Monday, October 29, 2018

Our Not So Hallowed Halloween

Pumpkins and pirates. Costumes and candy. Cartoon characters and trick-or-treaters. These comprise some of the fun, harmless elements of the annual observance we call Halloween. What’s not to like about little girls being able to dress up to look like Elsa of “Frozen” or Ariel the Little Mermaid, or little boys trying to emulate favorite superheroes or a Minion?

Unfortunately, Halloween often conjures up darker elements as well: Witches, zombies, vampires, Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers types, myriad manifestations of the occult. So when “H” day arrives we have two very different presentations. How to respond? Do we ignore the negatives and focus on the positives? Do we avoid such activities altogether? Or do we choose somewhere in between?

It comes down to a matter of personal conviction, but the former scenario doesn’t seem much different from adult costume parties or masquerades. People of all ages enjoy donning silly attire and wearing masks. And the “loot” collected gives kids and grownups alike a chance to satisfy sweet-tooth cravings.

My only reservation about Halloween is the focus on death and evil, which seems to have intensified with the passage of years. I still remember years ago when I asked the pastor of the church we were attending about my hobby at the time, which was reading horror novels. Rather than lecturing me about how wrong it was to do that, he just offered an insightful question: “When you read those books, are they drawing you toward God – or are they directing you away from Him?”

I immediately got his point and chose to stop reading such fiction. There’s already enough in the world around us that seeks to seduce us away from godly thinking and reverence for the Lord. I didn’t need to subject myself to other influences that could do much the same.

While the Bible says nothing specifically about Halloween in any of its forms, it does give guidelines to help us determine how we should observe it, if at all. In 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 we’re instructed to “examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.” Whether choosing a costume that represents the Hollywood ghoul du jour is evil or not can be a subjective judgment. But Philippians 4:8 takes another approach, a perspective that encourages us to intentionally accentuate the positive:
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things” (Philippians 4:8).

If our approach to Halloween – or any holiday or celebration for that matter – meets that criteria, we can proceed in good conscience. Because we’ll fulfilling the biblical admonitions to “set your minds on things above” (Colossians 3:2) and to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).

Thursday, October 25, 2018

It Takes Two to Argue

Have you noticed how difficult it is to do many things in isolation? What, for instance, is the sound of one hand clapping? Did you ever try to play tennis or ping-pong alone? In football, a passer needs a receiver, and in baseball, a pitcher can’t do without a catcher. If you’re into card games, you can play solitaire on your own, but poker or rummy don’t work without at least one more person. Bridge, euchre, checkers or chess? Forget about it!

Something else that won’t succeed in solitude is an argument. Our present age promotes an excessive amount of arguing, bickering, protesting, hueing and crying. But just as two are necessary to tango (or waltz, cha-cha or salsa), disputes arise and intensify only when at least two have decided to engage in opposing oral conflict. 

The next time someone tries to pick a verbal sparring match with you, try walking away. See how long the argument continues. The other party might attempt to resume it when you meet again, but it’s hard to sustain an antagonistic exchange when chirping crickets are the only sound when the arguer pauses to take a breath.

In the Scriptures, we discover argumentation isn’t something we invented in the 20th and 21st centuries, regardless of what social media and spontaneous protests might indicate. The problem is addressed in both the Old and New testaments. For instance, Proverbs 26:20-21 tells us, “Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down. As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.”

Most of us have observed what happens to a campfire, or a blazing fireplace, once the wood has turned to ashes. It’s like that with an argument, especially the kind saturated with fierce anger and animosity. If you don’t fuel the fire, it can’t keep burning.

Why is this important, especially for followers of Jesus? Because many of us submit to the temptation to argue our beliefs, and exhibitions of unrestrained tongues leave us vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy. In James 3:9-12 we read about the irony that uncontrolled lips present:  
“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.”

In preaching to the choir, I know I’m a member of the “choir” and risk fingers being directed back to me. I’m better than I used to be, but sometimes my old bull-headedness still rears up. This reminds me of another admonition in the same chapter of James:
“When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships for example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder…. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person...” (James 3:3-6).

There’s much to be gained from civil conversations, discussions and even debates. An angry argument, on the other hand, rarely changes opinions. Proverbs 15:1 asserts, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”  I’m making a note to remember that!

Monday, October 22, 2018

What Else Do You Need?

