similar dates on your calendar. It’s rare if two life-defining moments happen on the same date, but they do. It did for Richard Nixon.

Indelibly marked on Richard Nixon’s calendar is August 8. It’s circled twice.

Nixon had a long career in politics that reached its pinnacle on August 8, 1968 when he was nominated to run for president by the Republican National Convention. In a period of civil unrest, growing opposition to war, and a quickly changing moral landscape, Nixon stood for law and order—and he was popular.

“Tonight I do not promise the millennium in the morning. I don’t promise that we can eradicate poverty and end discrimination in the space of four or even eight years. But I do promise action. And a new policy for peace abroad, a new policy for peace and progress and justice at home.”

Nixon could have been remembered as one of our better presidents.

  • Nixon was strong in foreign relations, easing tension and building relationships with both China and Russia.
  • Nixon did much for the environment. He tackled issues like growing pollution and initiated the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Nixon ended the highly unpopular draft and gained increases for those serving in the military.

Nixon could have been remembered that way, but unfortunately, August 8 was circled on his calendar a second time. On August 8, 1974, eight years to the day after his popular and celebrated nomination, Nixon resigned in disgrace.

Popularity does not override our actions.

Culture’s attitude toward celebrities seems to override that idea. Musicians, actors, and athletes can behave badly, get some tabloid press for a few weeks, but remain high in ticket sales. We overlook serious character flaws because they entertain us. But I disagree with our culture’s willingness to look the other way.

Actions matter. Character matters.

It doesn’t matter how popular we may ever be; that popularity fades. And we’re still left with our character—and the results of our actions. It doesn’t matter how much other people loves us and approve of us; what matters is having God’s approval.

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved” (2 Tim. 2:15). 

Seek Christ. Seek His approval. And character—the right kind of character—will follow.

“Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matt. 6:33).

 

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An Innovative Approach to Church Life … from 1916

The following tidbit from history surprised me. It just seems so natural to walk into the store, make my selections while I walk up and down the aisles, and check out. But there was a time …

Prior to 1916, you went to the local grocer and simply handed him your list. He went to the back, got the items, and brought them out to you. Every store did that, including the store Clarence Saunders operated in Memphis. By the process bugged Saunders. It was time consuming. He wanted a faster way to serve customers—and serve more customers.

This sounds so ordinary to us, but he rocked the shopper’s world when they walked into his new store and found all the products were out front—not in the back. He handed shoppers a basket and empowered them to pick up their own items!

Some people expected this approach to buying groceries to fail. The naysayers expected a negative reaction: I should be paying less since I’m doing the bulk of the work. (That was my attitude the first time I used a self-service gas station in the 70s. Gas prices were going up, yet I was the one now doing the work of pumping gas.)  But when Saunders opened his new store on September 6, 1916, his innovation took off. And here we are 100 years later, gladly standing in the chip aisle, trying to choose between Cool Ranch or Nacho Cheese Doritos.

And some of us still shop in the store bearing the same name as the 1916 original: Piggly Wiggly. (Or as I call it: Hoggly Woggly.)


I think it’s well past time for believers to approach the Christian life with the same attitude we have when we enter the grocery store. If you need something, you go get it. Instead, too many Christians go to church expecting others—in particular, the church staff—to do things for them.

  • Pastor, I need you to pray for my Uncle Murray. Because God listens more to pastors.
  • Pastor, you need to share the gospel with my neighbor. If he was saved, he’d keep his dog out of my yard. Because the message of salvation only has meaning when it comes from the pastor—and not from someone who has been yelling at the neighbor’s dog.
  • Pastor, you need to visit Martha. She’s upset because she’s been ill yet no one came to see her. Because only pastors are allowed to visit the sick.
  • Pastor, the restroom is out of paper towels—again.

Anyone who has ever pastored can tell you these are exactly the kinds of things many church members expect their leaders to do. And it never crosses their minds that they could do these things themselves!

Church members need to get out of 1915! Let’s move into 1916 with its innovative approach to grocery shopping and apply the same principle to church life. If you see something in life and ministry that needs to be done, do it. Don’t present your list to the pastor and expect him to do it.

Notice who does the work of ministry in this passage:

“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service” (Eph. 4:11-12).

Don’t give your ministry shopping list to your pastor. Take care of it yourself—as God leads you and works through you.

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Pet. 4:8-10).

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