Thursday, August 29, 2019

Experiencing Life from a Rear-Facing Car Seat

The other day I was putting our little grandson’s car seat into our van – again. For safety purposes, not only does it require being tethered by hooks to the passenger seat, but it also must face the rear of the vehicle. While making sure that the infant seat was firmly anchored, I wondered what it must be like for the little guy to always be looking back, never seeing where he’s being taken.

Sometimes going through life seems
like traveling in a rear-facing carseat.
When I was a boy, occasionally my friend and I would go with our fathers to a New York Yankees baseball game in the Bronx. We would ride in his dad’s little station wagon that had a passenger seat in the rear facing backward. My dad would tell us, “Boys, you can’t watch where we’re going – but you can see where we’ve been!”

Now as an adult, I realize much of life is like that. Sometimes we’re facing forward and can easily see where we’re headed. Instructions from our GPS are clear and a specific route is mapped out for us. At other times – it might even seem much of the time – it’s like we’re cruising through life in a rear-facing seat with no clue where we’re headed. All we can see is where we’ve been. That’s not bad if you’re a passenger, but not good if you’re wanting to drive!

But as it says in 2 Corinthians 5:7, “We live by faith, not by sight.” We see this throughout the Scriptures. In Genesis we read about Noah building a massive ark to survive a global flood – before mankind had experienced a rainstorm of any kind. We also read about Abram being called by God to leave his country of Haran, without a roadmap or any explanation of why he had to leave. All he knew was that God said, “C’mon, Abram. Time for you and your family to grab your stuff and head out.”

In Exodus we see Moses being chosen to lead the Israelites out of Egypt for some place called the Promised Land. It’s like a parent telling a child, “Hey, we’re going somewhere special.” “Where, Mom?” “You’ll see!” The entire 11th chapter of Hebrews is littered with brief descriptions of people who didn’t know where God was taking them or why, without any understanding of the trials the Lord would bring them through along the way. Almost as if they were riding on a camel, or in a chariot, facing backward.

Actually, there are two benefits to journeying through life in a rear-facing seat. It teaches us to trust, something we can’t do as well when we can clearly see the path we’re to follow. Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.”  Often in life our question isn’t, “Are we there yet?” Because we’re not even sure where we are at that moment, much less where we’re going.

A “sister” passage also exhorts us to, “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun” (Psalm 37:5-6). Often we have no clue about what God is up to, where He’s taking us, or what He wants us to do when we get there. All we can do is, as the passages tell us, trust.

The other benefit of riding in the rear-facing seat is, as my father would say, we can see where we have been. It helps to look back and recall earlier times when, despite difficulties and even overwhelming odds, God was faithful and brought us through – tested, but not broken.

Hebrews 10:32,35-36 admonishes us, Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering…. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised” (Hebrews 10:32,35-36).

Faced with great opposition and murderous threats, King David didn’t like the way things were going. He knew his future was out of his control; it was up to God to intervene and protect him. So he climbed into his rear-facing seat and wrote, I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done” (Psalm 143:5).

If you’re facing a hard time right now, whether it’s a struggle within your family, challenges at work, a scary, new phase in your life, or whatever, maybe it’s time to figuratively place yourself in that rear-facing car seat. Ponder what the Lord has done in your life in the past. Know that He is with you in the present. And trust that He’s already guiding you safely into the unknown and unseen future.

Monday, August 26, 2019

When Little Gets Big, the Cuteness Wears Off

Have you noticed that just about everything in miniature is “cute”? I love those model train displays where crafty people have created little villages and towns around which the tiny trains travel, often passing through miniature mountains and hillsides. Cute. When I was a boy, I enjoyed playing with my little green soldiers (ala “Toy Story”) and my Fort Apache cowboy and Indian set. Looking back, I’d call them “cute.”

Whenever my wife leads me into a children’s clothing section of a store, she’ll pick up one of their tiny dresses or shirts or swimsuits and say, “Isn’t this cute?” Of course it’s cute. It’s little. 

Baby tigers and elephants are cute, as are baby wolves and grizzly bears, I suppose. Even though I’ve never seen baby piranhas, I suspect they’re cute, too. But I’d hate to be cooling off in the Amazon River and see those once-baby piranhas, now fully grown, swimming toward me. Their cute factor would be long forgotten when they decided to have me for lunch.