At times it seems the realm of entertainment is devoid of anything vaguely resembling solid, biblical – or even traditional – values. It’s almost as if someone in charge of LaLa Land told everyone, “Whatever the Bible says to do, we need to do the opposite.” Occasionally, however, glimmers of hope emerge.

Even the illumination of a small
spotlight can dispel the gathering
One of those recently was a statement by actor-director-comedian Tyler Perry, whose “Madea” comedic films have drawn millions to the theaters and who, as I understand it, is a man of strong faith. In a quote online, Perry said, “It doesn’t matter if a million people tell you what you can’t do, or if 10 million people tell you, ‘no.’ If you get one ‘yes’ from God, that’s all you need.”

Those are words many of us need to hear, because we live in a world that will either beat us down, killing our aspirations and dimming our vision, or seeking to dictate how we are to think and act. As Perry says, one “yes” from God should be all that we need.

Peer pressure is a reality of the human condition we all encounter. It can be bad, seeking to force us into doing or believing what we deep-down know is wrong. Or it can be good when we’re surrounded by those who uphold strong, positive values and encourage us to do the same. But even when we lack helpful support, we can recognize, one “yes” from God is all we need.

One of my favorite verses is Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” This statement came from the apostle Paul who, following his conversion, encountered one obstacle after another, challenges that would put the faith of most of us to the test. He surely had more than his share of detractors, but Paul learned time and again that the Lord indeed would equip him to do everything he was being called to do.

This doesn’t mean we can do anything we have a mind to do. Even if I wanted to do so, I’ll never ride the winning horse in the Kentucky Derby. No man will give birth to a baby. And no woman will ever jump from the Eiffel Tower and fly unaided, regardless of how much thrilling it might be to attempt.

But whatever the Lord calls us to do, He promises to provide the strength and resources to get the job done. I think of men like William Wilberforce and John Newton, followers of Jesus who dared to resist the prevailing current by opposing slavery and eventually serving as catalysts for its abolition. Joni Eareckson Tada, a well-known and much-accomplished quadriplegic, continues to be a role model for what it means to overcome great adversity and achieve what most observers would have said was unthinkable, including painting, writing and public speaking. Her faith in Christ also has served as her anchor.

We all find ourselves celebrating individuals who overcome circumstances and disabilities of many kinds in setting and then reaching lofty, seemingly impossible goals. Not all, of course, are driven by strong inner faith. But I believe that just as the Scriptures say we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), God provides the inner motivation that compels us to unimagined heights.

Another verse tells us how: “And my God will meet all your needs, according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). This applies to our basic, everyday needs, but also to whatever we need to carry out those things He uniquely calls us to do.

So if you are being asked to do something that seems far beyond your capabilities, a call the Lord has placed on your heart that won’t go away, disregard the naysayers. If God says yes, that’s all you need.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Proverbs Always Worth Pondering

For many years, I’ve found reading a chapter of Proverbs corresponding with the date of the month very profitable. The wisdom and insights this single book of the Bible offers are astonishing. Even for someone that doesn’t believe in God, reading Proverbs regularly would be very beneficial.

In fact, I authored a book some years back, Business At Its Best: Timeless Wisdom from Proverbs for Today’s Workplace, giving many examples of how it relates to the 21stcentury world of work. I’ve referred to some of the principles from time to time in this blog, and can’t help but wonder about the difference it would make if more people not only read Proverbs, but put what it says into practice.

Being one of the so-called “wisdom books” of the Bible, Proverbs starts with saying much about the value of wisdom itself. It observes, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline” (Proverbs 1:7). Sounds a tad intolerant perhaps, but at least the primary author, King Solomon of Israel, didn’t mince words.

Need advice on personal financial management? Proverbs 3:9-10 has this to say: “Honor the Lord with your wealth, and the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.” As has sometimes been said, you can’t out-give God. So giving to support His work will never leave you short. 

Industrialist R.G. LeTourneau for much of his life practiced what could be termed a “reverse tithe” – giving 90 percent of his income to charitable causes and keeping only 10 percent. He explained it this way: “I try to shovel out more for God than He can for me, but He always wins. He’s got a bigger shovel.”

We so often hear and read about people – respected individuals – who fall prey to many forms of temptation. Regarding those pitfalls, Proverbs offers this simple admonition: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Emotional impulses sometimes lead to actions we otherwise would not consider rationally, so making sure our hearts are in the right place, always putting God first and then others close to us, can protect ourselves from potential snares.

