Monday, September 29, 2014

Confusion About Courage?

Who knows how much courage this craft of war, the LST 325, carried
as the soldiers inside it prepared to storm the beaches of Normandy?

We hear a lot about “courage” these days: Athletes playing through nagging injuries: “Courageous.” Daredevils attempting outrageous stunts, hoping their YouTube videos will go viral: “Courageous.” Entertainer or celebrities making declarations outside the social norm: “How courageous!” people respond in unbridled admiration.

Maybe. Or maybe not. When conforming to nonconformity, as long-haired, bell-bottomed, tie-dyed, “far out, man!” hippies did in the 1960’s, how much “courage” does that require? If it’s “in” to do within your peer group, doesn’t it demand more courage not to do that thing?

When I think of legitimate courage, examples that come to mind are Branch Rickey, then owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play baseball in the Major Leagues. Their story was dramatized in the film “42,” but real life offered more than enough drama for them.

It was 1947, and Rickey decided to do the unthinkable – breaking the color barrier by bringing up Robinson, a member of the Negro League’s Kansas City Monarchs, to play second base for the Dodgers. Rickey had no doubts about Robinson’s athletic prowess, but could the young man withstand the pressure, prejudice and racial epithets to prove a black player could compete at baseball’s highest level?

And Robinson, of course, had to be willing to endure scorn and hatred as the target of mindless bigotry. He was alone. Crossing the boundary into an all-white sport and proving he belonged was hardly the “in” thing at that time. Together, Rickey and Robinson exemplified what true courage should look like.

Even at the controls of an anti-aircraft
gun, sailors must have felt very exposed.
Recently the LST 325 (Landing Ship, Tank) made a stop along the Tennessee River here in Chattanooga, another example of real courage. This stark gray, 330-foot craft was used to transport tanks, vehicles, cargo and military personnel during World War II, as well as the Korean and Vietnam wars. Looking at this battle-scarred vessel, which landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944, I couldn’t help but imagine the courage possessed by the hundreds of servicemen who left its austere bowels to storm the beaches on that fateful day. Many of them never left those shores alive.

One other example comes to mind: the Israelites poised to enter the Promised Land, leaving memories of slavery in Egypt behind and entering a foreign land to confront formidable foes and an unfamiliar environment. They had no Navy SEALS, Green Berets or Black Ops forces to neutralize and defeat the opposition. There were no Blackhawk helicopters hovering above to watch their backs, or even automatic weapons. All they had was faith and good old-fashioned “chutzpah” to press ahead.

Moses, who had led Israel out of Israel and around the wilderness for 40 years, had died, leaving his successor, Joshua, to complete the journey. Despite many miracles God had performed, the Israelites had cause for feeling apprehensive. Knowing this, God issued just one directive through their new leader. He instructed Joshua, “Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them” (Joshua 1:6).

To ensure His message was understood, God repeated His command. “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go” (Joshua 1:7).

Then for emphasis, God gave the command a third time: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). Joshua passed these commands on to the people of Israel, who vowed to follow him and do as he instructed. Then they in turn exhorted their leader, “Only be strong and courageous” (Joshua 1:18).

These words were spoken and written thousands of years ago, but remain just as relevant today for those that follow Jesus Christ. What daunting challenges, what formidable obstacles do you face today – at work, in your home or in some other area of your life? For what do you also need to be “strong and courageous”?

You might be thinking, “That sounds like a good idea. But easier said than done. How can I be courageous with what I’m facing?”

That’s a question many of us are asking, or will be asking at some point in the future. And in today’s turbulent times, with news bombarding us daily about terrorism, disease epidemics, severe weather and many other threats beyond our control, 21st century living isn’t for the faint of heart. So again we ask, how can we be courageous?

Many times we can’t muster the strength, no matter how hard we try. That’s where faith comes in – the kind modeled decades ago by men like Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson, and probably many soldiers as they were leaving the LST to do battle with an unseen enemy.

We can find this courage as we trust in God, as King David wrote: “I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would find the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord, be of good courage, and He will strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord!” (Psalm 27:13-14).