A radio commentator reminded me of this when she told the true story of a family that adopted a foot-long python as a pet. For a time the slithery reptile was a fun novelty, but then it grew into an adult more than 10 feet long. A teenaged member of the family was playing with the snake one day, which apparently was giving him what seemed like a friendly hug. Too late, he realized the serpent had coiled tightly around his body; the “hug” turned into a death grip that caused his suffocation.

This isn’t to indict people who choose to have exotic pets like snakes, even pythons. But these animals simply behave as natural instinct tells them. When tiny, they’re manageable; fully grown, they’re not. This gives us a metaphor for sin. When we first encounter sin in any of its countless forms, it might seem like fun. “What’s the harm?” 

We dabble with this or that little taboo. As a message on a church marquee I saw years ago read, “If sin wasn’t fun, we wouldn’t want to do it.” So we give it a try. Like everything else in life, however, sin doesn’t remain little and cute. It grows and ultimately shows what it really is, in all of its evil, destructive form.

James 1:15 describes this accurately, stating, Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” Kind of like the tiny, “harmless” python that grew into a powerful, life-stealing predator. The enticing little diversion has taken us down a devastating path we could never have imagined. “How did this happen?” we wonder, too late.

I’ve heard of well-respected Christian leaders who were discovered in adulterous affairs that started with just some friendly teasing, a pat on the shoulder, a little hug. Or people who were sucked into online pornography, their sin starting with just a casual “look” or two that turned into a dominating habit and dehumanizing behavior.

“Well, maybe that happened to someone else – but it would never happen to me!” we might say defensively. This is why the apostle Paul wrote to believers in the ancient city of Corinth – and to us – this warning: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12). Another translation says, “take heed.” In other words, be vigilant. 

Often when sin is exposed, the offenders go on the defensive, claiming, “But I couldn’t help it!” It’s reminiscent of comedian Flip Wilson’s old line through the character, “Geraldine”: “The devil made me do it!” Not so, say the Scriptures. The verse following the one above asserts, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

The good news: The temptations we face every day are not unique. They’re experienced by many people just like us. And God will provide a “way of escape” so the temptations don’t need to morph into sin. The bad news: We will be tempted. Our job is to be wary of potential traps that lurk around us, those little enticements that wink at us and invite, “Come on, just give me a try.” That cute little “try” can introduce us to a big, bad world of hurt. 

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Life Is a Collaborative Effort

The older I get, the more convinced I become that we can’t get to where we want to be alone. When we’re in school, teachers help us not only to learn but also encourage us. The best teachers have the discernment to point students in the right direction, in terms of their interests and abilities.

In the workplace, even the most talented individuals must rely on others for help in reaching their goals and objectives. The person who believes, “I got to where I am all by myself,” is self-deluded. Even the one who has reached the top of the corporate ladder still needed someone to build the ladder, and others to hold the ladder while he or she was climbing.

Right now I’m wrapping up work on a book project that I’ve been involved with for more than two years. The writing is finished, but before finalizing the manuscript for publication, we have several sets of eyes on it to proofread and edit. As the adage goes, a writer is his own worst editor. So it’s necessary for others to spot the annoying typos, misspellings, and grammatical and punctuation errors I’ve overlooked. The writer sees what is supposed to be there; the good editor sees what is there and recognizes when changes and corrections are needed.

This applies for any endeavor in life. We just had a badly clogged kitchen sink, and two plumbers came to our rescue to fix the problem. This was not a case of one working and the other watching. They worked collaboratively to locate the pesky clog and get rid of it. It took them together about an hour. One person working alone could have taken all day, and might not have been able to remove the clog at all.

One of my favorite passages in the Bible related to this is Ecclesiastes 4:9-12. I’ve mentioned it in previous posts, but it’s always good to review. It says: 
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

Consider parenting and raising a family. Single parents do courageous, incredible jobs, but caring for and nurturing children, along with earning an income and operating a household, is so much easier when both a husband and wife – a mother and father – are present to share in the joys, struggles, decision-making, and daily responsibilities.

It's been this way since the beginning. When God created Eve, it was after He had observed Adam and understood his need for companionship and partnership. So the Lord declared, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18). Who knows? Adam might have had a faithful dog to keep him company first, but that was clearly not enough. The first man needed another human to collaborate with him on the adventure we all know as “everyday life.”