There are those who regard biblical teaching as restrictive, even archaic. But according to the writer of Proverbs, observing what it says can ensure a joyous, fulfilling life. “For these commands are a lamp, this teaching is a light, and the corrections of discipline are the way to life” (Proverbs 6:23).

Occasionally, Proverbs provides vivid pictures of what can happen when we choose to disobey God’s laws and commands. None is clearer than the description of a young man who succumbed to an attractive female’s seductions: “With persuasive words she led him astray; she seduced him with her smooth talk. All at once he followed her like an ox going to the slaughter, like a deer stepping into a noose…little knowing it will cost him his life” (Proverbs 7:21-23).

Reports of unethical behavior and wrongdoing seem sadly commonplace these days, not only in the business world but also in the realms of politics, the news and entertainment media, and even the Church. Concerning that we find this warning:“The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out” (Proverbs 10:9).

I’ve cited this passage before, but it’s a special favorite of mine – since it pertains to a weakness I have – and it’s always worth reviewing: “In the abundance of words transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise” (Proverbs 10:19). Another verse reinforces that truth: “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue” (Proverbs 17:28). I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve tried to remind myself of that.

There are numerous other examples to cite, but in view of the epidemic of arrogance and excessive pride that seems to afflict our society – on every side of the political and ideological spectrum – here are three more verses that seem appropriate:
“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).
“Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, but humility comes before honor” (Proverbs 18:12).
“Humility and the fear of the Lord bring wealth and honor and life” (Proverbs 22:4).

These just scratch the surface. I highly recommend reading Proverbs to start off every day. It’s an inexhaustible source of wisdom for many of the issues and problems we deal with every day. As the old TV commercial used to say, “Try it. You’ll like it!”

Monday, October 15, 2018

Hands, Heads – or Hearts?

When you look at people, what do you see?

Recently I heard a speaker suggest that our perceptions of people typically lump them into one of three categories: Hands, Heads, or Hearts. Let me explain what this means.

When we view people as “hands,” we’re perceiving them as means for getting things done. Not much different than regarding a knife or fork for eating; shovel or hoe for gardening; or hammer or nail for doing home repairs. Basically, people are regarded as tools or mechanisms for accomplishing projects, goals and objectives. We can consider employees or coworkers in this way.

Viewing people as “heads” means they serve as measurements for success or effectiveness. We talk in terms of “head count.” On social media, we don’t really know most of our “friends” and contacts, but get excited by each one that “likes” something we’ve posted. Film producers eagerly anticipate box office reports of how many “heads” went to see their movies. Elections tally how many “heads” cast votes one way or another. Even churches are tempted to view congregants as “heads” – professions of faith, baptisms, members “joining the fold.”

The third alternative is to see people as “hearts” – real-life individuals, with faces, names, and genuine needs physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual in nature. I don’t recall in the Scriptures where Jesus ever saw people as hands or heads. But He definitely viewed them as hearts. In fact, that’s what stirred His own heart.

In John 11:35, we read the shortest verse in the English translations of the Bible: “Jesus wept.” It was right after the death of His friend, Lazarus, and He had just told the dead man’s sisters, Martha and Mary, I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). So why was He weeping?

The passage doesn’t specify the cause of Jesus’ tears – it might have been out of sympathy for the sorrow family and friends were feeling. He may have pondered how such tragedies ultimately were a consequence of the sinfulness of humankind. Jesus might have been responding to the reality that even though He soon would raise Lazarus from the dead, the man would have to die again. And of course, the Lord knew His own death would be necessary for the forgiveness of sins and salvation of those who would believe in Him.

No matter the “why,” it’s clear Jesus focused on the heart of the matter – and the hearts of people He encountered. Crowds of people (heads) surrounded Him one day, as recounted in Luke 8:40-48), but when a woman plagued by a bleeding problem for many years reached out, He responded to her heart’s deepest needs.

When He met a woman at a well in the Samaritan town of Sychar, Jesus spoke to her not only of her physical need for water, but also the spiritual thirst that had gone unquenched in multiple relationships. When He asked her to give Him a drink, Jesus did not see a “hand,” but a heart that had suffered a lifetime of pain.

In 1 Peter 2:21, we’re told Jesus left us an example so we should “follow in His steps.” He also instructed us to “do to others as you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12). Could one way of doing that be to make certain that when we see people, we see hearts – and not just hands, or heads?