Thursday, September 25, 2014

An Example Worth Emulating

S. Truett Cathy, one who "practiced what
he preached," leaves a strong legacy.

The old saying, “Actions speak louder than words,” is perhaps never more valid than when comparing what leaders say with what they do. Too often – whether they are politicians, executives in business, or cultural icons – leaders espouse high-sounding values, only to have behavior betray their supposed convictions.

A couple of weeks ago S. Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A, passed away at the age of 93. Unlike some of his contemporaries, who would be members of the “do as I say, not as I do” camp, he was a man who lived, worked, and served his fellow man in a manner consistent with principles and ideals he expressed. I had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Cathy for a magazine article years ago, and found him to be a humble, non-pretentious, genuine individual devoted to helping to make the world around him a better place.

At the time he was phasing out his involvement in day-to-day operations of the fast-food franchise he started in 1946 in Hapeville, Ga., an Atlanta suburb, with a single little restaurant then called the “Dwarf Grill.” His sons, Dan and Bubba, were already taking the lead.

One of the most notable aspects of Chick-fil-A has been its steadfast resolve to close on Sundays, even in shopping malls where all other stores are required to open seven days a week. Before committing to place one of their restaurants in a mall, the Cathys always sign a contract exempting their business from that requirement.

I interviewed Mr. Cathy years
ago for a magazine article.
It’s often reported this practice is due to Mr. Cathy’s and his family’s “religious” beliefs. To an extent that’s true, but he always felt it gave their employees a day to rest and spend time with family, whether that included attending a worship service on Sunday or not. In fact, when I asked him about the store’s Sunday closing tradition, he quipped that in his business’s early days, “after six days of operation round the clock, the reason we closed was not we were all that religious, but because we are all that tired.”

Throughout his tenure as head of the privately held, family-owned company, Mr. Cathy and his sons operated according to two guiding principles:  
      - To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us.
     - To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.

The latter principle, of course, would be hotly debated by those who viewed personal, pro-traditional family statements by son Dan as “intolerant” and “homophobic.” However, there has never been evidence of the Cathys or their company discriminating against employees, suppliers or customers on any basis, including sexual orientation.

Throughout his business career, Mr. Cathy was known for his generosity, including sponsorship of foster homes, college scholarships for restaurant employees demonstrating leadership and community service, a summer camp for young people, and various charity events, as well as his personal contributions to many worthwhile causes. Chick-fil-A also has long been recognized for having unusually low management turnover rates in the quick-service restaurant industry.

More than 30 years ago I was hired to serve as editor, and then director of publications, for CBMC (then known as Christian Business Men’s Committee). A running joke was when someone claimed to be a “Christian businessman,” the response would be something like, “Make up your mind – are you a Christian, or a businessman?” The implication being you couldn’t be both at the same time.

Thankfully, over the 20 years I served as a member of the CBMC staff I had the opportunity to meet hundreds of business people – top executives, middle managers and professional people – who daily demonstrated you could indeed pursue a career in the worlds of commerce and industry and still be a faithful, consistent follower of Christ. Mr. Cathy was one of them, an example truly worth emulating.

Proverbs 20:6 asks the question, Many claim to have unfailing love, but a faithful person who can find?” One could always be found in the person of S. Truett Cathy, who understood, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), and lived accordingly.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Power of Positive Doing

In the early 1950s, Norman Vincent Peale authored The Power of Positive Thinking, which captured the imagination of millions of readers. In the book he made observations such as, “Our happiness depends on the habit of mind we cultivate,” “The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism,” and “Change your thoughts and you change your world.”

Following his teachings came a wave of motivational messages, declarations like, “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” A slew of men and women perched on the Peale pedestal seeking to inspire and challenge aspiring achievers to think higher and dream bigger.

This bee at Busch Gardens in Florida wasn't just thinking
about making honey - it was doing something about it.
Even today the impact of the late Dr. Peale’s thoughts continues to reverberate, his legacy being carried on by many others, ranging from the smiley-faced aphorisms of Joel Osteen and other feel-good tele-preachers, to the fun, “don’t worry, be happy” type tunes sung by vocalists like Bobby McFerrin and Pharrell Williams.