The spiritual life also is intended as a collaboration. We each should seek to spend time every day alone with God, in prayer, reading and studying the Scriptures, and meditating on Him and His truth. But as Proverbs 27:17 tells us, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” When I consider what this says, I visualize two pieces of metal clashing against each other, at times generating sparks. The result is not to cause damage, but to hone and sharpen for more effectiveness.

I’m so thankful for the many people the Lord has brought into my life to sharpen me, not only personally and professionally, but also spiritually. I still need people like that. We never outgrow our need for “sharpeners,” and I actively look for people to engage with on a regular basis, trusting that as they are sharpening me, I’m also being used by God to sharpen them. 

We live in an age when more and more people are becoming isolated, even alienated from society. They have replaced genuine relationships with social media “friends” and connections. For them, video games and the Internet have assumed the role activities like tennis, golf, fishing, playing cards, board games, and just casual conversation historically have had in the lives of most of us. They lack someone to look them in the eyes, who cares enough to build them up when they’re feeling down and also to challenge or rebuke them when the need arises. And it always does – for all of us. 

Yes, we can exist without healthy connections with others. But why would we want to do so? Your computer can’t give you a warm hug when you need it; or make eye contact and recognize when you need someone to talk to, laugh with, cry with or pray with. Life is best lived in collaboration with others. As God declared when time began, it is not good to be alone.

Who do you have in your life that is helping to sharpen you? Are you available to be used to sharpen others in their own journey? If there is no one there right now, are you willing to pray and ask the Lord to send someone your way?

Monday, August 19, 2019

Are You a Follower, or Just a Fan?

Even though I was never much of an athlete, for as long as I can remember I’ve been an avid sports fan. As a boy growing up in New Jersey, I became a New York Yankees fan when the likes of Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford and Bobby Richardson were taking the field. It was a time when Yogi Berra was reminding us, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” And in those days, there was a lot for a Yankee fan to feel excited about.

Then after a year of college in Houston, Texas, I transferred to THE Ohio State University and instantly became a Buckeyes fan. The year after I arrived on campus, some guys named Rex Kern, Jack Tatum, Jim Otis, Jim Stillwagon and others led the Bucks to a national championship under Woody Hayes. Again, a great time to be a fan – if your team was OSU. When I was a blood donor, the phlebotomists were always amazed when it came out scarlet and gray.

In both cases, however, I was just a a fan. I wasn’t a follower. After decades of dominance in Major League Baseball, the Yankees fell on hard times and started losing more than they won. My life was getting busier in those days, so I lost interest and ceased being the fervent fan I once had been. Even with the Buckeyes, I have watched every game that I could and reveled in their victories. But during the week, I discovered life could proceed quite well whether Ohio State won or lost.

It’s kind of like that for some people who profess to be Christians. They go to church, sing, maybe raise a hand or two once in a while, and if the message really moves them, they utter an approving “Amen.” But during the week, whether at work, at school or in their homes, there’s not much evidence of Jesus Christ in how they act or what they say. They might be fans of Jesus, but definitely not His followers.

A few years ago, a pastor named Kyle Idleman wrote a book, Not a Fan, in which he addressed this phenomenon. He proposed a distinctively different slant from the type of response offered by people who are asked, for instance, “Do you like peanut butter?” and respond, “Nope. Not a fan.” Jesus doesn’t want fans, Idleman explained. He wants followers.

The Lord made clear there are no shortcuts to being among His faithful followers. There’s a cost involved, one that requires sacrifice. He said, “If anyone who come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). He wasn’t talking about a mother with a lazy son who comments, “He’s the cross I have to bear.” No, Jesus meant we must be willing to die to ourselves every day – to our own ambitions, goals and desires – and be willing to go and do as He directs instead.

When the apostle Paul wrote, “...I die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31), he wasn’t referring to a succession of near-death experiences. He was referring to facing constant opposition and enduring a variety of difficult trials and challenges, all for the sake of Jesus Christ and the gospel. 

In a verse I have cited before, we see that Jesus had lots of fans. Multitudes who eagerly chased after Him and hung on His every word. He was by far the best entertainment available. But when the Lord uttered some very difficult teachings, they suddenly remembered some other things they would rather be doing: “From that time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him” (John 6:66). 

They were avid fans, but not true followers.

To me, this is one explanation for why, in a nation where polls show a majority of people professing to be Christians, our society is overwhelmed by immorality, violence, hatred and conflict. Sunday morning fans go home, then turn on the afternoon football game or take part in the family picnic or some other diversion, and when Monday morning arrives, it’s like they left Jesus behind in the sanctuary. “See ya next Sunday, Jesus!”