Years ago I heard someone explain the difference between “liberal Christians” and “conservative Christians.” Liberal Christians, he said, see “soulless bodies,” meaning their concern was primarily for the physical, temporal needs of people. Conservative Christians, he said, see “bodiless souls,” meaning they seemed to care little about people’s earthly concerns but focused on spiritual, eternal needs.

When Jesus saw people, I believe He recognized both physical and spiritual needs – He saw hearts, not hands or heads. Maybe we should pray that we would have His heart, and become more attentive to the “hearts” all around us?

Thursday, October 11, 2018

David vs. Goliath Today

Most of us have some familiarity with the Bible’s account of David and Goliath. Young shepherd boy, armed with nothing more than a slingshot and a handful of stones, taking on the towering warrior who caused even seasoned Israelite fighters to cower in fear. Except David had one more asset – the power of Jehovah, the Lord God.

Having warded off bears and lions in protecting his sheep, David might have drawn from experience for a bit of courage. But ultimately, it was his faith and trust in God’s power and protection that prompted him to undertake what some might have viewed as an impulsive act. Confronting the giant Philistine, David declared:
“You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will hand you over to me…. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you [Philistines] into our hands” (1 Samuel 17:45-47).

That’s exactly what happened. As it turned out, David needed only one stone. Propelled by the slingshot, the stone smashed Goliath in the forehead and down he went, one dead intimidator. In biblical math, one plus God equals an overwhelming victory.

We’re tempted to regard this as an entertaining story from long ago, but the same principles hold true today. We might never face a fierce physical giant, but sooner or later life presents each of us with “Goliaths” that are far more formidable than our resources. 

Are you facing a “giant” right now? Perhaps financial woes seem overwhelming. When my wife and I got married, I brought sizable credit card debt with me. It took us years to dig out of that hole, but with discipline – and a healthy dose of wise counsel, based on biblical principles about money management – we eventually became free of the trap that has captured so many.

Maybe you or a loved one are facing desperate health circumstances. Medical science has provided no solutions, and now you’re reluctantly preparing for the worst. Whether within our families, or with friends, we’ve all come too close and personal with situations like these.

Someone’s “Goliath” might be a complicated, extremely troubled marriage, or a job situation that makes the start of each new day seem like a prison sentence. It could be depression, or some overwhelming addiction. Whatever such circumstances may be, it’s hard not to lose hope. That’s when it’s helpful, even essential, to remember the lesson of David vs. Goliath.

As a shepherd, and later as king of Israel, David learned when the situation seemed most dire, God was more than capable of handling it – often in ways he couldn’t have anticipated. (Even with something as simple as a slingshot and stone.)

Ephesians 6:10 states it plainly: “Be strong in the Lord and the strength of His might.” We often err when we stick with the conviction that it’s all up to us, that we must give it all we have, and if we’re lucky God will give us a little boost to get us over the top. In reality, He isn’t there to “give us a hand.” Often, I’ve discovered, the Lord waits until we’ve exhausted every option and have nothing left. Then He responds, “Okay, now watch and see what I can do!”

One of my favorite verses is Isaiah 40:31, which says, but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Another translation expresses is as “those who wait on the Lord.” We don’t like waiting. We want to tackle it right now, get it over with. And we don’t like the idea of having to depend on God to resolve our pressing problems. But that’s what He enjoys doing best – when all else has failed, He shows us what He alone is able to do.

The apostle Paul, who encountered more than his share of seemingly impossible trials, knew firsthand about God’s sufficiency. He wrote, But He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me.That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Delight in weakness? Being strong – when we’re weak? Apart from the ears and eyes of faith, that sounds like mumbo-jumbo. But that’s the way the Lord works. It’s like He’s saying to us, “No matter what your Goliath is, I can handle it. Trust me.” 

Monday, October 8, 2018

The Problem with Planning

Goals. Deadlines. Plans. Expectations. Dreams. These are all good, at least in principle. Most of the time. As the old saying goes, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” However, as a modern paraphrase of the Robert Burns poem also points out, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

Plans are best written in pencil.
Sometimes, as most of us have discovered, plans aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. We encounter interruptions, unexpected obstacles, or our “ducks in a row” refuse to line up. Intentions that look so good one day fall short the next. Some have surmised that many of God’s greatest laughs must come as He previews our plans.