I’m not a positive thinking naysayer. There’s great value in taking a positive, optimistic approach to life. I’ve always preferred to start the day with a hearty, “Good morning, Lord!” than a discouraging, “Good Lord…morning!” And I can remember many times when doubts started creeping in, I was able to cast them aside with a determined, “I can do this!” – and I did.

Maybe that’s why the old Nike slogan, “Just Do It,” connected with so many people. It suggests the power of positive thought, but goes beyond that. Basically it says, “Don’t just think about something – do something about it.”

For instance, do you want a better job? Don’t squander your time wishing and hoping. Figure out what you need to do to become a more valued worker, how to improve or expand your skills. Discover where your talents are, what you like to do, and take the initiative to find somewhere you can put those abilities to good use.

Do you want a better marriage? Don’t just wish it were better – or even pray that it would be better. Figure out what needs to happen to make it better, how you can become a better partner to your spouse, and if necessary, where to find help in making necessary changes.

Positive thinking definitely trumps negative self-talk, but it only goes so far. The time comes when we need to stop thinking and talking and to start doing. I appreciate what the Bible has to say about this. To follow Jesus isn’t just pondering the so-called “sweet by and by.” In fact, He said not to dwell on the future, but to focus on the present. “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34).

The apostle Paul told members of the early Church that faith in Christ was not an intellectual exercise, but belief and commitment translated into action. “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9). Sounds to me like he was preaching the power of positive doing.

Apparently the apostle James observed among those professing to believe in Jesus a similar tendency, to spend more time contemplating spiritual things than implementing those truths in their daily lives. “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like” (James 1:22-24). Seems silly, doesn’t it?

Hammering home his point, James added this admonition: “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith, but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 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 needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:14-18).

The Bible clearly teaches we can’t work to earn God’s favor. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9). But if our professed faith lacks outward expression – through our actions and behavior – chances are good what we believe might be nothing more than positive thinking.

Through the Spirit of Christ, we can enjoy the power of positive doing.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Believing is Seeing

Sunrise at Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Alan Cash)

The adage tells us, “Seeing is believing.” This particularly applies to our physical world, in which we make observations and draw conclusions based on what we’ve seen. Prior to the initiative and inventiveness of Orville and Wilbur Wright, mankind suspected it might be possible to fly but as every effort failed, it seemed a hope beyond belief. After the Wright brothers demonstrated human beings could in fact travel aloft, albeit for only a short distance at first, others saw, believed and pressed forward to discover what it would require to travel by air.

Of course, some still feel a disconnect between sight and belief. They’ve seen planes in flight, perhaps even close-up at an airport, but refuse to board a jet for fear it will crash. Even though many more people die annually in car crashes, while plane accidents are relatively rare, they’d sooner walk a tightrope than get on a plane. Seeing doesn’t always correlate to believing.

There are times when the antithesis of the adage is also true. A child stands at poolside, looking simultaneously at the water and open arms of a parent who urges, “Jump!” The little girl gazes around, weighing her options, probably thinking, “Daddy, you’re not raising some fool. That water’s deep, and I’m little…. I’m not going to jump.”

Yet after persistent parental pleadings, the toddler casts childlike sense to the wind and, believing in daddy – even though the water still seems threatening – leaps and is captured by her parent’s waiting hands. Believing and trusting in the parent, the girl finally “sees” her father protecting her from the watery depths.

Decades ago C.S. Lewis, one of my favorite writers, and a very astute thinker, made this observation; “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” Lewis – a former atheist – found that believing is seeing.

From a spiritual perspective, this is the conundrum. We’re asked to believe – and trust – in a God we can’t see. From a scientific, empirical sense it’s true – we can’t prove the existence of God. At the same time, neither can you prove scientifically or empirically that God doesn’t exist. The spiritual is not confined or controlled by physical laws. So you can either conclude, “I can’t see God, therefore He (or she, or it) does not exist,” or you can decide even though you can’t see God in physical, quantifiable form, you’ll believe in Him just the same.

Think about it this way: Do you believe in love? Can you prove the existence of love in a scientific way? No, you can’t. You can observe its effects, but you can’t categorically “prove” love – after all, people do “fall out of love,” don’t they? Maybe they weren’t “in love” to begin with; they just liked what they got out of a relationship and when they tired of it or it stopped meeting their needs, decided it wasn’t love after all so it was okay to bail out of it.