So the question arises. Can we honestly declare, as Idleman wrote, that we’re “Not a Fan”? That instead, we are genuine, willing-to-take-up-our-cross-daily followers of Jesus Christ?

I’m reminded of Robert Frost’s well-known poem, “The Road Not Taken.” In the final stanza he wrote, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” The same applies for us. We can be fans, cheering for Jesus whenever it’s convenient while taking the more heavily traveled course society and culture have paved, or we can take the one “less traveled by,” as true followers of Christ. That indeed will make all the difference.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Life Begins at the End of the Comfort Zone

Some people are natural-born risk takers. They’re the ones who eagerly cast caution to the wind and pursue dreams, hopes, even crazy notions. For them, life isn’t fun unless you’re living on the edge.

I’m not one of them. My preference is to stick with the tried and familiar, at least until everyone else has demonstrated the coast is clear and it’s safe to proceed. But I do have great respect, even admiration, for those who aren’t averse to venturing out into the unknown. At least what’s unknown to them.

There are pros and cons for both approaches to life, I suppose. “It’s better to be safe than sorry,” the adage goes. But its counterpart is if you insist on staying safe, you might eventually be sorry you didn’t try venturing outside your comfort zone.

Even as a card-carrying member of the safe-not-sorry crowd, I’ve discovered this to be true. Back in the mid-1980s, I was happily tapping away on my electric typewriter when a trusted friend who was an Apple computer dealer called one day. “Do you have a computer?” he asked, suggesting I needed one for my writing and editing. I responded simply, “No.” What I was thinking was, “Why would I want a computer? My typewriter works perfectly fine.” 

But he insisted and about a week later a Macintosh 512k computer arrived at my office. Initially I was hesitant, as if it were going to bite me or something. But I plugged it in, followed the instructions, and started it up to give it a try. As the French say, “Voila!” Within minutes I discovered I had entered uncharted territory and, wonder of wonders, it was greater than I could have imagined. A couple of days later, my old electric typewriter and I parted company, never to be reunited.

This seems ridiculous today. Who can do without a computer if you’re in the business world? And that first computer I used qualifies as a low-tech dinosaur today. But at the time it seemed a huge step of faith for me.

Technology is an easy example of leaving one’s comfort zone, as when I also discovered the new world of digital photography. Never again would I lack a good answer when someone asked, “Did you get any good pictures?” I can think of a different example, however, of when I relinquished safe-not-sorry for an adventure beyond country and culture.

In 1999, I was working with CBMC International and my boss said he wanted me to take a trip to Brazil to see how I might help the ministry there. Again, not an opportunity I was inclined to leap at. I had traveled to other countries – in Europe, Mexico, Venezuela, even Canada. But I’d never gone where I didn’t have someone I knew to serve as my guide. I couldn’t speak Portuguese, and the plane flight itself would be about 10 hours!

My boss insisted, however. So I obtained the necessary visa, scheduled my flight and arranged to meet with some people there who were strangers. As it turned out, my time in Brazil was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had. Over the days I spent in Sao Paulo, Vitoria and Curitiba I met many delightful people, some of whom I stay in contact with to this day. And when I left, I felt God had used me in a special way. I even made a second trip there a couple years later.

These and other experiences hardly turned me into an impulsive, spontaneous risk-taker. Slow, steady and cautious remain my bywords when considering anything outside my comfort zone. But I’ve discovered that in many ways, life begins outside our comfort zone.

That was definitely the case for Abram, who was enjoying a cushy existence in Haran. God must have thought that he, then 75 years old, and his wife, Sarai, were getting too comfortable. Unexpectedly, “The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you'” (Genesis 12:1). The text doesn’t say this, but I imagine Abram responded with – or at least thought – the equivalent of, “Say what? Seriously?”

But God promised him, even though he and Sarai had no children at that point, “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you. I will make your great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:2-3). History has shown that promise was fulfilled and continues to this day.

Abram (Abraham) and Sarai (Sarah) did set off and began an adventurous trek to Canaan, by way of Egypt and a couple of cities named Sodom and Gomorrah. They had a son named Isaac, who had a son named Jacob (later renamed Israel), and through his sons – Abraham’s great-grandsons – the nation of Israel was born. The fact that there is an Israel today, re-established in 1948, is no accident.

