Thursday, October 19, 2017

Here’s Some Stuff to Think About

If we find ourselves with too many things, is a bigger barn the answer?
If asked to name the fastest-growing industries in America, how would you respond? Something in the construction realm, or the technology world.? Maybe some business related to transportation? Would your guesses include…the self-storage industry?

This industry – constructing and then leasing or renting self-storage units – has become big business. Wikipedia, that online fount of knowledge, reports it’s a distinctively United States-based industry. Of the estimated 58,000 storage facilities worldwide in 2009, 46,000 would be found in the good ole U.S. of A. Many of them have been added since then. Whether a business enterprise, family, or single person, it seems if you’re an American, you’ve got stuff. Some apartment complexes now offer adjacent storage facilities, so tenants can keep their stuff on-site.

Maybe that’s why so many celebrities that vowed to leave the country if Donald Trump was elected President are still here. They can’t find anywhere else to stash their stuff!

If you think I’m pointing at others, remember – whenever we point a finger at someone, several fingers are pointing back at us. Oh, I know about stuff, especially books. “Hi, I’m Bob, and I’m a bookaholic.” I’ve accumulated enough books over the years to fill a small library, even though I’ve somehow managed (reluctantly) to get rid of hundreds. There are lots more where those came from.

My books aren’t in a storage unit, although my better half probably wishes they were. Also, as a diehard, bleeding Scarlet and Gray, fan of the Buckeyes, I have enough attire bearing Ohio State logos to go more than a month without wearing the same one twice. My wife has stuff, too, but we won’t go into that.

Suffice it to say, we’re bonafide, card-carrying, stuff-possessing Americans, like many of the folks reading this post. It’s fitting that next month many of us will gather with friends and family to enjoy turkey and “stuffing.” There might be good cause for renaming our nation the United Stuff of America. (Especially considering the current states we’re in.)

This fascination with accumulating stuff isn’t new. Jesus told the story of a rich man whose harvest was so abundant, he ran out of space for storing the crops. Instead of giving some of it away, he decided, “This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:13-21).

Jesus stated the reason for this parable at the start: “Watch out! Be on your guard against greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

During His “sermon on the mount,” Jesus addressed this topic again, perhaps anticipating the self-storage boom. He warned His hearers, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

This raises the question, “What are these ‘treasures in heaven’?” I must admit too often I get things confused, but long ago a friend expressed it this way: “The only things that will last for eternity are the Word of God, and people.” Maybe the secret is instead of buying, responding to the latest sales and commending ourselves for the bargains we’ve found, we could be investing in people, using some of our financial resources to help them in achieving better lives for themselves, and in the process pointing them to Jesus – “the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).

When we’re on the other side of eternity, I doubt God will announce a contest by saying, “Okay. Let’s see who brought the most stuff!” But I think He will delight in showing us the treasures we stored up in heaven in terms of the eternal impact we had on people’s lives. And we’ll be able to join in His delight.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Legacy of a Lukewarm Life

You’ve probably heard about the guy that was asked, “What’s the greater problem, ignorance or apathy?” His response: “I don’t know, and I don’t care.” Many people today could say the same. If it doesn’t directly affect their lives, they have no interest. But is this as it should be?

Since I don’t know much about ignorance, I’ll focus on apathy – whether you care much about it or not. (Wink, wink.)

Despite the shouting, arguing and carryings-on we see and hear about in our society today, in reality we seem beset with an epidemic of apathy. We get this term from the Greek: “apathy” – “a” (without) and “pathos” (passion). We might get fired up about our favorite football team, whether we’re winning (“I love my team!”) or losing (“Fire the coach!”) But rarely does such passion spill over into our everyday lives and routines.

Sadly, this applies to too many who convene within the walls of what we commonly call “the church.” We sing the songs – or hymns, depending on how contemporary or traditional your congregation happens to be. Some raise hands, or sway, or shout “Amen” at appropriate times. There are those who even dance a bit in response to the music. But soon after exiting the doors and retreating to our real lives, the apathy – without passion – resets.

Imagine Jesus having to knock to receive
admittance into our hearts and homes.
This isn’t a new dilemma. In the book of Revelation, we read this listless, lethargic malady afflicted the ancient church. Addressing the church in the city of Laodicea, God says, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one of the other! So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:14-16).

Another translation says, “I will spew you out of my mouth.” I like that wording better. It pictures someone drinking or biting into something very distasteful and without hesitation, spewing it out, no matter where it happens to land. Like unpleasant food, or sour milk.

But “spewing” was the effect. The cause was the Laodicean church’s apathy, being “lukewarm” – neither cold nor hot toward things that matter to God. During worship services, or small group meetings, the men and women might have expressed their love and devotion to the Lord, but outside of those gatherings, it was hard to find evidence of Him at work in their lives.

“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17). Tough words – but apparently directed to a bunch of folks going through the motions, whose hearts weren’t really in it.