In the same way, while God can’t be observed in a test tube, Petri dish, microscope or telescope, we can observe His effects: Compassion shown to people victimized by disease, disaster or tragedy. People who give generously to people, as well as causes, that can offer them absolutely no personal benefit, other than the joy and satisfaction of knowing people have been helped and causes advanced because of their kindness. Individuals giving up lucrative, comfortable careers and lifestyles to immerse themselves in alien cultures with strange languages and unfamiliar customs to assist the less fortunate in the name of Christ.

We all have an inner sense of right and wrong. We admire acts of selflessness and humility. We applaud the “good Samaritans,” so-called because of a biblical parable, who go to great lengths to come to the aid of those in distress. No, we don’t have to believe in God to abide by some moral code, but where do those values come from in the first place?

Years ago I took a step of faith, committing my life to Jesus even though I had no clue what that would mean. As it’s turned out, it has meant much, much more than I could ever have imagined. As I’ve been hoping to share through this blog over the past six years, similar to what Lewis wrote, I believe in Christ as I believe the sun has risen – because by Him, and through Him, I see everything else.

Or as Jesus said even more eloquently, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Free not to do anything I want, but free to progressively become everything He wants me to be.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Not a Matter of Time

We are creatures – and captives – of time. Despite being admonished to “live in the moment,” we have the irresistible habit of gazing back at the past or looking toward the future. We think of things we’ve done or that have happened in terms of “an hour ago,” “yesterday,” “last week,” or years, even centuries ago. Or we make plans for tomorrow, next week, next year, and so on.

“Tempus fugit,” the Latin tells us – time flies. Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to live in the present, because “now” is so fleeting, so…momentary. Here and gone, in the blink of an eye. So it gets little respect.

So we nurture an irrepressible fascination with time. Some people, particularly “older generation” types, feel naked without watches fastened around their wrists. Younger people are more prone to use their smartphones as timepieces. After all, they’re more accurate, right? Either way, we’re stuck in time, governed by clocks and calendars. Whether it’s getting prepared for an upcoming meeting, anticipating what we’ll do Friday night to celebrate the end of another workweek, or planning how we’ll spend an upcoming vacation, time can be our friend – and sometimes our enemy.

So I found it interesting to see this time fixation manifested in a brief Facebook exchange. A friend posted a quote from the end of the last New Testament book, Revelation, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).

Reading this post, someone asked, “Define 'soon.' This was written umpteen thousand years ago!” Frankly, that’s a great question – exactly what did Jesus mean by “soon”? Several verses in Revelation quote Him saying, “I am coming soon” or “the time is near.” This was written nearly 2,000 years ago, so what’s the hold-up?

Numerous other passages make similar declarations. For instance, 1 Thessalonians 5:2 says, “…the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” And 2 Peter 3:10 concurs, declaring almost verbatim, “…the day of the Lord will come like a thief.” But here we are in 2014, many centuries later, so obviously these statements are baloney, right? Slow-moving “thief” maybe?

Years ago a friend advised me the best method for interpreting the Scriptures is by using other Scriptures. I’ve found this excellent counsel. So what does the Bible say about God’s time orientation?

One critical verse is 2 Peter 3:8 which declares, But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.” The next verse adds, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”

To me this states us that, unlike us, God doesn't operate according to timepieces or 12-month calendars. At the same time (no pun intended), this doesn’t mean one 24-hour day to Him is exactly 1,000 years. It’s a metaphorical statement, declaring God operates outside of time and can take as much “time” as desired to accomplish His purposes.

This understanding could apply to the six days of creation – a half-dozen literal, 24-hour days? – as well as Jesus’ imminent return. Not being required to punch a time clock or meet someone else’s deadline, God has the prerogative to take as long as He chooses to get any job done. In the 1980s, the Ford Motor Company operated by the slogan, “Quality is Job 1.” With God, through time and eternity, that has always been His motto. In other words, He simply takes as long as it takes to do it right.

God alone truly has all the time in the world. In fact, He has all the time in the universe! And more than that. Much more.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Day Everything Changed

The day many of us will never forget.

