Monday, June 29, 2015

Not THE Root . . . But Definitely A Root of Evil

“I’ve been rich, and I’ve been poor – and I’m here to tell you, bein’ rich is much better.” No, I didn’t say that. I’ve never been rich – in a savings account or stock portfolio kind of way. Although I would say I’ve been rich, and still am, in ways that don’t show up on a bank statement.

But honestly, while money can’t buy everything, it can buy lots of things. And if you don’t have money, you have little choice but to do without things you’d like to have. Not having money can present real problems. So why do some people say, “Money is the root of all evil”?

This image which has been circulating the Internet
makes a creative statement, but isn't quite accurate.
If you answered, “Because that’s what it says in the Bible,” cue the buzzer: BUZZZ! You’re wrong. Similar to sayings like “Cleanliness is next to godliness” and “God helps those that help themselves,” this oft-used quotation doesn’t appear in the Bible. Not quite.

The Scriptures do declare, For the love of money is a root of many kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). There are numerous other “roots” of evil, sometimes related to money and sometimes not – jealousy, envy, anger, laziness, lust, gluttony, and more. All of them, as C.S. Lewis observed, are anchored in what he considered the ultimate sin, pride.

That being said, it’s amazing how much evil the act of loving money can stir up. There’s greed, leading to conclusions such as “too much is never enough,” as well as answering the question, “How much is enough?” with, “Just a little bit more!”

There’s selfishness, the unwillingness to share one’s abundance with others for fear economic collapse or global catastrophe or unexpected personal setback could transform that abundance into a shortage. So, the miserly rationalize, it’s better to keep a tight grip on what you’ve got and let other people find theirs somewhere else.

How about unbridled ambition? The quest for a bigger paycheck can motivate people to accept work less fulfilling than their previous jobs or turn them into Peter Principle participants, putting them in job roles beyond their levels of competence and capacity. We sometimes do nonsensical things while grasping for more money.

Then we have the unholy alliance of lust and envy, wanting the latest and greatest high-tech device, a newer car with more awesome accessories, or a bigger, showier house. Not because we need them, but because someone else has them and we feel equally deserving – or just want to keep pace.

In mentoring men over the years, I’ve found they will speak freely on virtually any topic. Except money. When financial issues come up, more often than not they clam up. “My money is none of your business” is their implied message.

Money issues, more than any other cause, are blamed for divorces, with the stress of bills and overreaching lifestyles proving more than the bonds of marriage can endure. And when financial obligations mount, to the point where resolution seems hopeless, desperate decisions can be made, ranging from gambling to high-risk loans.

So no, money really isn’t the root of ALL evil. But it’s often involved in many of its forms. Jesus spoke frequently about money and financial issues, not because it consumed His thoughts but because He understood how devastating money’s temptations and abuses can become. He devoted a substantial portion of His so-called Sermon on the Mount to the subject.

For instance, Jesus warned against unhealthy preoccupation with riches. “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 6:21-24).

Even charitable giving, according to Jesus, can be tainted by wrong motives. We might wish to be recognized for our “generosity,” and even feel annoyed if it’s not sufficiently acknowledged. “Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men…. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:1-4).

As for our own daily needs, which usually require money to obtain, Jesus again urged His followers not to let that become their focus. Closing out a lengthy discourse on the topic, He said, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear/’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matthew 6:31-33).

The Bible doesn’t denounce money, or condemn people that have it. But in hundreds of passages it emphasizes it can indeed become the root of many kinds of evil. It has a diabolical tendency to become an idol, even a god unto itself.

And when God declared, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3), He was including the almighty dollar, peso, pound, Euro, and any other form money takes around the world. The old saying advises, “Buyer beware.” It’s also wise to be wary of what you’re using to buy things with.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

It's Not Rare to Err - Or to Cover It Up

Have you seen one of those sitcom episodes where one of the main characters does something careless or foolish, but instead of ‘fessin’ up to it, proceeds to lie about it instead? That falsehood leads to another, then another, until the magnitude of the original issue is dwarfed by the dilemma it has grown into. The deception becomes far worse than the original deed.

