Thursday, November 30, 2017

Most Amazing Fact in the Bible

The Bible, the best-selling book ever, has been translated in entirety into more than 635 languages. The New Testament has been translated into more than 1,440 languages. The Bible is comprised of 66 separate “books” – 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament – with nearly 3,000 languages having at least one of those books. But these statistics pale in comparison to the astonishing array of facts, truths, teachings and principles presented in the Bible, all believed to have been written and compiled under the inspiration of God.

With that in mind, if someone were to ask, “What’s the most amazing fact in the Bible?” how would you respond?

One might be tempted to reply, “Where do I start? There are so many things that we could cite.” But recently, reading a book about the early history of CBMC – a ministry to business and professional men – I came across a statement that caused me to nod in agreement, “Yes, that is the most amazing fact in the Bible.” What is it? I won’t keep you in suspense for long.

In the book was the story of Waldo Yeager of Toledo, Ohio, one of CBMC’s early leaders. He had written a gospel tract called “Life’s Most Amazing Fact,” and was explaining to another leader in his city what that “fact” was.

Yeager proceeded to acknowledge that in their community he would have been widely considered “a good sort of fellow, an average businessman at least, a good husband and father. But people don’t really know me. My wife and my two boys know me a little better than you do, and they are quite charitable with me…. But you know, even they don’t really know me.”

Then he concluded, “There’s only one Person who really does know me, and that’s God Himself. He knows all about me, my weaknesses, the myriad things I would not dare to expose, even to my own family. Yes, He knows all about me, and here’s the amazing fact – He still loves me!”

That, in the proverbial nutshell, is the most amazing fact in the Bible. God, the holy, all-knowing, omnipresent deity that many of us worship, knows each one of us – faults, imperfections, sins and all – and still loves us. That’s truly justifies the adjective, amazing.

Most of us do reasonably well at maintaining a good front. We like people to think highly of us, and have become skilled at showing our most favorable side – unless, of course, someone really ticks us off, in which case our facades come down. We want folks to say of us, “He’s a good guy,” or “She’s a nice woman.” But in the presence of God – which is all the time – He knows us as we really are on the inside.

As King David wrote, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast…. Search me, O God, and know my heart, test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:7-24).

Elsewhere in the Scriptures, we’re reminded, “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10). From childhood, we begin cultivating the skill of acting as if we have it all together, even when we don’t. No sense letting people see us at our worst, right? As Abraham Lincoln once said, we can fool all the people some of the time.

But God isn’t deceived. He knows who we truly are, on the inside as well as out. And He still loves us! That, as Waldo Yeager said many years ago, is the most amazing fact in the Bible.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Praying Doesn’t Help … Or Does It?

Ornate churches stand nearly empty in many parts of the world, but those
who pray faithfully continue both inside and outside of the sanctuary.
Our nation has experienced an unusual series of national calamities, including hurricanes in Texas and Florida, and violence that resulted in many casualties in Las Vegas, New York City, and Sutherland Springs, Texas. In response, many elected officials, pastors, leaders of other ministries, and people on social media encouraged prayer for victims and their loved ones. Skeptics have countered with snide comments, such as “praying doesn’t help anything.”

That, I think we can all agree, is a matter of opinion. Certainly, if one doesn’t believe in God, it would be easy to deny that prayer helps anything. But we could say the same about someone who comments, “Sending good thoughts your way.” Good thoughts? What good is that? Well, at least they’re not sending bad thoughts.

In one sense, I can understand the skepticism. How often have you heard of someone’s plight and said, “I’ll pray for you,” and then gone on with your life and realized you never followed through on the promise to pray? I’ve done that. That’s why I’ve developed a habit of praying right then for the individual, rather than hoping something will jog my memory to do so sometime later.

There’s another side to this question. We pray many times because we know the needs of the individual, or family, or community, are beyond our capacity to meet. We trust in the assurance in Philippians 4:19, “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” The Lord promises to provide for what His children need, even though He doesn’t promise to satisfy our “wants.”

Sometimes, however, as we are praying for God to provide, He is expecting us to become part of His gracious provision. The book of James addresses this when it states, “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 2:16-17).

