Thursday, March 29, 2018

But What About Saturday?

Between the Cross and the empty tomb lies a silent
Saturday, the "day with no name."
Many of us are anticipating two central days on the Christian calendar, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Both represent pivotal events; in the absence of either there would be no Christianity, and we’d not designate our years according to B.C. (Before Christ) and A.D. (Anno Domini).

We know that the curiously named “Good Friday” marks the day of Jesus’ crucifixion, “good” because His death served as the atoning sacrifice to cover the sins of mankind. And Easter celebrates His resurrection, signifying Christ’s triumph over death and the demonstration that He was who He claimed to be – the Son of God – not just another dead prophet or religious leader.

But what about the day between Good Friday and Easter? It was Saturday, a day virtually ignored by Christian tradition that author Philip Yancey in his book, Grace Notes, calls “the day with no name.” For many of us, it’s merely a business-as-usual day, useful for household chores, working in the yard, or some form of recreation. Nothing more.

Typically we dismiss it from having any spiritual import. In fact, S.M. Lockridge presented a classic sermon called, “It’s Friday…But Sunday’s Comin'.” Author Tony Campolo drew from a similar message to write a book by the same name. Lockridge eloquently described the devastation of Friday and contrasted it with the delirious news of Sunday’s empty tomb and Christ’s return from the dead. But there is no mention of Saturday.

Consider, however, what that silent Saturday must have been like for Jesus’ followers. It would have been a day of despair, disillusionment and confusion. The wondrous, inspirational, often mysterious leader they’d followed for three years was dead, taking their hopes and aspirations with Him. How had it come to this? What would they do now?

The Bible says little about the in-between day, but as Yancey observes, much of human existence today is like that Saturday. “Human history grinds on,” he writes, “between the time of promise and fulfillment. It’s Saturday on planet Earth; will Sunday ever come?”

This questions nags at many of us. Even as we’re preparing to pause for a marvelous day of rejoicing – “Christ is risen – He is risen indeed!” – we find ourselves immersed in a world of pain and suffering. Disease, poverty, violence, natural disasters, hatred and strife, everyday realities that remain with us on Saturday, and the days after Easter.

Despite this, we can cope, because we have hope – earnest expectation, confident assurance – that the often dismal present will one day be replaced by a future that exceeds comprehension. As the apostle Paul wrote, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us…. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently” (Romans 8:18-25).

So as we prepare to ponder the somber message of Good Friday, soon followed by the glorious report of Easter, let’s all take heart as we stumble through the challenges of Saturday, “the day with no name.” We do so while looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (Titus 2:13).

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Perverse Pleasure of Demeaning and Diminishing

“If you can’t say something bad about somebody, don’t say anything at all!”

It seems this twist on a familiar adage unfortunately has become a motto for many these days, whether on social media, the news media, or even in casual conversation. Never miss a chance to demean, disparage, denigrate or diminish. Whatever you do, don’t say anything nice.

Case in point, within hours of Dr. Billy Graham’s passing, a major newspaper published a feature article about his family, implying that as he was aggressively preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ in various parts of the world, he was failing his children at home.

Just because we know something,
that doesn't obligate us to say it.
One might explain this as the periodical’s attempt to present an accurate, three-dimensional portrayal of the famed evangelist, including his flaws. They certainly had the right to do so, as our Constitution’s First Amendment guarantees. I have no quibble with this; it was the timing that troubled me.

Having been a journalist for many years, I know it’s common practice to prepare obituaries of the famous and infamous well in advance, in the event of their passing, expected or not. I’ve written some of those myself. So this “news” story of struggles within the Graham family obviously had been poised for publication, knowing the preacher’s advanced age and declining health. Even though these accounts were hardly breaking news, having already been acknowledged in books by Dr. Graham and several of his offspring, it seemed clear the intent was to emphasize his feet of clay. (Which we all have.)

This is just one example among many of society’s eagerness to expose the darker side of any well-known individual, sometimes even before the flesh has grown cold or the body’s been interred. But one need not hold qualifications for “Who’s Who” to receive similar treatment.

We’ve all felt dismay about the rise of social media bullying, individuals verbally pummeling anyone they choose, cowardly acts committed with computers and smart devices in the safety of their homes. What an curious practice, seeking to enhance one’s self-image by attacking others.   

Technology has conveniently placed at our fingertips the capacity for demeaning other individuals – and groups. But it’s hardly a new phenomenon – it’s as old as humankind. In fact, the Bible has much to say about this timeless form of antagonism.

Proverbs 12:18 tells us, “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Elsewhere in the same chapter we read the antithesis, how encouraging words can have a profound, uplifting impact on the hearers: “An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up” (Proverbs 12:25).

This isn’t calling for a Pollyanna perspective on life, ignoring problems, pain and peculiarities. But it takes little or no talent to identify faults in others – even as we ignore or minimize flaws of our own. It may take a bit more effort to form expressions of kindness and compassion, but they can do far more than we might imagine to help in making our world a better place.

As Proverbs 16:21 declares, “The wise in heart are called discerning, and pleasant words promote instruction.” When we hear juicy reports about others, whether it’s someone we know only through programs like “Entertainment Tonight” or our neighbor down the street, it’s easy to rush to a friend so we can let them in on the “news.” But as we’re cautioned by Proverbs 18:8, “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels, they go down to a man’s inmost parts.”

Rather than succumbing to that temptation, it might be far better to remind ourselves that, “He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends” (Proverbs 17:9). There’s something tantalizing about knowing “inside information” we can share with others, but that doesn’t obligate us to broadcast it to everyone else. “A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered” (Proverbs 17:27).