For many years I’ve been a strong advocate of goal-setting and planning. I learned to make constant companions of my day planners, and I’ve delighted in crossing off items on my to-do lists and writing in things to do in future days and weeks. Plan your work and work your plan. Our recent trip to Italy was the culmination on months of preparations. Just the other day, I scheduled my annual physical for next year. 

However, with the glorious 20:20 clarity of hindsight, I’ve learned plans should be elastic, sometimes even disposable. Because stuff happens – and sometimes it doesn’t. I think of aspirations I had in college; some of those came to fruition while others couldn’t have been more off-target. I couldn’t possibly have planned the directions my career would take or the things I would be able to achieve, along with the worthwhile goals I would never realize.

It’s humbling, sometimes humiliating, but always important to realize as much as we would like to believe the contrary, we’re not in control of many things that go on in our lives. As Proverbs 27:1 admonishes, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.”

But we need to plan, don’t we? It’s irresponsible to face each new day with no idea of what we’re going to do, right? Yes, it is. But we need to balance that necessity with a recognition that God’s thoughts of what we should undertake might be very different from our own. “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:13-15).

In His “sermon on the mount,” Jesus offered a similar warning about being too presumptuous about the future, even one day ahead. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear… Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?... Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:25-34).

Someone has wisely observed that “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” This doesn’t prohibit us from setting goals, planning for the future, or trying to figure out how to complete our “bucket list.” That new job or next promotion probably will require some preparations. Next summer’s vacation arrangements won’t take care of themselves. And forward-thinking for Christmas is well-advised. But these all should be filtered through a willingness to submit to God’s plans, knowing His are superior to our own.

As Jesus told his audience, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

Thursday, October 4, 2018

What We Won’t Be Seeing in Heaven

The sun rising over the Tyrrhenian Sea reminds us of what
lies ahead for us on distant shores.
“What will Heaven be like?” That’s an interesting question to ponder, at least for those of us who believe our time on earth is just a tiny fraction of our eternal existence. The Bible speaks a lot about Heaven. Author Randy Alcorn wrote an expansive book on it, appropriately entitled Heaven. (I hope the creative mind that came up with the title received a huge bonus!) Other books and countless articles also have addressed the topic. But we still don’t know exactly what it will be like. 

Jesus told His followers, “In my Father’s house there are rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2-3). Other translations, instead of “rooms,” use terms like “many mansions” or “dwelling places.” While offering assurances of life after this one, Jesus didn’t volunteer other details.

Billowy clouds hover over this ancient,
ornate church in Assisi, Italy.
In 1 Corinthians 2:9 we read, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” The apostle Paul was quoting from the Old Testament book of Isaiah. Some commentators have observed this applies to spiritual understanding we can’t gain from our senses. But it also could be alluding to what awaits us on “the other side of eternity.”

We wonder, therefore, what will we see there? And hear? And do? Good questions all, without definitive answers. So we speculate. But there’s another curious question worth considering: What won’t we see, or hear, or do in Heaven?

The answer to this could be many things. I doubt there’ll be a need for air conditioning. We probably won’t have Popsicles. Will we need bathtubs, or shaving cream? Don’t expect to have clocks or watches, even of the digital variety. I don’t think time will be an issue when we have all of eternity. Maybe we won’t even have Sunday school. But in giving this some thought, here’s a short list of serious, everyday things that, according to the Scriptures, we definitely won’t encounter:

Hospitals, doctors and nurses. Funeral homes, undertakers and cemeteries. Pain medications and opioids. Crutches, canes, wheelchairs and Band-aids. Ambulances, paramedics and EMTs. Police cars, law enforcement officers and jails. Homeless shelters and soup kitchens. Politicians and legislators. Courtrooms and lawyers. Murder mysteries. TV crime dramas. Horror movies. 

How do we know this? Because each of these is related disease, death, injury, discord, law breaking, hatred, ungodly thinking – and sin. According to the Scriptures, none of these will have a place in the eternal home God is preparing for us. In the last book of the Bible we read, He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). Things that bring pain and sorrow will be eliminated as “the old order.”

Isn’t it good to know death, sorrow and evil will not exist in Heaven? We won’t be turning on the evening news to get the day’s “body count.” There will be no need to fear a dreaded phone call bearing bad news about a loved one. We’ll not be awakened in the middle of the night by sirens announcing a fire, traffic accident, response to a misdeed, or someone’s health emergency. As Isaiah 25:8 declares, He will swallow up death forever. The Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from every face and remove the disgrace of His people from the whole earth. For the LORD has spoken.” 

