Thursday, March 29, 2012

‘Precious in the Sight of God . . .’

Suspend your disbelief for a moment and suppose you could communicate with a baby in the womb, days or even moments before its birth. You attempt to explain the wonderful, incredible world it’s about to enter, trying to convey some of the sights and sensations it will experience.

When your effusive description is over, the baby responds, “No thanks. I’m good. I have everything I need here. It’s cozy. I’m close to Mommy. I want to stay here.”

Of course we can’t communicate cognitively with babies in utero. And they can’t choose to remain in the womb when time comes for them to enter the outside world. Parents are excitedly waiting to welcome the new addition to the family, to set eyes on the little one for the first time. With wide smiles and arms poised for embrace, they’re ready to nurture the infant, and share in the wonderment of their new life.

This image helps me to understand one of the strangest verses in the Bible. Psalm 116:15 says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” Reading this passage for first time I thought, “Really? Is God some kind of sadist? What’s ‘precious’ about death?”

But pondering these questions, the human birth analogy came to mind. Life on earth, with its physical and temporal limitations, is our “womb.” Despite pain and hardships, it’s all we know. So we cling to it. Death is the enemy. Even in the throes of dread diseases, we desire healing.

What if, however, on “the other side of eternity,” death looks more like birth – merely leaving one environment and entering a new, wondrous one we could never have imagined?

In fact, the Bible promises this: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Corinthians 2:9). Just as an unborn infant can’t fathom the world that awaits it, the Scriptures assert the same is true of the life after death.

And just as proud parents have lovingly arranged a nursery for little Jake or Jill, our Lord is as eager to show what He’s prepared for us. Jesus said as much in John 14:2: “In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.” In essence, He’s saying, “Wait until you see what I have for you!”

This week another dear friend was called home by the Lord. Her passing is difficult for the family, without question. From the beginning, God built us for relationships; when they’re disrupted in this life by death, the void can’t be filled, and grieving family and friends remain.

But imagine leaving this “womb” and entering a new, unending life – and receiving the embrace of your Heavenly Father, His broad smile accompanied by the words, “Welcome home, My child. We’ve been waiting for you!” That sounds precious to me.

Borrowing the words of the vocal group Mercyme, “I can only imagine.”

Monday, March 26, 2012

Advice for the ‘Directionally Challenged’

We all have minor disabilities of one type or another. Some people are colorblind, others have hearing deficiencies, and some have attention deficits. The list goes on. One of mine is being “directionally challenged.” You can tell me how to get somewhere 10 times, and the 11th time I’ll probably have to ask you again.

For Christmas I received a GPS device, which stands for global positioning system. Unfortunately, since I’m also technologically challenged, I’ve yet to figure out how to use it. Hopefully I can solve that riddle soon. It would make life easier, at least when traveling.

Most men – so I’m told – refuse to ask for directions. They pride themselves in being able to find their destination without help. Not me. I’ve discovered if I don’t ask for assistance in getting to where I want to go, I’ll wind up somewhere else. So despite being in the male minority, I ask for directions – or consult Mapquest or Google.

This attitude is even more helpful in figuring out where you’re going in life, whether in terms of education, career, finances, family relationships, or whatever. It’s easy to boldly confront daily challenges with the assumption we have it all figured out – “I’ve got this.” But as we get older, it’s suddenly apparent we don’t know as much as we thought.

So we turn to trusted friends or professionals for advice and counsel. But there’s an even better source to aid those of us that are directionally challenged in life, which includes us all to some degree.

One of the first Bible verses I learned was Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him (the Lord) and he will make your paths straight.” Another verse affirms that promise: “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

In other words, for the journey through life we are offered another kind of GPS – God’s Positioning System. We find it through the Scriptures, prayer, consulting with other followers of Christ, and the abiding presence of God’s Spirit within us.

That doesn’t mean we’ll never take an “exit” we’re not supposed to, or veer off on a side road, but even when we do – if we’re willing to consult God for directions – He’ll gladly get us back on the main highway.

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Big Difference . . . With a Little Effort

Would you like to feel you’re making a difference in the world – or more specifically, in your world?