We might not be the editors of an established publication making decisions about what to print and not to print about someone. But we all have it within our power to determine what we say about others, what we don’t say – and even how we say it. As Proverbs 15:23 notes, “A man finds joy in giving an apt reply – and how good is a timely word!”

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Money, the Tremendous Taboo

A new study shows people are more inclined to talk candidly about their weight than they are about their money. And we all know how much people like to converse about their excessive pounds! I guess money matters weigh even more heavily on people’s minds.

It’s not surprising to hear people consider discussing their finances off limits – apparently a tremendous taboo, just tremendous. (Remind you of anyone?) We don’t mind gossiping and grousing about how much money other people make, but as for how much we make, that’s privy only to our accountant at tax season, or maybe the attorney when it’s time to draw up our will. For everyone else, it’s “none-uh yo bizness!”

A man I mentored years ago was remarkably open. He confided with me about the pros and cons of his marriage, professional challenges, and personal struggles he dealt with on a regular basis. But when I asked, out of curiosity, how much money he made, he balked: “Well, that’s really personal, you know. I never talk about money.”

For many of us, money
falls into our "No
Trespassing" zone.
His response surprised me. He’d been transparent about virtually every other aspect of his life. And it wasn’t like I was asking him to hand over his wallet or checkbook. If I’d asked him about his weight, he probably would have told me without hesitation. But when I broached the subject of money, I’d stepped over the line.

It seems there’s a bit of a Scrooge in each of us, something that wants us to say, “It’s mine, all mine,” when it comes to our financial resources. Therein lies the problem. We think it’s ours, but if we believe the Bible, it’s not. It’s God’s. He’s the owner; we’re just the stewards or managers of it.

To dispel any doubt about that, we can consider 1 Chronicles 29:11-12, which declares, Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things.”

Money – and our attitude toward it – has always been a problem. You might recall the rich young ruler who approached Jesus and asked, Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” When Jesus cited some of the commandments, the official answered, “All these I have kept since I was a boy.” (Pretty brazen claim, if you ask me.) But then the Lord ventured into taboo territory: When Jesus heard this, he said to him, ‘You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me’" (Luke 18:18-22).

Like most of us, this man, outwardly seeking the path to eternal life, inwardly was arguing, “It’s mine – all mine!” And predictably, he walked away.

In his book Grace Notes, a book of devotional readings, author Philip Yancey quotes an unnamed pastor who said money issues can be addressed by three questions:
  1. “How did you get it?” (Was it earned honestly, or in some illegal, unethical or immoral manner?)
  2. “What are you doing with it?” (Hoarding it, squandering it, or using it to benefit others?)
  3. “What is it doing to you?”
Then Yancey describes Jesus’ attitude toward money, about which He spoke more than nearly any other topic: “As (Jesus) explains it, money operates much like idolatry. It can catch hold and dominate a person’s life, diverting attention away from God. Jesus challenges people to break free from money’s power – even if it means giving it all away.”

Those are tough words, but how we perceive our money – or lack of it – truly is revealing. As Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). That’s a good question for each of us to ask ourselves: “Where is my treasure? Where is it…really?”

Monday, March 19, 2018

What Kind of Egg Are You?

Eggs are among my favorite foods. Maybe it’s partly because of their variety. You can buy them with white, tan or brown shells. Years ago, when I was a newspaper editor, I wrote a feature article about locally raised “Easter egg chickens” that laid eggs in several different colors. I’m not yolking about this, by the way.

But the best thing about eggs is the many ways you can cook them. It occurs to me that in some respects, people are a lot like eggs. So, I thought it might be fun to consider types of prepared eggs – and their human counterparts. The Bible even refers to some of them:

Scrambled. This is one of my favorite ways to eat eggs, but dealing with scrambled people and their mixed-up ideas? Not so much. The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there (Acts 19:32).

Sunny-side up. Isn’t it fun being around people who are optimistic, positive and confident, as opposed to those who always take a negative view of things? “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable…think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).

Over-easy. Today we encounter lots of brooders, folks who harbor grudges and refuse to let go of animosity they have toward others. I prefer being around those that, “Bear with one another and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13).

Hard-boiled. Again, hard-boiled eggs are enjoyable, whether peeled from their shells and eaten with a bit of salt and pepper, or included in a salad. But hard-boiled people aren’t nearly as palatable. But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears(Zechariah 7:11). “An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city, and disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel” (Proverbs 18:19).

Raw. These are my least favorite. I’ve seen people put raw eggs in their health drinks, but to me, uncooked eggs are as appealing as a wad of Play-Doh. I don’t much care for raw people either, those who slink around with the proverbial chip on their shoulder, just daring you to knock it off. “A hot-tempered man must pay the penalty; if you rescue him, you will have to do it again” (Proverbs 19:19). “Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared” (Proverbs 22:24-25).

Are you sunny-side up,
over-easy - or scrambled?
Poached. These are prepared about midway between raw and hard-boiled; I like them on toast. Cooked with steam, they’re more delicately prepared and the process helps to retain the egg’s nutrients. This kind of reminds me  of 1 Peter 3:7, which exhorts husbands to treat your wives with consideration as a delicate vessel, and with honor as fellow heirs of the gracious gift of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.” I doubt my wife would appreciate my referring to her as “poached,” but all husbands would be well-advised to take a “handle with care” approach with their wives. 

Well, there you have it. I’ve come out of my shell a bit, eggs-posing you to a bit of my egg-centricity. This was just something I was thinking about – I have no other eggs-planation. So…what kind of egg are you?