Thursday, October 31, 2019

Covering Up What’s On the Inside

Every year when Halloween rolls around, I have mixed feelings. The prevalent focus on things like witches, zombies and vampires seems disturbing, but not surprising, given our society’s fascination with evil, the paranormal and the occult. However, what’s wrong with seeing little girls dressed up in sky-blue gowns like Elsa in “Frozen,” or little boys disguised like Jack Sparrow of “Pirates of the Caribbean”?

Shops spring up in vacant retail spaces, marketing all manner of festive and frightening attire. Some adults also enjoy costume parties, donning masks and sometimes complete costumes to disguise their identities. All in good fun for the most part, although TV murder mysteries this time of year often take place at adult Halloween parties. So, beware!

But this idea of hiding our true identities is hardly new. Dramas dating back to the ancient Greeks and Romans featured masked characters scheming to hoodwink protagonists and antagonists. Shakespeare did the same, although customs of the day required that males portray even females. In those days, apparently, a woman’s place was in the audience.

But even for the many of us who have no performing aspirations, who will never be welcomed into any thespian society, we know all about acting. For instance, engaging in a heated argument on the way to church but, the moment we exit our car in the parking lot, donning Sunday smiles and acting as if nary a contrary word was uttered.

We adopt a public persona. It might be on the job, speaking from a podium, or campaigning for office, seeking to delude those seeing and hearing us from knowing who we truly are and how we truly behave in private. And we didn’t even attend Miss Polly’s School for Acting!

There is one person, however, who can’t be deceived by our outward posturing. In 1 Samuel 16:7 we read, “For God sees not as man sees. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” We don’t have X-ray vision and can’t discern someone’s inner character, so we’re easily duped, especially by those adept at presenting personal facades. God doesn’t have that problem. Just as He expertly saw which of Jesse’s sons – David – was fit to serve as king of Israel, He’s equally skilled at perceiving our inner thoughts and motives.

The Lord is right on the spot in diagnosing our “heart problems,” As Proverbs 21:2 declares, “All a man’s ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs the heart.” And Proverbs 16:2 concurs, “All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord.” If only we had such ability.

As the verses above assert, we not only mask our inner selves from others, but there are also times when we manage to self-delude. We can convince ourselves that we’re right, that our motives couldn’t be more pure. Even when they’re not. So it’s important to perform a self-heart check to make certain we’re not hiding inside costumes year-round, not just at Halloween time.

How do we do that? The Scriptures serve as a great mirror for reflecting our inner selves. Hebrews 4:12 explains, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” How do our lives stack up against what we see in God’s Word?

As James 1:22-24 admonishes, Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” 

Halloween can be a fun, harmless, once-a-year diversion. But God desires for us to devote our lives of service to Him and His people as we truly are, sans “costume.” A term that describes this is integrity. It seems to have largely fallen out of favor in our society, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. Proverbs 11:3 asserts, “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.”

In other words, if we’re diligent to be genuine, the people we present ourselves to be, we need not fear being exposed as pretending to be someone we’re not. As 2 Corinthians 4:16 promises all who faithfully follow Christ, Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” It’s what’s inside that counts most.

Monday, October 28, 2019

A Moving Picture, Not a Snapshot

This photo from atop the city hall makes Rothenburg ob der Tauber,
Germany look like a fairytale village.
Besides writing, one of my favorite pastimes is photography. It started in college. After taking one course in photojournalism my senior year, I was awarded a graduate teaching assistantship – in photojournalism. I would complement what the professor taught about taking photos: things like composing a photo, cropping through the view finder, focusing, depth of field, panning (following a moving object), etc. I even showed students how to load film in their cameras. (Yes, it was way back then, in the pre-digital days.) Then I’d instruct on how to develop their film, then print their own black-and-white photos. Voila!

At first I wondered why, being relatively new to photography, I was assigned to assist with the photojournalism curriculum. In retrospect, I realized a great way to learn a craft is by teaching it. This became a great asset, since the community newspapers I would work on required the editor to also serve as the photographer. I did this, too, as a magazine editor. My journalistic credo became, “Have camera, will travel.” 

I've often wondered what these workers
in Budapest, Hungary were looking at.
Over the past 50-plus years, the tally of photos I’ve taken can only be described as “countless.” For instance, on my first trip to Europe – in the pre-digital camera days – I departed with 20 rolls of film; two weeks later I returned with more than 50. And I “shutter” to think of the cameras I’ve worn out.

Yet, I’ve rarely done video photography. It’s almost always been still photos, aiming to capture the perfect image, whether of a family member, an event, or beautiful scenery. I’ve just regarded it as a preference, even though taking videos has become much easier with digital cameras. But a speaker’s comment caused me to ponder “why not video?” more deeply.

Crawford Loritts observed, “Life is a moving picture, not a snapshot.” This struck me as profound, considering the thousands of snapshots I’ve taken over my lifetime. So, what’s the difference?

With a snapshot – whether it’s a scenic spot we come across while traveling, an image from a birthday party or sporting event, a posed shot of loved ones, or even a selfie – we can be very selective. We can reshoot if necessary to get the very best picture we can. With digital technology, if we don’t like a photo, we can discard it, or delete it from a memory card.

Skills and expertise required for video imagery are very different from still photography, and videos capture the complete range of expressions, not just the pretty smiles. There’s lots of unnecessary “footage,” stuff to edit out for maximum impact. A video might catch us at our best – but also at our worst.

Life’s like that, isn’t it? Along with the exhilarating, mountaintop experiences we revel in and eagerly share with others, there’s lots of mundane stuff we endure. There’s the pain and struggle no one wants to have represented in an album or photobook. We want people to see only the best of our best. On social media we want to display our highlights – but not our low-lights.