“Why didn’t they just admit what they did in the first place?” we wonder, caught up as viewers in the fictitious circumstances. “They turned a little molehill into a mountain.” Of course, if they had addressed the situation when it occurred, it would have spoiled the TV comedy’s storyline. But sometimes we do the same thing in real life and often, unlike the sitcoms, the end result isn’t funny-ha-ha.

Walt Disney's Pinocchio, and
pal, Jiminy Cricket, are icons
for the perils of dishonesty.
And yet, “To err is human,” right? We’ve all heard somebody say that. You’ve probably said it yourself. And it’s true – nobody’s perfect. In fact, some people seem determined to turn their imperfections into a fine art. Everyone makes mistakes, so what’s the big deal?

Well, just as to err is human, so it seems the practice of trying to cover it up is, too. Think Adam and Eve and the proverbial fig leaves. Politics and politicians have provided us with countless glowing examples – consider Watergate, Monica Lewinsky, Iran-Contra, or Benghazi just for starters. Then there are scandals in business, the entertainment world, manufacturing, the sciences, education, and sadly, even in the realm of religion. For all segments of society, cover-ups are common.

Rather than stepping up immediately and admitting what was done – or not done – for whatever reason we have a tendency to try and sweep it under the rug, so to speak. (Not easy to do these days, especially if you only have hardwood floors!)

Not long ago I came across an interesting quote by somebody named Dan Heist that fits here: “When you realize you’ve made a mistake, make amends immediately. It’s easier to eat crow while it’s still warm.” Crow doesn’t sound appetizing at any temperature, but his advice has a lot of merit. Why complicate our deceptions?

Sometimes, however, admitting to our errors is difficult. Maybe it’s a matter of pride, reluctance to concede we’ve made a mistake. Or we fear the repercussions, so we unwisely choose to conceal the truth, hoping it will never be exposed so no one will ever know the difference. The problem is, if and when the truth does materialize – as is typically the case, sooner or later – consequences are generally compounded.

This is one reason the Bible places such a high premium on honesty, even including it among the Ten Commandments: “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16). This commandment not only tells us what we shouldn’t do – to be dishonest, deceptive or to conceal the facts – but also instructs us to be truthful and forthright in our dealings with others.

In Proverbs, we read repeatedly how costly it can be to be dishonest about our mistakes and wrongdoing. For instance, “A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who pours out lies will not go free” (Proverbs 19:5).

The value of integrity shouldn’t be underestimated, we’re told. “The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out” (Proverbs 10:9). Being willing to admit our mistakes is like driving on a smoothly paved highway, while deception gives a “ride” more like a bumpy, hole-filled country road: “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity” (Proverbs 11:3).

In numerous other passages the Bible addresses honesty, dishonesty and integrity, but one verse in particular uses interesting imagery to applaud the virtues of being truthful in all of our dealings: “An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips” (Proverbs 24:26).

To err definitely is human, just as it is human to sin – to miss the mark of God’s perfect standard. But as we strive to do better, the best approach is at least to be honest about when we fall short, even if it’s uncomfortable or painful. As Heist observed, if you’re going to have to eat crow, it’s best to do so while it’s still warm. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Ya Gotta Have a Plan!

As someone wise first observed, the road to failure – and lots of other bad places – is paved with good intentions. We have a worthwhile idea, fully intend to get around to it someday, but when “someday” arrives, we haven’t done anything.

The problem is, intentions without well-conceived plans – plans subsequently executed – are like clouds that one moment look white and fluffy, then dissipate moments later. Intentions are good. They serve as seeds for future endeavors, whether it’s learning a foreign language, acquiring skills to find a better job, deciding to take up a musical instrument, losing weight, improving a relationship, or growing closer to God.

Plans, without action, are
little more than good intentions.
But intentions are like the starting line of a race. They won’t get you to the finish line until they are activated with a specific plan in mind. Brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright are known as “the fathers of powered flight,” but it’s likely other people had similar ideas. They might even have intended to invent something to bring their ideas into reality. But the Wright brothers were the ones that did it, devising very specific plans and performing the hard work to carry out the plans.

The world’s greatest musicians, business leaders, surgeons, statesmen, writers, designers all started with a dream. But it didn’t stop there. The idea conceived was birthed through careful, intentional planning that spurred them on to action.