This doesn’t mean that as followers of Jesus Christ we’re commanded to always be reckless risk-takers. But when God is leading, and impresses us through His Spirit that it’s time to move, we dare not answer, “No way, Yahweh!” Over and over in the Scriptures, God’s people are commanded, “Be strong and courageous.” Generally this means, “C’mon, it’s time to leave your comfort zone. I have something special in mind, something you wouldn’t even believe if I told you. I’ve got your back!”

We can see this happening repeatedly through the Scriptures. And if we’re willing to trust the Lord and stick our noses out of our comfort zone, we’ll see it happening often in our lives as well.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Cultivating an ‘Attitude of Gratitude’

My friend Clarence recently offered a good reminder in a video he posted on Facebook. He said that despite all the anger and angst that seems to pervade society today, we should strive to find something for which we can be grateful.

Even though I sometimes get seduced by the prevailing negativity myself, I wholeheartedly agree. A little known psychological fact – at least one that’s very under-appreciated – is the reality that circumstances and people don’t control our feelings and attitudes. (I hope it’s not racist to say that.)

From the beginning of humanity, there has always been dissatisfaction. Adam and Eve had access to just about everything in the garden of Eden. Were they happy and thankful about that? No, no. They wanted to sample the one tree God placed off limits to them, and the rest as they say, is history.

We can always find reasons for being discontented, or causes for making our blood boil. But what if we, as Clarence suggested, made an intentional effort to think of one thing – just one single thing – that we’re grateful for today? And then just focus on that for a bit. What kind of difference do you think that would make? 

Someone coined the term, having an “attitude of gratitude.” Sounds a bit corny, but it’s something we all should strive to attain – and maintain. Years ago following my open-heart surgery, I began a practice of starting each day by being thankful, simply for waking up that morning. Because not one of us has an iron-clad guarantee that we’ll have tomorrow. So when we awaken to a new day, it’s a gift and reason for being grateful. Maybe even cause for celebration.

Do you have a roof over your head? Be grateful. Did you have something to eat last night? Be grateful. Do you have a job? Be grateful, even if it’s not your dream job. Do you have some form of reliable transportation, even if it might be getting older and doesn’t have all of the fancy gadgetry of newer models? Be grateful. Do you have clothes and don’t have to walk around in public in the nude? Be grateful – and so should we!

We can be grateful if we have a spouse, children, grandchildren, or friends. If we were able to exercise yesterday, whether at a gym, the Y, or even strolling around the mall, we can be grateful. The list could go on, but surely, no matter what our circumstances might be, we all can find one thing for which to be grateful. I’ve seen videos of people who have lost a limb, perhaps in wartime conflict, or folks without limbs at all, and yet somehow they manage to be grateful.

One of the first Bible verses I ever learned says, “In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Another translation expresses it, “give thanks in all circumstances….” I’ve read this many times, and even considered the context in which the apostle Paul wrote it. But I’ve never seen anything that qualifies this admonition, nothing that says, “Give thanks except…” or, “Give thanks, but…,” or even, “Give thanks when….”

Another of my favorite passages, Philippians 4:6-7, tells us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Then it says, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” The phrase, “the peace of God,” could easily apply to everything and anything that goes on around us in this chaotic, restless world in which we live. 

Do you feel angry? Find some reason for being grateful. Are you discontented? Even if you have to search for it, find one reason to be grateful today. Have you come to the conclusion that now, without any doubt, the world is going to hell in the proverbial handbasket? Shift your focus by finding some reason for being grateful. 

Or as my friend Albert, who has endured more than his share of adversity over the course of his life, often says, “Learn to say ‘Thank you!’ even when you don’t feel thankful.” Who knows? If you make it a point to do this, and I make it a point to do it too, we might just start a trend! And once in a while, a trend turns into a movement. Let’s lead the way!

Thursday, August 8, 2019

‘I Now Pronounce You Debt and Debtor’

Marriage is hard. Anyone who says differently has never tried it. Merging two people from different families and backgrounds, motivations and values, personalities and expectations. Two becoming one, as God prescribed in Genesis 2:24, is easier said than done.

Debt is a terrible, unmerciful master.
When one or both parties show up at the altar weighed down by a pile of debt, the challenge becomes even harder. Almost as difficult as trying to climb Mount Everest wearing only a swimsuit and flip-flops. Experts say money problems are a major contributor to divorce.

