Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Coping with Life’s Surprises

Have you ever been driving down the road when suddenly you hear, “BLAM!” and realize a tire has blown out? That’s never pleasant or convenient. Life presents many “blow-out moments,” times when distressing news invades the tranquility of everyday routines.

That happened more than three years ago when I was confronted with open-heart surgery, and now my family faces another serious issue. What do you do when life throws the proverbial curve, veering you off the straight and smooth course you were following?

For me, this – more than at any other time – is when the genuineness of my faith is tested. It’s easy to profess confidence in God during good times. “Thanks, Lord, but I’ve got this pretty well handled.” But what about when circumstances exceed your grasp and there’s little you can do?

Skeptics might contend faith in times of adversity is merely a crutch, a coping mechanism. In one sense they’re correct. But if you have a sprained ankle or broken leg, a crutch isn’t just desirable; it’s necessary. The same is true of spiritual faith. We can give lip service to what we believe when all seems well, but when things spin out of control, what holds you up?

This week we observe “Good Friday,” the remembrance of Christ’s death on the cross. We celebrate it not just because of Jesus’ sacrificial act on the cross, but because of what occurred two days later. As someone has said, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming!”

In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 the apostle Paul writes, “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant…or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and arose again….” The fact Jesus triumphed over death offers not only hope for life after death, but also hope for life before death – that He is here to guide, strengthen and comfort us amid the inevitable realities of daily living.

As I’ve written before, this is hope – the earnest expectation, confident assurance of faith in a loving, gracious, merciful God, not the “hope-so” of life apart from Him.

Friday, March 26, 2010

In Praise of Technology

First off, I’m no “techie.” If anything, I’m a technophobe, reluctant to dabble in the latest technology until absolutely necessary. But where would we be without technological advances we now take for granted?

Back in the mid-80’s, a friend – then an Apple dealer – provided my first computer, a used Macintosh 512K. The first personal computers worked at snail’s pace, seemingly taking forever to save simple documents. I often feared the power would fail before my work had gone to hard drive.

Upon using the computer, however, I became hooked. Within days I disposed of my electric typewriter permanently. Almost instantly I became a much better writer and editor, adding and deleting words, sentences, paragraphs, moving them around. No more debating whether changes merited retyping.

A similar thing happened with cameras. Over decades as a newspaper and magazine editor, people often asked if I got any good photos. My standard reply was I would know as soon as the film was processed. About three years ago I bought my first digital camera. Immediately I knew how good my photos were – and could instantly delete all I wasn’t pleased with.

Back in 1997, I returned from my first trip to Europe with 56 rolls of film, nearly 2,000 photos in all, many of them not good enough to line a birdcage. Today, I could store the same number of images on about three photo cards – and quickly delete and reshoot the unacceptable ones.

Still, I have no iPod or MP3 player. I use a basic cell phone. I rarely text, never tweet. Why overcomplicate? But I still have high praise for technology. Every week I write and edit a business meditation that is e-mailed, translated into more than 20 languages, and then redistributed to an estimated two million people worldwide. Years ago, who could have dreamed such a thing?

I'm posting this on the Internet, for goodness sake!

Many centuries ago, wise King Solomon wrote, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). I know what he meant – that the basic needs, drives, purposes and desires of mankind are unchanging. But “nothing new under the sun”? I wonder what he would have thought of a Blackberry?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Springing into Something New

There was a lot going on last week: Daylight Savings Time arrived on Sunday, St. Patrick’s Day came at midweek, and spring was sprung upon us on Saturday. I’m getting too old for so much excitement!

I was in Omaha, Nebraska for several days, and they apparently didn’t get the message about spring there. As my flight was leaving Friday morning, they were expecting 4-6 inches of snow. Nice of them to wait until I was ready to leave – I had already switched into spring mode. (We did actually have some snow flurries this morning in Chattanooga, but I think those were just leftovers from a previous snowstorm.)