But how? You or I aren’t likely to discover the cure for cancer, or end world poverty and hunger. Odds are against us coming up with the next great, life-changing invention. And these days it seems only a fool would run for President of the United States, so forget that. So how can we make a difference?

In their book, Simple Truths of Service, Ken Blanchard and Barbara Glanz show even a small, simple thought can result in a big difference. They tell about “Johnny the Bagger,” a 19-year-old grocery store bagger with Down syndrome.

Glanz, a customer service trainer, had spoken to store employees about “creating memories for your customers that will motivate them to come back.” 

A month later she received a call from Johnny, who admitted he initially didn’t think he could do anything special for customers. Then he had the idea of selecting a thought for the day, having his dad help in printing the messages on small pieces of paper, and then placing the thought of the day in each customer’s grocery bag.

As customers came to the register, he'd bag their groceries, put his thought for the day in their sack and say, “Thanks for shopping with us.”

Soon, according to the store manager, Johnny’s checkout line was always several times longer than the other lines – filled with shoppers eager to receive his daily “thought.”

Not only did customers arrive at the store anticipating the pleasant surprise they would receive upon checking out, but other employees also began devising novel ways to “create memories” for customers in their own departments. “A wonderful spirit of service spread throughout the store,” Glanz commented. All because one young man, despite a disability and a humble, “unimportant” job, chose to make a difference where he worked.

Johnny is hardly an exception. Looking at the life of Jesus, the difference He made day to day didn’t come from outrageous acts. He didn’t leap tall buildings in a single bound, or make mountains disappear. In fact, the times He was challenged to flaunt His powers, Jesus declined.

Instead, He washed disciples feet. He gathered little children to Himself, demonstrating how precious they are to God. He affirmed the great worth of women in a male-dominated society. He fed thousands with a handful of fish and bread.

A song I loved to hear years ago affirmed, “God uses ordinary people.” That’s true: Our extraordinary God uses ordinary people like us to accomplish great things, one little step at a time. Maybe we should also aspire to be like Johnny, doing something simple that can make a great difference.   

Thursday, March 15, 2012

What Next, Cyberspace?

It’s the end of the world as we’ve known it! Encyclopedia Britannica announced that after nearly 250 years it no longer will produce a physical, printed edition. You can still utilize the esteemed reference tool, but only online.

I remember as a young person gazing with awe at the Encyclopedia Britannica. Dozens of hefty, scholarly, word-packed volumes, covering everything from Aardvark to Zwingli. (Ulrich Zwingli, in case you’re wondering, was a leader of the Reformation in Switzerland in the early 16th century.) My family actually had a lesser encyclopedia, although not World Book or Funk & Wagnalls. But no matter, everyone knew the Encyclopedia Britannica was the Everest of encyclopedias. It became the fertile breeding ground for countless term papers and reports.

If you needed to know anything, chances are you would find it there. You still can, but now exclusively via cyberspace.

The Encyclo Brit (does anyone call it that, or did I make up a nickname?) is just the latest virtual information casualty.

When was the last time you sent – or received – a bonafide, handwritten letter? Even a note? Many of us still write letters, but they’re mostly composed on keyboards, and usually not “sent” in the traditional post office sense. They’re written and dispatched via e-mail, simply by pressing the magic “Send” button.

The same is true of many other types of communications: Invitations, announcements, memos, advertisements, publications. Even pesky chain letters have gotten cyber-spacy. I fear this has dealt the U.S. Postal Service a mortal wound.

Then there’s that grand American institution, the public library. I honestly haven’t been inside one in years. Why bother when all the information I need is literally at my fingertips, using Google or some other search engine? And although I haven’t yet taken this technological leap, just about any book you want can be downloaded to your tablet computer. (Said the professor to the student, “Take one tablet and text me in the morning”!)

It still seems somewhat adventurous to wander down library aisles, surrounded by shelves of musty-smelling books, not knowing what stands stacked within your grasp. I might visit a library again, if only for the nostalgia.