My wife and I recently celebrated 45 years of marriage. It’s been a wonderful journey of life together, but recalling the financial mountain we confronted early on makes me shudder. Somehow, we survived.

During my early single adult years, whenever I needed an emotional pick-me-up, the solution was to buy myself something. “Even if no one else cares about me, I love me!” was my self-indulgent rationale. It never occurred to me that the items I “bought” – even on sale –  figuring I could afford the monthly minimum payments, would cost me several times that amount in accrued interest. When we married, my wife “inherited” this debt.

Thankfully, we were introduced to biblical financial principles. Applying them was the start of escaping financial bondage. As Proverbs 22:7 asserts, “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.” The term “slave” is appropriate, because one deep in debt has no financial freedom. Mounting bills govern decisions; anxiety of indebtedness is ever-present. “I owe, I owe, it’s off the work I go!”

Introduced to wisdom from financial planners like Larry Burkett and Ron Blue, my wife and I discovered the Bible’s practical truths about finances every couple should learn before exchanging “I do’s.” Maybe you know someone about to walk down the aisle – or maybe you’re contemplating doing that soon yourself. Here are some of the sound principles we have learned:

Spend less than you earn. It’s said, “Expenditures always rise to level of income.” This is true of people working at minimum wage, as well as individuals receiving huge salaries. Whether you’re a corporate CEO, professional athlete, Hollywood celebrity or coffee shop barista, tomorrow’s wages aren’t guaranteed. “Better a little with the fear of the Lord than great wealth with turmoil” (Proverbs 15:16).

Avoid debt. Another translation of Proverbs 22:7 says the borrower is “servant” to the lender. This isn’t idyllic serving like the congenial staff of Downton Abbey; it’s grinding, unrelenting servitude, impeding our ability to make independent financial decisions. Handling money shouldn’t be an unending uphill battle.

Have a savings plan and a fund for emergencies. We should expect unexpected expenses, even though we won’t know where or when they will occur. Planning for the unplanned can help to avoid unnecessary debt. “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest” (Proverbs 6:6-8).

Be rich in things focused on God. That new car, or that perfect house? Those are nice, but like all material things, they don’t last. We’re better off focusing on things that last forever. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

Learn to be a generous giver. Jesus said it’s more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35), and that’s true. Because as we give from our resources to help and serve others, it brings joy. There are many biblical passages that speak to this, but as Proverbs 11:25 declares, “A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.”

Wants are not the same as needs. In our materialistic society, we’re bombarded with messages promoting the latest and greatest gizmos and gadgets. It’s easy to become confused over what we need rather than what we want. In Philippians 4:19, the apostle Paul wrote, “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” The Scriptures offer no such promise for our wants or desires. 

God owns it all. This last principle is the most important of all. We tend to regard ourselves as owners of what we have, but from God’s perspective, we’re only stewards of what He entrusts to us. “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours…. Wealth and honor come from you, you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all” (1 Chronicles 29:11-12).

These guidelines are excellent for people of all ages, but especially for those in pursuit of marital bliss.  Without mounting financial pressures making marriage more difficult than necessary, the divorce rate would probably fall dramatically.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Peace: Has It Become an Endangered Species?

Peace. What does it mean? If 100 people were asked that question, we’d hear 100 different answers. But we’d probably find general agreement that whatever peace is, we don’t have much of it these days.

When World War II ended, there was great rejoicing as peace treaties were signed to end conflict in both Europe and Asia. Newspapers bore huge headlines announcing war had ceased. Unfortunately, as throughout human history, respite from war didn’t last long.

The promised peace of the 1960's, the "flower power"
variety, never really materialized.
Today we stay in a state of high emotional alert. Doomsayers warn of the threat of nuclear war. The Middle East remains a hotbed of concern, terrorism an ever-present danger. Who knows where the next hostilities will break out – or when? It’s futile to speculate why. “Just because” seems to be the best rationale for constant human conflict.

Discord in politics has soared to an all-time peak, with little hope for improvement among the ranks or across the aisle. “Never the twain shall meet” seems the prevailing motto. Ironically, it was a Twain – Mark Twain – who said, “Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.” Peace isn’t welcome in the halls of government.

Peace’s absence has manifested itself even in our schools, churches and homes. Teachers get a whiff of it starting in kindergarten; by the time students arrive at the collegiate level, they need suits of armor for warding off antagonism from ideological foes. Religious institutions are often at odds; local congregations aren’t immune to strife. In homes, peace can seem precious, priceless, and uncommon.