When you woke up this morning, did you have in mind something you intended to do? Have you done it yet? Have you taken even the first step toward getting it done? If not – why not?

There are many principles and philosophies that guide successful enterprises, but often they can be reduced to three simple questions: Where are we going? How are we going to get there? How will we know when we’ve arrived?

In other words, goals and objectives are of little value without plans in place for pursuing and achieving them. This is true not only for the business and professional world, but also for every other facet of living.

Let’s say you’re concerned about your physical conditioning and want to make improvements. Buying exercise videos or joining a fitness club might fortify your intentions, but unless you start putting those to use on a consistent basis – not once every week or three – your intentions will remain nothing more than wishful thinking. The attitude, “I love exercise. I can watch other people doing it for hours,” won’t tone your muscles or shed unwanted pounds.

What about something even more important, like spiritual growth? After all, the Bible observes, For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8). Again, many of us have wonderful intentions. We’d like to become wise, godly individuals, people that others would recognize as having a close walk with God. But intentions alone won’t get us there.

So we need a plan. And it’s not something another person can devise for us. We’re all uniquely, “fearfully and wonderfully made,” as Psalm 139:14 reminds us. God has a special, distinct plan for each of us, so what works for me might not work as well for you.

But in every case it should start with striving to know the Lord, and there’s no better way of doing that than spending time in His Word, where He reveals Himself as well as His commandments, laws and principles for everyday life.

After Joshua succeeded Moses in leading the Israelites, God told him, “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (Joshua 1:8).

Psalm 119, all 176 verses of it (by far the longest chapter in the Bible), repeatedly underscores the importance and value of knowing and following the teachings of Scripture. The psalmist states it plainly in writing about God, ”How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to Your word…. I have hidden Your word in my heart that I might not sin against You” (Psalm 119:9,11).

However, there’s more to it than simply knowing what the Bible says. It also involves using it to formulate a plan for putting intentions into action. As the apostle Paul exhorted followers of Jesus in the city of Philippi, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9).

And he wrote to his young protégé, Timothy, “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 3:16-17).

So if our desire is to know God and live fruitfully for Him, we need to move those intentions into a solid, workable plan, built on the foundation of His Word. Then, drawing from the wisdom and insight He gives us, we need to find answers to the three simple questions: When am I going? How am I going to get there? And how will I know when I’ve arrived?

Devise a plan that works – and work your plan.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Being Sapped By the Apps

My first computer was a Macintosh 512K, given to me in 1985 by a kind friend who was an Apple dealer. He figured it was about time for me to become liberated from my electric typewriter and enter the new and exciting world of word processing. He was right. Even in its primitive state, the 512K changed my life in many ways.

If you’re old enough to remember, the 512K was a slower-than-molasses machine with a tiny black-and-white screen that could hide in a corner of my present iMac monitor. Only at the time, we didn’t know it was slower than molasses. We just figured snail’s pace was how desktop computers were supposed to operate.

I remember writing for a few minutes and – having learned the hard way about the necessity of periodically saving the work you’d done – selecting “Save” from the menu. (We used to quip that Jesus wasn’t the only one that saves.) The computer would grind away, as if trying to figure out what to do with the data – sentences and paragraphs I’d just keyed in. It took so long I’d pray that the power wouldn’t go out before my eloquent words could be preserved.

Apps can sap the energy on our smartphones,
tablets - and in our minds.
Fast-forward to today, when computers of all kinds, including smartphones, possess far more power and capacity than room-sized computers did back in the “olden days.” Even applications – we know them as “apps” – offer possibilities for work, entertainment, information and efficiency that seemed inconceivable just a few decades ago. Ah, the wonders of technology!

Of course, as with many things, there are drawbacks. One is that apps can provide instant access to almost anything we want or need, but also can drain the power from our rechargeable devices. It took a while to realize that unless I fully closed out an app, it would continue running in the background, draining power from the battery. I couldn’t just bounce from app to app if I wanted to continue using my iPad or iPhone for an extended time without having to recharge it. Now I consistently close apps not in use. Beware of being sapped by the apps!