Anyway, now it’s spring. The natural course of global warming has begun – at least in the Northern Hemisphere. There is something fascinating about this season. After months of cold, dreary days and dormant plant life, the cycles of growth resume again. Soon we’ll see blossoms bursting into view, new leaves sprouting from barren tree limbs, grass again beckoning, “Gentlemen, start your lawnmowers!” and birds returning to northern abodes, chirping cheery greetings to one another.

Spring signifies the renewal of hope, the promise of life resuming at full speed. After hunkering down to keep warm, we emerge from our homes to revel in new birth everywhere we look.

Interestingly, new birth is a recurring theme in the Bible. In John 3:3, Jesus said, “You must be born again,” not meaning we need a new perspective or new philosophy, but literally a new spiritual life available only through Him. As 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” That is what the Scriptures refer to as Good News.

When we observe Easter April 4, that’s what we’ll celebrate.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Glimpses of Truth Along the Highway

Thirteen years ago I was traveling with my uncle and aunt, Joe and Barbara, from Hungary toward eastern Germany. Evening loomed as we drove along a highway past Teplice, Czech Republic, and we briefly considered stopping there, but decided instead to find a bed and breakfast after crossing the German border.

I know little about Teplice, but an image at its outskirts was indelible.

Cresting a hill just beyond the city, we saw several small buildings along the roadside, each with one or more women standing outside, energetically beckoning to passing motorists. At first it seemed like a marketing strategy for little restaurants, but a closer glance at the scantily attired women showed what was really on the “menu.”

The post-Communist culture of the region was starkly different from what I was accustomed to in Chattanooga, Tennessee. A police car was parked down the road, but apparently the roadside trade was not a law enforcement concern.

That morning I had read this passage: “The woman Folly is loud.... She sits at the door of her house, on a seat at the highest point of the city, calling out to those who pass by, who go straight on their way. ‘Let all who are simple come in here!’ she says to those who lack judgment. ‘Stolen water is sweet; food eaten in secret is delicious!’ But little do they know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of the grave” (Proverbs 9:13-18).

I have no idea how many customers the women enticed, but they served as a vivid picture of things that can lure us in our journey through life. For some it’s sex; for others, success or status or “stuff.” Whatever it is, the clamor is often hard to ignore.

Earlier in the same chapter of Proverbs, it speaks of Wisdom, also calling out from the city’s highest point. What a contrast of attractions: wisdom and folly. Which we respond to makes a world of difference.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Irrelevant . . . or Irreplaceable?

I initially read through the Bible my senior year in high school. The previous summer I had heard someone teach directly from the Scriptures for the first time. Intrigued, I decided to read the Bible, five chapters a night. That took about nine months.

Although I read it cover to cover, I didn’t understand much in between. The “begats,” "thous, “whosoevers,” “shalts” and “sayeths” of the King James Version were bothersome. So after the last verse in Revelation, I placed the black, cloth-covered Bible on a bookshelf, where it remained.

In 1978 I encountered the New American Standard version, astounded to discover the Scriptures translated into modern, easy-to-understand language. I also learned the Bible was not some ancient, obscure manual for preachers with years of specialized seminary training, but a practical guide for everyone.

Over the years since, I have read through the Bible more than a dozen times. Some say it’s archaic and irrelevant. A friend once told me, “The Bible’s a good primer, but then you move on to something more sophisticated.” (The work of some great philosopher or thinker, I suppose.) The Scriptures respond to that: “The foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength” (1 Corinthians 1:25).

I have found the Bible an incomparable source of instruction for all areas of life – work, marriage and family life, finances, morals, relationships – even sports. Like peeling on onion, removing one layer to reveal another, the Bible possesses limitless depth. Every time I read it, I find insights and truth I didn’t see before.

Without question, we can gain wisdom as well from holy books of other religions, including the Torah, the Koran, even the Tao Te Ching. That’s because all truth is God’s truth. But the Bible is the “owner’s manual,” God’s revelation of how He designed us, His plan for us, and how to truly find joy and fulfillment in this life as we anticipate the next.

The apostle Paul assured us, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16). Through it we realize Jesus’ promise to His followers: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).