We hear about children coming from “Christian homes” that go to college or get out on their own and, before long, disavow the faith they once professed. There’s much to be said about this, but perhaps in many instances it’s largely because their families were “neither cold nor hot” toward Christ in an everyday sense. Biblical values and virtues got lip service, but weren’t lived out on a genuine, consistent basis. Maybe kids who later reject the faith are living out that legacy.

Why is this? Even though followers of Jesus are increasingly targets of antagonism in the U.S.A., we’ve not yet approached the levels of persecution believers face in other lands. It’s easy, therefore, to feel comfortable – complacent – in our faith, never needing to count the cost and take a bold stand that might bear serious consequences. We’ve grown apathetic, “lukewarm” toward God.

I’m one that doesn’t like lukewarm food and drink. I prefer ice-cold beverages, and if my meal at home cools off, I’m prone to stick it in the microwave and “nuke” it for 15-20 seconds until it’s hot again. God feels the same way about us. He doesn’t want us to grow cold toward Him, but neither is He satisfied with lukewarm belief.

In the same chapter of Revelation, we find a verse we typically apply it to those who haven’t yet made commitments to Jesus Christ. However, the context shows it’s directed to people who already claim to be members of His family. “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). I’ve seen paintings of this passage showing Jesus knocking on a door without an outside handle. Imagine Jesus needing to ask to be invited into our homes and our hearts?

How can we “heat up,” getting past lukewarm-ness? Sometimes it helps to hear someone tell a powerful story of what God has done in their life. We can read an inspiring book, or listen to heart-tugging spiritual music. But the best way is to spend time with the Lord in the Scriptures, as well as reflect on all He’s already performed in our lives.

The worst thing we can do is follow the example described in Psalm 78:9-11, which tells of, “The men of Ephraim, though armed with bows, turned back on the day of battle; they did not keep God’s covenant and refused to live by his law. They forgot what he had done, the wonders he had shown them.” Let’s not be like them. Let’s say no to “lukewarm.”

Thursday, October 12, 2017

How We All Can Make a Difference

We’ve all heard about NFL players, coaches and even owners taking a knee rather than standing respectfully during the National Anthem. (Since I write my posts two weeks in advance, who knows what they’ll be doing by the time this appears.) I’m not quite certain what this demonstration is all about. Basically, it boils down to their conviction that in so doing, they’re making a difference.

On that last point, I think we can all agree. We’d all like to make a difference, being able to participate in making positive changes in our very – perhaps hopelessly – fractured nation and world. The question is, what does it take to truly make a difference?

Protests, peaceful and some not so peaceful, might make participants feel like they’ve accomplished something, but increasingly these events seem more like outlets for spouting venom toward anyone with different views. They are accomplishing something – but is it positive?

Then the protests are over; after all, people have to go home and go to work. They do have to go to work, don’t they? Or take care of their families? They do, don’t they? Anyway, the protests end, but the poor are still poor, the oppressed still oppressed, the disenfranchised remain the same. What’s the end game? What has been accomplished?

Thinking about this, my friend Bryan made a good suggestion: "DO SOMETHING that really makes a difference. Be nicer to people. Treat people with respect." This goes back to following what Jesus taught nearly 2,000 years ago – loving our neighbor as ourselves, and doing for others as we would want them to do for us. If we were in dire circumstances, desperately in need of help, how would we like to be treated?

The apostle James pointed out, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?... Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical need, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:14-17).

In my view, this is the problem with these protests. People get riled up, voice their complaints, and then go home, but lives of the individuals they supposedly are defending remain unchanged. Their “faith” – or at least moral conviction – stops short of engaging with and helping someone in real, tangible ways. If the time, energy and resources expended during these demonstrations were concentrated instead on doing the hard work of investing time, energy and resources in face-to-face acts of service, that would truly make a difference; a difference that can be life-changing.

Although some might disagree, no amount of posturing in any form will eradicate prejudice or insensitivity. We can't legislate hate. However, we can see lasting change take place – through changed hearts, starting with our own. Sadly, it seems evident there are forces in society that don't want that, whose agendas are advanced by inciting and sustaining anger, rage, dissension and hatred. We can stand by and let that happen, or resolve not fall in lockstep with anyone intent on stirring up humanity’s darkest elements.

When we watch the evening news, or read certain periodicals or postings on the Internet, it would appear hatred among various peoples has never been greater. But that’s not my experience or observation. I interact with people of different ethnicities and cultures often, whether at the YMCA, the mall, work, or spending time together at a restaurant. And I see others doing the same, with kindness, respect and mutual appreciation displayed openly and genuinely.

This isn’t to say there aren’t problems, because we all know there are. In some cities, more so than others. But we don’t have to be part of the problems – instead, we can choose to be part of the solutions. As one social media post wisely urged recently, “Turn off the news and love your neighbor.” Why listen to people harping about how bad things are when we can demonstrate how good things can be? That's what Jesus would do.