A similar principle affects the “computers” between our ears. We have “apps” – apprehensions, anxieties, worries and fears – that all can sap us emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. They too can “run in the background,” plaguing our subconscious even as we’re trying to concentrate on other matters.

Some time ago a personal issue arose that wasn’t going to be resolved quickly. I spent much of the day attempting to work as usual, but felt like I was running in place, expending a lot of energy but not going anywhere. Then it occurred to me – my “apps” of apprehension and worry were humming in the back of my mind, depleting my mental resources.

What do we do at times like that? Fretting over circumstances might not be very productive, but often it feels like we’re doing something about the problem, even if it’s just worrying. But there’s a better solution.

We can do as the apostle Paul urged: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer 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” (Philippians 4:6-7). We often say we’re trusting God to handle the various trials we encounter, but are we refusing to close out our “apps,” allowing our worries and fears to wear us down?

The apostle Peter expressed similar thoughts when he wrote, “Casting all your anxiety on him (Jesus) because he cares for you.” Then he warned: “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith…” (1 Peter 5:7-9).

So we can let apprehensions and concerns consume us, sapping our spirits as we let them flourish in our subconscious minds. Or by faith we can turn them over to God, believing – and acting upon the belief – that He is more than able to handle whatever challenges we face.

Admittedly, that’s easier to say than to do. But it’s the only way we can truly experience “the peace that passes all understanding” we’re promised, if only we’ll accept it.

Monday, June 15, 2015

What Does Loving Your Neighbor Look Like?

As citizens of this post-modern America, with fewer people holding the Bible in high regard or expressing confidence in what it says, we still often hear references to its teachings. One of those we most commonly hear is about “loving your neighbor.”

This principle has become a bit of a cliché, unfortunately, its meaning reduced to being understood essentially as blindly accepting, even condoning, what other people do – no matter what. After all, “judge not lest you be judged,” right? (Another overused, even misused biblical truth that’s taken on cliché status.)

If it were raining and you saw someone's car door
had been left open, what would you do?
But when Jesus stated, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39 and Mark 12:31), what did He really mean? In another passage, He elaborated on this somewhat, saying, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). Again we need to ask, however, what does this look like? How are we to live this out?

Shouldn’t this mean a lot more than merely adopting a live-and-let live, “I’m OK, you’re OK” outlook on life?

This came to mind – appropriately I suppose – one Sunday morning as I was pulling into our church parking lot. Guiding my car into a vacant spot, I noticed one of the sliding side doors of the minivan parked nearby was open and the headlights were on. My first thought was that the owner was behind the vehicle out of sight. But after a few moments I saw no movement.

Someone walked past the minivan, glancing at it before he continued toward the church building. I got out of my car, grabbed my stuff and started to do the same. “Hey, it’s not my problem. If someone’s foolish enough not to close up their car, that’s no business of mine,” was the thought that admittedly breezed through my mind.

Then I stopped. “What if that were me? What if, for whatever reason, I was in a rush or distracted and failed to close up my car? Would I appreciate someone bothering to do it for me, even though it’s not their problem?”

So I retraced my steps, looked briefly into the minivan and saw some kids’ stuff strewn around, but not a person in sight. It took me all of about five seconds to push the button to close the side door and reach in the driver’s side to turn off the headlights, which apparently didn’t have automatic shut-off.

Since it had rained earlier that morning, perhaps a single mom had been trying to herd her children into the building without getting drenched, leaving the door open and the lights on. Or maybe it was a young couple with as many little kids as they had arms, forgetting details like doors and headlights. I’ll never know, because when I got back to my car an hour later, the minivan was gone.

This isn’t to commend my actions because after all, I briefly thought about ignoring the situation. But if circumstances had been reversed and I had been the one whose car door was left open and headlights still burning, I would have wanted someone else – even a stranger – to be kind enough to correct my oversight.

Seems to me, that’s what loving your neighbor is about.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Joy in Knowing Victory’s Already Won

For Ohio State fans, watch a replay of the Buckeyes' College Football
Championship victory is far less stressful than it was watching it live.

“I can’t stand the suspense!” How many times have you heard that? How many times have you said that yourself?