With this post appearing on September 11, it seems right to use it to reflect on that day 13 years ago when it seemed everything changed.

For most of us the morning began quietly enough, but before long we began having one of those “you’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy” moments. We started hearing about a commercial jet slamming into one of the World Trade Center towers. “How does that happen?” we all wondered. When the second jet rammed the other tower, we knew.

As the day unfolded we learned more and more about the causes and effects of those horrendous, unimaginable acts of terrorism, not only in Manhattan but also at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. and in a lonely Pennsylvania field. It became one of those “where were you when…” events, like the assassination of JFK, the passing of Elvis, and the Challenger explosion. It’s interesting how tragic, unexpected deaths create for us mental and emotional markers.

That, of course, was in 2001. We’re now in 2014, and the world we knew then has changed dramatically, irrevocably. From long security lines at airports to the unending wars in the Middle East, from memorials that remain for the thousands who died on that day to the unfortunate profiling of Muslims because of a small minority of deranged terrorists, life is very different today.

It would be nice to conclude we’ve learned some things from that day. Well, we have, but many of those things haven’t been good. Terrorism remains an ever-present threat. Hatred across ethnic, ideological and racial lines persists, perhaps stronger than ever. So far the answer to the question, “Can’t we all just get along?” seems a resounding, “No!”

Some people far more optimistic and idealistic than me continue to espouse the belief humanity is “evolving,” and eventually we’ll become more loving, more accepting, kinder, and more (and I hate this word) “tolerant.” But where’s the proof? Show me the evidence.

More than ever, our nation – and the world – seem encamped at starkly divergent, irreconcilable ideological poles. At this rate, the word “compromise” will probably soon be eradicated from dictionaries due to lack of use. The polarizing influence of news reporting and the dart-throwing of opinions on social media only feed this growing malaise.

Violence in many forms hasn’t abated. If anything it’s escalated, and contrary to what some believe, I don’t think the solution is simply more stringent gun laws. When people are hell-bent on mayhem, if they want guns they’ll find them. And if they can’t get guns, killers will use knives, explosives, hammers, sewing needles, or their bare hands if they need to do so. Didn’t the terrorists at the Boston Marathon use pressure cookers?

Years ago we often heard the declaration, “There are no absolutes!” Many seem to have bought into this philosophy, and now we’re reaping what we’ve sown. In the Old Testament, Judges 21:25 states, In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” Regardless of your view of President Obama, it seems everyone these days is intent on doing as they see fit – what is right in their own eyes.

So where are we, 13 years after the grim, unspeakable events of 9-11? What have we learned – for the better? If we’re determined to insist on “my truth,” as if we find Truth served on a buffet table so we can select whatever appeals to us at the moment, it seems foolish for us to expect any positive change. As someone has said, “If you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything.”

Does that suggest we should despair? Not at all. Despite the events of 9-11, and everything since then, we have the assurance God hasn’t changed one iota. As the Scriptures assure us, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8).

I’m confident God is busily at work, even though He might not be doing things in the way we think they should be done. But that’s why He is God – and we’re not. He doesn’t need our advice. The depth of His love, grace and mercy defy our comprehension.

So as I observe the continuing, escalating turmoil around us, there’s not much in what we see to inspire hope. But then I’m reminded, “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

It also helps to reflect on days when thoughts of God were alien to our minds, and then “remember at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near” (Ephesians 2:12).

So again on September 11 we pause and think about the past. But those that are followers of Jesus Christ can also look ahead, filled with hope and anticipation for the future. Our U.S. currency, to the chagrin of some, still proclaims, “In God We Trust.” Today’s a good day for doing just that.

Monday, September 8, 2014

When You Have Two Flat Tires, Not One

Years ago I was on the interstate driving home after meeting with a friend. Suddenly I heard a loud “boom” and immediately it felt like my car was traveling on a cobblestone road. Quickly pulling to the roadside, I found the right rear tire totally flat. More than flat – shredded. (Have you ever had shredded wheat cereal for breakfast? That’s what the tire looked like.)

One flat tire is troublesome
enough, but two at once?
After replacing the destroyed tire with the spare tire “donut” provided by the manufacturer, I started out, expecting to complete my return trip. But the car began shuddering as much as before. So I again steered off the road and discovered the right front tire also in shreds. What? Flat tires are common, but how often do two go flat simultaneously? I hadn’t seen anything in the road, but something large and very sharp must have cut both tires severely.