But let’s face it. Technology is reinventing our culture. And it’s not all bad. With the sum total of human knowledge doubling geometrically, it’s become impossible to contain it all within the scope of paper and ink. Why buy an encyclopedia that’s outdated before it’s off the press? Similarly, many newspapers are struggling because what they tell us is more history than news.

Yet, we need caution: Surrounded with this readily accessible, ever-expanding mass of information, we need wisdom to understand how to utilize it for good and not for ill. We can’t reverse the calendar, and technological change is only accelerating. So instead, we’d be wise to emulate the “men of Issachar” of the Old Testament who, we’re told, “understood the times and knew what (they) should do” (1 Chronicles 12:32).   

Monday, March 12, 2012

Now That’s What You Call a Debt!

When news commentators and economists talk about the trillions of dollars the U.S. is in debt, those numbers don’t compute for me. Frankly, any time dollar signs have more than five numbers behind them, I can’t relate. So when someone says the national debt is more than $15 trillion, all I can say is, “Say what?!”

Just a few minutes ago, I went to an Internet site ( to see the current state of our country’s indebtedness. In case you’re wondering, that’s defined as the face amount or principal amount of marketable and non-marketable securities currently outstanding. As I watched, the number was just under $15.5 trillion and counting – counting VERY fast.

But what does that mean, really? To be honest, I don’t have a clue. It’s hard enough for me to comprehend multi-million dollar salaries of athletes and entertainers. Billions seem unfathomable. Trillions? Wow!

Recently, however, I read a columnist’s simple analogy that helped me understand more clearly why our nation is in such deep monetary manure. I haven’t confirmed these figures, but I think they are reliable:

U.S. tax revenue: $2,170,000,000,000
Federal budget: $3,820,000,000,000
New debt: $1,650,000,000,000
National debt (total): $15,500,000,000,000
Recent budget cuts: $38,500,000,000

You might look at that and say, “That still doesn’t mean anything to me. What’s with all the zeros?” So in the columnist’s analogy, he suggested removing the last eight zeros of each number and pretending it’s your household budget. Looking at it that way, the numbers are:

Annual family income: $21,700
Money spent by family: $38,200
New debt on credit card: $16,500
Outstanding balance on credit card: $155,000
Total cuts to family budget: $385

Now can you see where the problem is?

Proverbs 22:7 says, “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.” Looking at the numbers above, it seems the U.S. is determined to give new meaning to the term “slavery.”

By the way, the estimated U.S. population is just over 313 million people. Dividing that number into the national debt means your and my personal shares of the debt are $49,000-plus each. If you want to generously send a check in that amount to President Obama, I’m sure he’d appreciate it.

But do it quickly – it’s reported the national debt has continued to increase an average of $4.01 billion per day since Sept. 28, 2007!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Would You Withhold the Cure?

Suppose a close friend was suffering from cancer and you learned about a newly discovered, 100-percent cure for the disease, but chose not to tell the friend about it?

Or suppose you were visiting a remote Third World village whose inhabitants were dying of starvation and you knew of a plentiful source for free food within easy walking distance, but you decided not to let them know?

Suppose you had loved ones or dear friends that had been unemployed for many months and you heard about immediate job opportunities that would fit them perfectly, but you refused to inform them?

Or suppose someone was drowning in a lake and you were holding a life preserver, but elected not to throw it?

You wouldn’t do any of those things – but just imagine you did. In each instance, wouldn’t you be considered inhumane, heartless, cruel, even criminal?

Yet when followers of Jesus attempt to share what we believe to be the cure to spiritual cancer, the answer to spiritual impoverishment, starvation and death, we’re often ridiculed. Narrow-minded, bigoted, judgmental and “holier than thou” are just some of the derogatory terms directed toward those who believe that when Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6), He wasn’t kidding – or only referring to a particular group of people.

I’m not an evangelist, but in more than 30 years of walking with Christ I’ve discovered He is the answer to life’s most profound questions: “Why am I here?” “What’s my purpose?” “How do I find meaning?” “Is this all there is?” “What will happen to me when I die?” “How can I make sense of this life?”