We do this with page-turning novels that keep us guessing until the last paragraph. Movie thrillers keep us squirming in our seats, wondering how the good guys are going to prevail. And season finale cliff-hangers on TV sometimes ratchet our suspense to extremes.

But this matter of suspense isn’t limited to the make-believe world. It’s a big deal in real life, too. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could be certain of the outcome for things important to us, and could know well in advance? It sure would save us a lot of anxiety, stress and worry, don’t you think?

For instance, how would you feel if your favorite team was playing in the championship game and someone were able to provide an ironclad, no-doubt-about-it guarantee that they would win the contest? (For the sake of discussion, let’s just assume this assurance was on the up-and-up. No game-fixing.) How do you think that would affect your tension level as the game unfolded?

Or maybe you’re one of those rabid fans – as I am – that records the game while watching it live, so if your team wins you can replay it and revel in the victory again. After the game, when you know the outcome, doesn’t that enable you to relax and enjoy it more the second time around? No need for gnashing teeth every time your team makes a mistake or the other team scores. Victory is certain!

Consider a different scenario: You’ve just been diagnosed with a very serious disease and the first physician you consult with offers a dire prognosis. But then you pursue the oft-recommended second opinion and the specialist, upon reviewing your test results, assures you the outlook is far more hopeful than you’d been told. In fact, the doctor advises you not to worry at all, that you’ll undoubtedly be cured; the earlier diagnosis was incorrect. How would you feel then? You might be angry about the first evaluation, and a bit concerned about the course of treatment, but with faith in the medical expert’s promise, you’d feel confident that after going through it you would be good to go.

How about a friend or loved one going through an extremely difficult time, leaving you feeling helpless. Wouldn’t it be great at such times if someone could tell you with unwavering certainty, “It’s going to be OK. I promise”?

Unfortunately, living in a sin-scarred, broken world, the fairy tale endings of “happily ever after” don’t always translate into everyday life. And yet, as we read the Bible, we find God does offer assurances and guarantees, even for the toughest circumstances.

Speaking through the prophet Jeremiah to His chosen people, God stated, “For I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). Although addressed specifically to the nation of Israel, this is a declaration He makes for all of His children. The end result, the Lord promises, will be a good one.

Knowing His crucifixion was looming in the near future, Jesus offered similar assurances to His followers when He said, “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have (perfect) peace and confidence. In the world you have tribulation and trials and distress and frustration; but be of good cheer (take courage; be confident, certain, undaunted)! For I have overcome the world. (I have deprived it of power to harm you and have conquered it for you.)” – John 16:33 (Amplified translation).

Confronting not only our personal problems but also frightening events in the world around us, it’s easy to despair and lose heart. But we don’t have to - we can trust in the “guarantee” God provides, being reassured as Jesus said, “I have overcome the world.” That’s what “victory in Jesus” is all about.

Monday, June 8, 2015

To Whom Much Is Given…

We hear a lot these days about the “1 percenters,” individuals and families that purportedly earn and possess wealth in amounts greater than 99 percent of the rest of the population. Without intending to get into a political discourse on this topic, I couldn’t help but wonder – just who are these “one percent”? What are the qualifications for entering such an exclusive, elite assembly of affluence?

These questions are relevant because chances are you and I don’t belong in this group. Instead, we’re firmly entrenched somewhere in “the lower 99 percent.”

These ancient coins are similar to those used by the
woman giving the so-called "widow's mite." She also
was a member of the "one percent" - but in her case,
the bottom one percent.
According to various descriptions, the one percent consist of people with median annual household incomes of $750,000, and median assets of $7.5 million. There are an estimated 1.2 million of them across the country. So, do you qualify? Are you ready to apply for your “one percent” ID card? I’m certain in this case membership does have its privileges.

Before proceeding to my main point, I have one observation: When we hear pundits in the national media and outspoken politicians railing against the "one percent," as well as noted entertainers and even some pro athletes, it’s helpful to realize most of them are well-established members of the "one percent" themselves.

Top news anchors, happy-faced hosts of network morning news shows, nighttime talk show stars – and even many leading national politicians on both sides of the aisle – have amassed net worths into the seven and eight figures, and in some cases, well beyond that. You know the stars from TV and the movies we enjoy so much, strolling those red carpets? Yup, many of them are “closet one-percenters.” So when we hear high-sounding criticisms of the up-and-outers, consider the sources.