Nothing like turning a smooth, carefree ride back to the office into chaos. It gave whole new meaning to the term, “tire-less worker.”

Since vehicles don’t come with two donuts, I called a wrecker service to haul my car to the next exit and find someplace to replace both tires. My unexpected travel dilemma required not one solution, but two.

I was reminded of this experience recently by my friend, Randy Nabors. In his own blog post entitled, “Sometimes A Car Has More Than One Flat Tire,” he comments on circumstances surrounding the shooting and subsequent protests in Ferguson, Mo. I’ll not get into what Randy has to say, but it’s insightful. If you’d like to read it, here’s the link:

Applying this observation in a broader sense, life’s problems often have multiple facets that can’t be resolved in one easy step. Poverty is one example. Some people insist the solution is simply raising the minimum wage. Increase hourly pay a few dollars, problem solved. Nice theory.

This certainly would provide relief, at least for some, but issues surrounding the poor – and poverty in general – are numerous, complex, and often multi-generational. Deeply rooted problems stemming from poor education, declining parental influence, lack of preparation and training for jobs, even a lack of positive role models, individuals who’ve risen above impoverished circumstances to provide hope and inspiration for others. Simply boosting hourly pay rates could help, but as a long-range answer it would be like applying a Band-Aid to a cancerous growth.

The “sometimes there’s more than one flat tire” principle applies to many pressing issues facing our society and the world today: Health care, escalating violence, energy concerns, war, disease, equal opportunity, economic disparity, bigotry, and others. In the home, resolving marital strife, the challenge of raising and guiding children to become productive adults, addressing financial problems, and other problems also can often seem like incurring multiple flat tires on a car at the same time.

So what should we do, individually and as a people? Shrug our shoulders and declare the problems are too many, too complicated, so everyone should just look out for themselves? This seems to be the attitude of some, but we know it’s not the right response. And while the easy, quick fix often can’t eradicate deeply rooted problems, any attempt to provide help is better than no efforts to offer assistance.

James 4:17 states, Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” So we have a responsibility to do what we can. To recognize a problem, but choose to do nothing when we have the capacity to help in some way, is sinful and abhorrent to God, according to the Bible.

At the same time, isolated attempts to address problems, without the concerted efforts and contributions of other able-bodied and resourced people, usually amount to the proverbial “drop in the bucket.” For persistent problems defying the quick-fix, the book of James offers more advice: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).

Knowledge is good and important. But it requires wisdom to determine how best to sift through the vast storehouse of knowledge available and discern how best to apply it, aiming to solve or at least alleviate problems rather than intensify and prolong them.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Hidden Behind the Dark

Journalists are always hunting for new ideas and inspiration. Among my favorite sources are cartoons in the daily comic section of the newspaper. Sometimes the simplest humor can reveal very profound truth.

A recent example was in the cartoon, “Family Circus,” created by Bil Keane and now written and illustrated by his son, Jeff. Little Dolly looks out the window to the nighttime sky and tells her infant brother, “The sun is there, PJ. You just can’t see it ‘cause it’s behind all the dark.”

We know this to be true for the natural world. Even when it’s dark, the sun hasn’t gone away. The earth has rotated, so the sun's out of view but remains where it always has been. We’ve moved, but it hasn’t. Wait a while and the sun will appear again, where it was all the time.

The same is true of spiritually. Sometimes circumstances of our lives grow dark, due to illness, tragedy, hardships of many kinds. It seems like God has disappeared, left the building like Elvis, flown the coop. He hasn’t; He’s still there. But in our personal darkness, overwhelmed by pain, grief, fear or confusion, we can’t find Him. God seems to be “behind all the dark.”

We’ve all experienced the darkness in one way or another. It’s frightening, perplexing, disheartening. God is good, God is love, right? Then why does He allow it to hurt so much? I’ve had friends whose difficulties have dwarfed my own: the passing of a grandmother and two of her grandchildren in a tragic accident; parents enduring the mournful experience of burying their adult children; friends forced to declare bankruptcy due to circumstances beyond their control.