And we won’t see elderly folks huddling around a table to compare their latest maladies, or bemoan the toll taken by the passage of years. We’ll be made new, and never again fret about getting old. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come to pass: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.' Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law of sin is the law” (1 Corinthians 15:54-56).

To be honest, I’m getting more and more eager to discover what we will not be seeing and experiencing in Heaven. How about you? 

Monday, October 1, 2018

Is There a Difference Between Belief and Faith?

Believing a plane can fly, and actually getting on one to fly somewhere
are two different things.
If you knew someone who builds birdhouses once in a while, what would you think if that person declared, “I’m a carpenter”? What would be the difference between him and the individual who pursues carpentry as a profession, building and renovating houses five days a week, 52 weeks a year?

When I was young, I would write poems from time to time, dabbled with composing short stories, and enjoyed writing letters. But it wasn’t until I began my career as a newspaper editor, writing scores of articles every week, that I felt I could legitimately describe myself as a “writer.” 

It obviously makes a difference how we use terms and what we mean when we use them. An occasional hobby does not a full-time vocation make.

I’m thinking about this because there seems to be a similar difference between intellectual belief and genuine faith. I believe the first President of the United States was George Washington, but I’ve never placed my faith in him. The same could be said of every President since, including the current occupant of the Oval Office.

When the meteorologist predicts rain for tomorrow morning, I believe her. Why would she lie? But do I really believe her? Tomorrow morning I’ll look out the door, and if I don’t spot any precipitation and the sidewalk is dry, I’ll probably consult my weather app before deciding whether I’ll need an umbrella for wherever I’m going. My belief in what the weather lady said didn’t translate into faith.

This is why we sometimes stumble over the use of the word “believe” in the Bible. We use the term easily, even flippantly, but belief doesn’t always equate to a genuine faith in Jesus Christ. After all, in James 2:19 we’re told, “You believe there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe – and shudder.” And I doubt anyone would suspect demons of being devoted followers of Jesus.

Consider another analogy I’ve used before: Many people who believe in jet airplanes refuse to board one. If we were to ask any of them if they believed the plane could take them to their intended destination, they’d probably say yes. But they’re still unwilling to entrust themselves to the aircraft and its crew. 

In their defense, Jesus did say in Matthew 28:20, lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age!" (But I don’t think that’s what He meant.) For whatever reason, while they may have intellectual belief, some folks lack the necessary faith to get on the plane, take a seat, strap in, and expect to arrive safely at their destination.

Actually, the Bible uses the word “believe” in different ways. One meaning relates to knowledge, like the time recounted in Matthew 14 when Jesus was walking on the water while His disciples were in a boat being buffeted by waves of the sea. When impetuous Peter saw Him, he asked Jesus, Lord, if it’s you…tell me to come to you on the water.” 

When Jesus said, “Come,” Peter responded by stepping out. Within moments, however, he must have had one of those “What was I thinking!” moments and began to go down into the water. Peter believed several things. He knew it was Jesus strolling across the surface of the water and the waves, and also that Jesus had invited him to step out of the boat. But he also knew walking on water wasn’t a normal human activity, so he took his eyes off Jesus and started sinking.

So what does it mean when the Bible says, in passages such as John 3:16 and John 3:36, “whoever believes” will have eternal life? In this case, the term involves far more than information and knowledge. Literally it means to entrust oneself to the object of belief. When I boarded planes to fly to and from Italy in July, I entrusted myself to the jetliner and the crew, believing – by faith – they would get me where I wanted to go.

This is why I use a simple “spiritual equation” when meeting with men in mentoring or discipling relationships: 
Belief + Trust = Faith 

I remember the days I believed in Jesus Christ in an intellectual sense. I can’t remember doubting the existence of Christ from a factual standpoint. But it wasn’t until I was about 30 years old that my belief transformed into genuine, saving faith and new life spiritually.

Consider the honesty of the father of a demon-possessed boy who approached Jesus, asking Him to heal his son – if He could. When Jesus replied, “’If [I] can?’ Everything is possible for one who believes,” the dad candidly responded, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief” (Mark 9:17-29).

We’ve probably all had times like that, when we wanted to believe God could do something specific in answer to our prayers, but couldn’t imagine how He could do it. So whether consciously or not, we think, “Lord, I do believe – enable me to overcome my unbelief.” The good news is, based on how Jesus interacted with the troubled father and his afflicted son, He’s more than willing to do just that.