So, if we say, “We’ll pray for you,” but fail to consider ways in which we can provide specific, even tangible help in answer to our prayers, we’re failing to muster the full power of prayer. Thankfully, when natural disasters occur, as well as man-caused tragedies, individual believers and congregations are often among the first responders.

Ministries like the Salvation Army and Samaritan’s Purse are on the scene as soon as possible to offer physical, emotional and spiritual assistance. Church groups, and even mercy ministries from various denominations typically are quick to respond as well. They are wonderful examples of putting feet to our prayers.

Even in our own communities, as we hear of various needs – whether it’s a devastating illness, a family fallen on hard times financially, someone seeking employment, or many other possibilities – we find opportunities to both pray and, as God directs, seek to help in meeting those needs.

In response to the comment, “praying doesn’t help anything,” it might be correct if all we do is utter words without backing them up with action. However, prayer does help in many ways. We acknowledge only God can provide some solutions, whether it’s healing someone with a serious, even terminal illness, or a group of people beset by natural disaster halfway around the globe. It can be a means for reaching out to the afflicted, providing much needed spiritual comfort.

And as we pray, God might impress upon our hearts ways in which we can become directly involved, whether it’s making needed repairs to a widow’s home, generously donating to a worthy cause, offering to transport someone to a hospital for medical treatment, volunteering at a soup kitchen, or simply setting aside time to spend with someone needing comfort and perhaps a listening ear.

As the apostle also wrote, “The prayer of a righteous [person] is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). It can be a plea to God, accompanied by a willingness to become one of the ways He chooses to answer that prayer. 

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Who Are You Thankful For?

OK, grammar rules would dictate the title of this post should be, “For whom are you thankful?” But if the worst thing I do today is finish off a sentence with a preposition, it’s a pretty decent day. Since this is being posted on Thanksgiving Day, most folks will have better things to do than to read other people’s blogs (at least I hope so!) So, it seemed good to write something applicable for other days as well.

While we’re feeling thankful for various blessings in our lives, like a warm and safe place to live, food and clothing – right at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, along with loved ones, a job and means for getting to that job, there are other things for which to give thanks. Perhaps it’s not just “what” to be thankful for, but also “who” (or whom, for grammatical sticklers).

Who are those folks that have had the greatest impact on your life? Those who’ve had a hand in shaping the person you are today?

Starting off, I obviously would cite my parents, my wife, children and grandchildren. But they’re just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Teachers have had important roles in my life: my fourth-grade teacher who instilled in me a vision for attending college; my freshman English instructor in college who encouraged me to write; and my first journalism prof as I began learning the craft of news writing. My uncle Joe, who lovingly kicked my tail when I was a spoiled teenager and taught me about hard work and perseverance.

A number of pastors have influenced me in various ways. Some showed that clergymen are normal, approachable human beings. Others taught how to deep-dive into the Scriptures, not only for intellectual understanding but also for practical truths and principles to survive this marathon called everyday life.

Vocationally, I’ve appreciated bosses who gave me opportunities, recognized the potential in me (one even called me “a diamond in the rough”), challenged me to fulfill it, and demonstrated what leadership should look like. I’m also thankful for many of my coworkers whose passion mirrored mine and whose skills complemented my own. Together we demonstrated the truth of Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Often, working together on projects, we saw the reality of the adage, “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”

Although I never had one specific mentor, numerous men have had profound impacts of my life, not only in teaching me biblical truth and showing how it relates to real life, but also demonstrating what it looks like to live out one’s faith in a genuine, consistent manner.

Thankfulness, as we would expect, can be found throughout the Scriptures. One example is how much relationships meant for the apostle Paul. Many times, in his letters to both individuals and groups of believers, he expressed how thankful he was for them. To the church in Philippi he wrote, “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Philippians 1:3-5).

Paul expressed the same sentiments to believers in the Greek city of Thessalonica, writing, “We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3).

To Timothy, one of the men whom he had discipled during his travels, Paul wrote, “I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers” (2 Timothy 1:3). How encouraging those words must have been to that young pastor as he sought to serve and minister to those God had brought into his life.

I wonder, whether it’s on Thanksgiving Day or any other day of the year, who are you thankful for? Do they know how they have meant to you? If not, don’t you think it would be a good idea to let them know?