What do we do at such times when God seems “behind all the dark”? Countless books have been written on this subject from many perspectives, and I won’t be so foolish as to attempt to address the question in a few hundred words. Except to say that just as we have full confidence that after a long, dark night the sun will reappear, we who follow Jesus Christ also have the assurance He will re-emerge from the dark to illuminate our way.

I couldn’t begin to quote all the biblical passages that promise this, but I’ll cite a couple of my favorites. Psalm 84:11-12 declares, “the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk (in Christ) is blameless. O Lord almighty, blessed is the man who trusts in you.”

Another passage talks about our capacity – through the power of Christ – to accomplish things we can’t do in our own strength. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8).

Just as the sun rises each morning, dispelling the thick darkness of the preceding night, Jesus comes to cast away the darkness of oppressive circumstances that can envelop us. This is true not only for the moment, but also for eternity to come: “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp” (Revelation 21:23).

If you find yourself in the midst of a difficult, dark time, remember – the Son is there, behind the dark. Just keep watching.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Laboring for the Right Things

Our Chihuahua-terrier mix, Molly, "working like a dog."

Since I write my blog posts a couple weeks in advance, I’m now thinking about Labor Day since that’s when this will appear. For some reason the words to the Beatles’ tune, “A Hard Day’s Night,” come to mind: “It’s been a hard day’s night, and I’ve been working like a dog…. I should be sleeping like a log.”

Actually, having a dog, the phrase “working like a dog” doesn’t compute well for me. Our Chihuahua-terrier mix is 16 years old and sleeps about 23½ hours a day now. She’s the one that’s sleeping like a log. I suppose when the “working like a dog” cliché originated, it was in reference to shepherd dogs energetically herding sheep, St. Bernards faithfully searching for lost skiers, or German Shepherds or Doberman Pinchers trained for war or law enforcement.

Or her preferred activity, sleeping like a log.
But often we hear people complaining of “working like a dog,” whether they’ve actually observed a dog at work or not. In any case, it’s clear that’s not a good way to be working. I’ve always figured if you really feel you’re working like a dog, you should investigate another line of work.

I’m fortunate to have found myself in a profession that, while it’s required hard work and long hours, has been extremely rewarding and fulfilling. I started as a newspaper editor for a community newspaper, being an editorial staff of one. Then I worked on other newspapers, before becoming a magazine editor, followed by opportunities to write freelance articles, author and edit books, and even do a weekly email workplace meditation that’s sent around the world and translated in more than 20 different languages.

This work has been demanding, sometimes tedious, often stressful, but I’ve never felt as if I were “working like a dog.” (Actually, since dogs can’t write, the analogy doesn’t seem to fit anyway. I have written about dogs on occasion.)

So as we celebrate Labor Day, it would be nice if everyone could find work that not only paid the bills, but they also found enjoyable. Something about which to feel enthused and passionate. For some that’s a fantasy, an impossible dream. But it’s still something worth aspiring to.

At the same time, there’s another kind of work worthy of consideration, work with results that will endure past the next deadline and won’t have to be revised or redone when the boss says so. It’s work that will last forever.

Jesus described this in John 6:27 when He said, “Do not work for the food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” Then He added, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” This doesn’t mean simple intellectual assent, but transforming faith, since anyone that has truly met Jesus Christ can never be the same.

We invest our working hours to earn money to buy food that will consumed and immediately forgotten. That’s necessary, of course. But sometimes we keep fruit, milk, vegetables and bread too long and have to throw them away. There’s nothing quite like the fragrant aroma of rotten eggs or spoiled potatoes, right?

So we’re to work for “food that endures to eternal life” – what’s that? This has a number of meanings and applications, but one thing for certain: Jesus was discouraging us from devoting 100% attention to the pursuit of position, prestige and promotions, or material targets like houses, cars and toys, things we have one day and can easily lose the next.

That’s why Christ also said, “Do not store 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).

Are the activities you’re engaged in – your work, as well as hobbies and pastimes, everything that consumes your time and energy – things that will enhance your life and the lives of others not just for today, but for eternity? If so, that’s noble, worthwhile work. Stuff of which legacies are made.