Thursday, September 30, 2010

Everywhere You Look

Did you ever buy a new car and start noticing other models like it wherever you went? Or maybe you decided it was time to replace an old appliance and instantly, advertisements for that kind of product popped up everywhere you looked?

Maybe it’s “heightened awareness” or benign self-interest, but whatever dominates our thoughts at any given time sensitizes us to things we might have been oblivious to in the past: TVs, cameras, computers, clothing, furniture, financial planners, attorneys.

In recent years, my wife and I experienced this in the realm of personal health. Following open heart surgery about four years ago, I became acutely aware of information about cardiac disease, as well as strategies for staying healthy.

Last Sunday we participated in the annual Susan G. Komen “Race for the Cure.” More than 8,500 men and women took part, either in the one-mile walk or the 5K event for both runners and walkers. The cause was to support research seeking a cure for breast cancer. Since Sally has dealt with that issue this year, it was heartening to see such a huge turnout – including many proud survivors.

Along the route were volunteers offering water for sweaty competitors; others stood along the road just to cheer us toward the finish. My goal wasn’t a prize, but I felt power-walking the 5K course was helping in some small way to advance the goal of one day ridding our world of breast cancer. Now, whenever I see one of the signature pink ribbons, whether a car decal, a pin or on auto tag, I think of that important cause.

Seeing those people along the course, shouting encouragement to participants, I was reminded of the “great cloud of witnesses” described in Hebrews 12:1. I sometimes wonder if, beyond the limits of human sight, a similar group of “witnesses” is urging us on as we “press on toward the goal to win the prize” God has waiting for each of His children.

It’s comforting to imagine as we cope with the struggles and challenges of everyday living, we have unseen supporters exhorting, “Good job!” “Keep it up!” “You can do it!” Maybe they’re there, everywhere we look.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Not Working Up a Thirst

Rumor has it that summer is officially over and autumn has arrived. You couldn’t prove it today by the thermometer, but the weatherman is predicting temperatures in the 70’s this weekend. Even so, we won’t soon forget summer’s heat.

I’m not a green-thumb person, but for Mother’s Day I bought my wife some purple flowers to put around the mailbox. The label said they’re “vincas.” (Not to be confused with ancient native Peruvians with a similar name.) I even planted them in special, high-potency soil. The flowers did grow rapidly and adorned the front yard.

Then summer came, with high temperatures and little rain. Safeguarding my botanical investment, I went out at least every other day to water the flowers. Every time I pulled into our driveway, I felt sorry for the little fellers, panting and chlorophyll-tinted tongues hanging out due to thirst. I had to give them a drink once in awhile.

Our little green friends’ plight reminded me of a couple of passages in the Bible. In the Beatitudes, Jesus stated, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6). In the Psalms, King David had written about himself in similar terms: “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you, my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1).

Do I really thirst for God, for His righteousness? Maybe that’s the problem with Christian America. We’ve become absorbed into the culture, opting for a convenient, comfortable God – not one that has us desperately thirsting for Him, as one thirsts after mowing a lawn on a hot summer day.

As Patrick Morley wrote in his book, The Man in the Mirror, we have settled for the God we want, not the God who is. Maybe once we work up a thirst for God, as described in the Scriptures, we can again serve as salt and light in this “dry and weary land where there is no water.”

Monday, September 13, 2010

Precious in the Sight of God

In June I wrote about my friend Karen, a former coworker who had been dealing with cancer. Last week I went to her memorial service, a true celebration of a remarkable woman who loved her God, and who also loved and served people the Lord sent her way.

During the service I recalled a peculiar Bible passage: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15). At first glance, this verse makes God seem like a sadist. How could He enjoy seeing people die? As I’ve pondered it over the years, however, this declaration seems true – and right.

Imagine a baby in the womb: Climate-controlled, continuous food supply, the soothing cadence of mother’s heartbeat. What a life! For the baby, that’s all the world there is. Suddenly things begin to change. The cozy living chamber contracts, pushing the little one toward a narrow opening and into another, unknown world.

If the infant could choose at that moment, it certainly would say, “No, thanks. I’m fine right here.” But the womb world, as comfortable as it’s been, isn’t all there is – far from it. There’s a vast, unimaginable, wondrous world it’s about to encounter for the first time. Soon this new world will be all it knows – or wants.

I believe it’s the same for God’s children. We cling to this visible, tangible, temporal, finite world like it’s all there is, but one day God will introduce us to a world we could never imagine. In 1 Corinthians 2:9 we read, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”

That's why the death of His saints is precious to God: He has prepared something wonderful, far beyond comprehension, for each of us. Like a parent eager to unveil a special, unexpected surprise for a beloved child, the Lord waits in great anticipation to say, “Welcome, child. Look what I have for you!”

During Karen’s memorial service, the pastor noted one of her last words, with eyes wide open and looking up, was a gentle, “Wow!” Who knows what she saw? I don’t. But I’m convinced with every fiber of my being that for each of us who are God’s children, trusting in “the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13), a “Wow!” awaits us, too.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Money – and Happiness

Okay, we now have conclusive, definitive proof – at least according to a study conducted by the Center for Health and Wellbeing at Princeton University – that money can buy happiness.


The last time you got a new car, did that make you sad? Or when you purchased a flashy new computer – or the latest cell phone? Or even a new clothing outfit? Did that make you angry?

Of course money can buy happiness – temporarily. But the things money can buy get old, wear out or rust out, break, go out of style, get lost, or we simply grow tired of them. That CD you just had to have a few months ago? Not fun anymore. That shirt or dress that in 2009 seemed as if it had been designed exclusively for you? Boring. The vacation trip last year that took an entire year’s savings? A distant, fading memory.

The fact is, happiness and happenings come from the same root word. So whenever nice things happen, we feel happy. But happiness is fleeting. Just let somebody back into your shiny new car and discover then how you feel.

Years ago I heard a speaker wisely distinguish happiness (which depends on external events) from joy (which is formed within). Being diagnosed with heart disease or cancer won’t make you happy, but you still can feel joy when you have confidence in the God who tells us to, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you have trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).

Interesting: Since this study was done at Princeton, one of the really expensive institutions in the country, imagine how happy those folks are!