But as I’ve already stated, most of us don’t dwell in the highest realms of personal finances – and never expect to be. So does that authorize us to look down (or perhaps, up) our noses in disdain, condemning the rich and famous for their greed and seemingly selfish, lofty lifestyles?

It’s true that Jesus told His followers, From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more(Luke 12:48). But just as we may ponder what comprises “one percent” status, exactly how do we define “much”?

Years ago Ronald Blue, financial advisor to many wealthy people, recalled a comment by a world-renowned affluent industrialist who was asked, “How much is enough?” The business magnate without a blink or hesitation replied, “Just a little bit more.” So it seems that regardless of how vastly resourced one might be, “much” can be seen as just a bit more than what you’ve got.

We can mutter and complain about the one percent that we perceive as accumulating too much at the expense of others. But as Jesus told one of His disciples in an admittedly different context, “…what is that to you? You must follow Me” (John 21:22).

While we may point to the seeming injustice, we’re not responsible for how others use or misuse their resources. But we are fully responsible for the resources God has seen fit to give to us. In fact, He’s telling us that if we’d like to have more to share with others, it would be best to start by being generous in sharing from what we already have.

Speaking of our responsibilities before God as stewards of what He provides, Jesus said, He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much” (Luke 16:10). As I’ve pondered this statement, Jesus seems to be assuring us that if we’re faithful to properly use what He’s entrusted to us, we can expect to be entrusted with more – to use in a similar manner. At the same time, He’s also saying if we’re not faithful in the use of what He’s given, why should we expect to receive more?

Another time Jesus observed a poor woman in an act that’s served as a glowing example of selfless generosity. “As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow putting in two very small copper coins. ‘I tell you the truth,’ he said, ‘this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on’” (Luke 21:1-4).

Sure, we can all look at others and conclude, “They could be doing more.” Maybe a lot more. But the question confronting us is not how much others are giving. The question is, how much are we giving? What are we doing to enhance the well-being of others, whether in terms of money, time, or the unique gifts and talents God has entrusted to us?

Hopefully the wildly affluent – those inhabiting the select one-percent income class – will determine to give more freely to help others, especially those saddled with heavy economic burdens they can’t seem to escape. Ideally, without the force of government legislation. In the meantime, we’d each be wise to honestly assess what we’re doing to assist others.

It could involve giving more to worthwhile charitable causes. It might mean finding someone in your church or your neighborhood that could use some kind of help. Or it may just mean giving an extra big tip for the hard-working server at the restaurant, rather than settling for the bare minimum. If we all willingly did our part, who knows how many millions could benefit – even if the “one percent” chose to do nothing more than they’re doing right now?

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Tense About the Past, or Thinking Future Tense?

Like it or not, we’re creatures – and captives – of time. We live in the present, one moment at a time, but can choose either to dwell on the past or anticipate and plan for the future. Where we focus our attention makes a great difference.

Setting sail toward the future is
far more productive than
sitting still on the beach.
As a friend of mine has observed, "You can't bring back the past, but you can make the best of the future." Entrepreneurs understand this well. Rather than taking the safe route of working for someone else and receiving a certain paycheck, entrepreneurs risk failure – and sometimes experience it – while pursuing their dreams. The secret is not allowing the memories of those failures to preoccupy their thoughts.

Inventors realize this, too. Think of Thomas Edison and the incandescent light bulb. Those that dreamed up the “horseless carriage.” Or the person whose brainchild was a nifty device called Velcro. They certainly encountered failure repeatedly before stumbling on the needed solutions, but didn’t let the past become a repressive enemy. Instead, it became a springboard for their success.

It’s often been said that the only true failure is failing to learn from the past. Not learning from the past in many cases destines us to repeat it. The past can be a great teacher, but it makes a poor constant companion.

Some of us find ourselves paralyzed by “woulda,” “shoulda,” and “coulda.” You know: “I wish I woulda done something different.” “I shoulda chosen that instead.” “If only I coulda had another opportunity.” All three focus on the undoable past rather than the yet-to-be-determined future.