So where can we find peace? There’s no aisle for it at Walmart. You can’t order a year’s supply of it on Amazon. If peace were an organism, it would be placed on the endangered species list. Where, oh where, can it be?

Whenever I find my emotions in internal uproar, as seems to happen whenever I watch the news, or spend too much time on social media, I try to remind myself of the one certain place peace can always be found: In Jesus Christ, and Him alone. 

One of my favorite reminders is Isaiah 26:3, which declares, “The steadfast of mind (the Lord) will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You.” Then there’s Philippians 4:6-7, which admonishes, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Jesus, the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6), faced more opposition and hostility during His earthly ministry than any of us could ever imagine. Yet He taught His followers how to find peace despite the surrounding storms. He assured them – and us – “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). 

Better than anyone, Jesus knew how rare and fleeting peace can be. The world can’t provide lasting peace, He was saying. We can find it only in a genuine, growing relationship with Him.

Does that mean that followers of Christ turn into peaceful Pollyannas, oblivious to the growing chaos around us? Not at all. In fact, He stated choosing to follow Him could result in another form of discord:Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:34-35).

Following Jesus doesn’t come without a cost. If necessary, it means choosing Him over family, friends and others, as courageous believers in nations dominated by religions like Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism have experienced. However, the peace we find in Christ supersedes anything life and the world in which we live can provide.

This is not something we’re to keep to ourselves like a cherished gem. We’re to extend the Lord’s peace to anyone and everyone we encounter as we go through each day. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:17:18).

Indeed, this is part of our calling as Christ followers – not keeping peace but making peace: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).

In a world and an age where peace seems so fleeting, through Jesus we not only can find peace, but also can show others where it can be found.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Should We Just ‘Let Go and Let God’?

Should we just "let go and let God"?
There’s a school of thought that even if we believe in the Lord, we’ve got to work our heads off to accomplish what He wants to get done. “If it’s going to be, it’s up to me,” goes the mantra. Then there’s the opposite perspective that it’s totally up to Him; we have nothing to do with it. This view says, “Let go, and let God.” So which is it?

We could simply shrug and borrow the words of the King of Siam in “The King and I” and declare, “it is a puzzlement.” Or we could conclude, based on the Scriptures, that it’s a case not of either/or, but one of both/and. Writer and theologian J.I. Packer has stated it well, arguing for what amounts to a middle ground: “It’s not let go and let God – it’s trust God and get going.” 

Oswald Chambers offers a similar view in My Utmost for His Highest: “There are not three levels of spiritual life – worship, waiting, and work…. God’s idea is that the three should go together as one.” Later he writes, “We are not sent to do battle for God, but to be used by God in His battles.”

There are times when we have exhausted every resource, when we’ve run out of ideas for addressing a particular need or concern. At those times, we have no option but to let go and let God. There’s nothing more we can do, so we must trust Him to do what we cannot. However, at other times we worry about a certain matter and use that refrain as a cop-out. “I’ll just sit here on this stump and wait for the Lord to do something about it."

I’m in the process of writing a book. It’s taken some time to get it done, and admittedly there have been times I wished I could just step aside and let the Lord finish it. After all, it’s all about Him and people who have been faithfully serving Him for decades. However, God has given me the ability to write, a passion for the craft, and a gift for communicating His truth in practical ways. So I know this book has to be a partnership between Him and me.

Jesus said in John 15:5, “apart from Me you can do nothing,” so I realize that if I attempt to accomplish anything of eternal value without Him, I’m being more than foolish. At the same time, it was the apostle Paul, himself a very strong, determined fellow, who wrote, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). The Lord empowers us – gives us the capacity – to carry out the work He has entrusted to us.

Speaking on what motivated him, what drove him, to be so urgent and instant in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ, Paul stated, “If we are out of our mind, it is for God; if we are of sound mind, it is for you. For Christ’s love compels us…” (2 Corinthians 5:13-14).

So, as for “let go and let God,” sometimes we have no other alternative. Most of the time, however, He wants us join with Him in His work, because as the apostle declared in his first letter to the church in Corinth, For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building” (1 Corinthians 3:9). 

There’s no place in the Lord’s workforce for the complacent or the inert. We all have a calling; we all have a job to do. But we must never forget that apart from Him, we can’t do anything that will matter for eternity.