If you received great news, wouldn’t you want to share it with others? I feel that way about the Good News of Jesus Christ, both for people who don’t know Him and those who are believers, but haven’t yet experienced the “abundant life” He promises.

What’s our motivation? It should the same as what the apostle John wrote: “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete” (1 John 1:3-4).

If that’s narrow-minded, so be it.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Listening . . . and Ready to Respond

Over the weekend my wife and I stayed overnight with a little grandson while mom and dad enjoyed a quick getaway. When it was bedtime, we hoped Maclane would sleep quietly until morning, affording Grandma and Pop a good night’s rest. But Mac had other plans.

So in the wee a.m. hours when he started crying, we waited a few minutes, hoping he’d close his eyes and go back to baby dreamland. But his crying persisted, and soon it was a reenactment of many times when our daughters were young: We went to the rescue.

That’s what good parents and grandparents do. When little ones are in distress, we respond to offer help as needed. To ignore tiny pleas for assistance would be tantamount to child abuse.

Knowing how readily we react to the needs of our earthly children, despite our flaws and imperfections, underscores how much we can trust in our perfect Heavenly Father to answer the cries of His children.

Just this morning I was reading Psalm 30, in which King David makes these observations:

“O Lord my God, I called to you for help and you healed me…. To you, O Lord, I called; to the Lord I called for mercy…. Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me; O Lord, be my help. You turned my waiting into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy” (Psalm 30:2-11).

Without question, these days many of God’s children are pleading for His intervention. As occurred last spring, tornadoes have devastated many parts of the country. Here the "tornado-proof” Tennessee Valley seems to have turned into a new “Tornado Alley.” Twisters struck less than a mile from where two of our daughters live; their homes were spared, but many residents’ homes were destroyed or severely damaged.

A good friend recently received disheartening news about the baby she is carrying. The uncertainty for the remainder of her pregnancy, and for the infant’s future, makes this a very difficult time for her, her husband and family.

Unemployment, health issues, financial struggles and family discord are among other concerns being presented to God in prayer by His followers. How will He respond?

As the scripture passage above and many others assure us – He will respond, often in ways that far surpass our expectations. In Jeremiah 33:3 the Lord promises, “Call on me and I will answer you and show you great and mighty things that you do not know.”

And that’s a promise.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

There’s Good News . . . and There’s Bad News

Everywhere we go, people are grumbling about “the economy.” Gasoline prices are soaring. The cost of many items at the grocery store are rising; if prices aren’t going up, package volumes are shrinking. With this fall’s Presidential election looming, Republican hopefuls blame President Obama for the stumbling economy; Obama still blames former President Bush.

I do little investing, so whether today’s stock market is bullish or bearish doesn’t faze me. But it still would be good to have an idea of what the economy will be doing in the immediate and foreseeable future.

Gas prices have many
of us out on a limb.
In my quest to find out from the “experts” what’s really going on with the economy, earlier this week I turned to my trusted source of insight and wisdom, USA Today. I was not disappointed. On page one of the “Money” section the headline read, “Economists see brighter picture.” The brief article said 45 economists projected positive outlooks for housing starts, employment and business spending. Good news, right?

Then I turned to page 4, where the headline beckoned readers to “Three who believe the worst is yet to come.” What about the other economists who said things were slowly getting better?

So is it good news – or bad news – about the economy? The definitive answer, is appears, is “Yes!”

Admittedly, I’m clueless about economics. I struggled to a “C” in my only economics class in college. I don’t even try to balance our family checkbook. So if you wonder whether you'll have any pay at the end of the month – or too much month at the end of your pay – don’t ask me.

But I do know one thing: Worrying and relying on the opinions of the “experts” wastes mental and emotional energy. Better to trust in the one Expert that does know. He’s not troubled by cloudy economic forecasts.

Philippians 4:6,7 reminds us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayers and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Staring in the face of an uncertain, volatile, even frightening economy can provoke awful nightmares. Better to stare into the face of the God who promises He “will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in You” (Isaiah 26:3).

These verses don’t promise freedom from problems and perplexities. But they do promise when they come, we can still experience peace if we trust in the Lord. And that is good news!