Without question, we all have moments or even seasons of our lives we regret, but until someone discovers how to build a time machine, there’s nothing we can do to undo what’s done. And even with a time machine, some theorize, to change anything in the past could very well rend asunder the fabric of time. So instead, concentrating on the promising future is a brighter, healthier perspective.

The apostle Paul embraced this reality. If anyone did, Paul had much about which to feel remorseful – leading the persecution of followers of Jesus; being a passive participant in the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr; arrogantly opposing all who embraced the teachings of Christ and believed Him to be God in the flesh.

But then, after a dramatic encounter with Jesus through a vision on the road to Damascus, Paul became one of His most ardent disciples. He could have dwelt on his vicious and tragic past, but after experiencing the grace and mercy of Christ, rightly chose instead to give his complete attention to the future, serving his Savior and Lord with unparalleled zeal.

Writing to believers in Philippi, Paul said, Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

His determination not to let a regrettable past master him, but rather to keep the future foremost in his mind, was underscored when Paul wrote, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes through strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

That should serve as an example for us all. Are you haunted by failed relationships, unrealized hopes and dreams, regrettable words and actions? Let the past rest in the grave of history. 

Keep our eyes on the prize, resolved to faithfully serve and represent the God we worship. Moving toward the future, rather than constantly gazing what’s gone on before, is a safer and healthier way of proceeding through this life.

Monday, June 1, 2015

A Tale of Two Babies

“If it can’t be tested and studied and proved, it must not be real.” This is a common mantra of those who choose not to believe in God, or a life beyond this one. It’s true we cannot prove the existence of God empirically, but neither can one disprove His existence. In our material world there is no methodology for quantifying the spiritual.

“There is no evidence,” the atheist declares. “It’s fable, fantasies, foolishness, fiction, fairy tales!” (Notice the convenient use of “f” words?) The non-believer insists what can’t be seen, touched, heard, observed or measured can’t exist. Only things tangible and testable are real, they contend. Thus, we must bow with unquestioning obedience to the scientific method. On the other hand, devout followers of Christ are as certain of His existence as they are of leaves on a tree, the rising and setting sun, or a mother bird hovering over a nest containing her newly hatched babies.

This unborn infant, at the end of its first trimester,
cannot imagine what lies six months hence.
Recently I came across a little allegory that addresses this seeming conundrum, this “faith vs. fact” conflict. I don’t know the original source, so apologies for not giving credit where it’s due, but this little story is worth repeating. You could say it’s “from the mouths of babes”:

In a mother’s womb were two babies. One asked the other, “Do you believe in life after delivery?” The other replied, “Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.”

“Nonsense,” said the first. “There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?” The second answered, “I don’t know, but there will be more light than here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can’t understand now.”

The first responded, “That is absurd. Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. But the umbilical cord is so short. Life after delivery isn’t logical.”
 The second insisted, “Well I think there is something and maybe it’s different than it is here. Maybe we won’t need this physical cord anymore.”

Indignant, the first baby replied, “Nonsense. And moreover, if there is life, then why has no one ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere.”
 "Well, I don’t know about that,” said the second, “but certainly we will meet Mother and she will take care of us.”

To this the first reacted, “Mother? You actually believe in Mother? That’s laughable. If Mother exists, then where is She now?”
 The second said, “She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of Her. It is in Her that we live. Without Her this world would not and could not exist.”

The first womb-mate sniffed, “Well I don’t see Her, so it is only logical to conclude that She doesn’t exist.”
 To which the second replied, “Sometimes, when you’re in silence and you focus and really listen, you can perceive Her presence, and can hear Her loving voice, calling down from above.”

Jesus, nearing the end of His earthly ministry, was interacting with His listeners: "’Do you hear what these children are saying?’ they asked him. ’Yes,’ replied Jesus, ‘have you never read, '’From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise?”’" (Matthew 21:16).

The Scriptures also assure that what the future holds for His followers is something far beyond human imagining. “As it is written, “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived" -- the things God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). The prophet Isaiah added, “Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him”  (Isaiah 64:4).

Some might say, “Sorry, but I just can’t see it.” The good news is we don’t have to – but one day we will.