However, we all know that real life isn’t non-stop euphoria. That’s why James 1:3-4 admonishes us, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Life’s going to serve up tough times, like it or not. We can either deal with them in positive ways, seeking to learn and grow from them – or can resist them, seeking to conceal them like dirty laundry.

Speaking of which, snapshots usually our happy-happy, got-it-all-together sides. But the moving pictures of our lives include flaws, warts, all the bad stuff we don’t want anyone to see. But we can take heart in knowing that no one’s immune to flaws and warts. As Romans 3:10 asserts, “There is no one righteous, not even one.” Later in the same chapter we’re reminded of the reality, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

In a travelogue, the images we see represent the beauty of a city or region. We don’t see the impoverished areas, the crumbling buildings. It’s all snapshots – or strategically edited videos. When I traveled to Monterrey, Mexico, the hillside barrios weren’t in the travel brochures. Nor were the favelas of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Only the pretty scenery. But in reality, they were there.

Everyday life comes at us raw, unedited. A candid mix of the bad with the good. That’s why, ultimately, we need a Savior. We can’t clean up our own act. We need someone to do it for us. The good news is, Someone has. As 2 Corinthians 5:21 declares,“God made him (Jesus Christ) who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” In Christ, our moving pictures can be just as impressive as our snapshots.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Finding an Anchor in an Anchorless World

Growing up I had one major experience with water – one about which I have absolutely no recollection. My father served in the Army and had been stationed in Germany, so when it was time to return to the States, he, my mom and I boarded a ship for a trans-Atlantic voyage. As I said, I remember nothing about it – I was little over a year old at the time – but I’m told I spent all of my waking hours walking around the deck. So, I guess technically I could brag about walking across the Atlantic.

Since then I’ve ridden on motorboats, houseboats, sailboats and even rowboats, but I’ve never heard the call of the sea. I like Chicken of the Sea tuna, but that’s about it.

I mention all this because, in the interest of full disclosure, I’m hardly an expert about anything related to seaworthy vessels. But one thing I do know: an anchor is a handy tool to have if you’re at sea, whether you’re on a huge cruise boat, fishing boat, or whatever you board that keeps you from dropping directly into the water. 

The anchor, as even novices like me know, is a device usually made of heavy metal that keeps a watercraft secured. It can prevent being swept away by severe storms, caught up in strong currents, or drifting too far off shore on relatively calm days while basking in the sun for an hour or two.

We’re living in a world with storms continually gathering, and not just the kind predicted by friendly meteorologists on the local news. These storms take many forms, including social unrest, changes in everything from technology to ideologies, political chaos, and just the turbulence that real life throws at us every day. We hear messages that demand of us, “Believe this…don’t believe that.”

In the Scriptures, we see a vivid image of what it looks like when our worldviews and belief systems are bombarded and we lack an anchor to hold us steady: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is double-minded man, unstable in all he does” (James 1:5-7). 

Have you ever known someone like this, who could be described as “driven and tossed by the wind”? Perhaps you’ve found yourself wondering at times why, when all the forces around you are shouting to the contrary, you’re still clinging to faith as you do.

There is nothing wrong with occasionally questioning what we believe and why we believe it. I’ve always contended that if God isn’t big enough and strong enough to handle my questions and doubts, He isn’t a God worth believing in. At these moments I’ve always found Him more than sufficient, like an anchor to enable me to ride the waves of fear and uncertainty.

Situations and influences might change mightily around us. What used to be wrong is now said to be right, and what we knew to be right we suddenly find derided as wrong. But we have the promise from Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

This, I’m convinced, is not a fading or fragile hope, but one aptly described in these words from a classic hymn: “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.” Through the centuries, followers of Jesus have faced severe opposition, sometimes to the point of death; in some parts of the world that continues today – Christians being martyred because of their unwavering trust in Him. 

What enables people to take such a stand, refusing to recant of their devotion to the One who claimed to be “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6)? I think the only explanation is they have found the only anchor that could keep them from being overwhelmed by their circumstances or destroyed by their doubts. 

As Hebrews 6:19-20 affirms, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever….”

Monday, October 21, 2019

What If ‘Tomorrow’ Never Comes?

Most of us are amateurs at the majority of things we do. We try our best, but we’re not experts. But if there’s one thing many of us are pros at, it’s pro-crastinating. (Have you ever met an amateur-crastinator?)

Tasks we dislike quite easily are delayed for another time. “Never do today what you can put off till tomorrow,” Aaron Burr is reputed to have said. Even though the one-time Vice President to President Thomas Jefferson apparently wasn’t thinking that when he chose to engage Alexander Hamilton in a duel, which resulted in the latter’s demise. 

We might not have his dueling spirit, but can relate to his sentiments. Sometimes even things we enjoy are postponed for another day. Practically all writers have perfected the art of procrastination. Writing is such a personal act, putting intimate thoughts into words and sentences and then onto a page – paper or online – and then submitting them for readers’ consideration. So, there’s a temptation to delay until “the right moment.” But I’ve learned that as with any worthwhile challenge, ultimately you must just suck it up and get to work.

Where procrastination can be most damaging is in relationships. Harry Chapin sang about this in his classic tune, “Cat’s in the Cradle.” If you don’t remember, it’s about a father who promised to spend time with his young son, but always found more pressing things to do. When he finally reached the point in life when he had the time, the now-grown son had his own slew of commitments. The best he could do was echo his father’s words, “But we’ll get together then, Dad, we’re gonna have a good time then.”

Recently I heard someone recite a poem called “Tomorrow,” by American poet Edgar Guest, that captures the perils of procrastination perfectly:

He was going to be all that a mortal could be. . . Tomorrow
None should be kinder or braver than he. . . Tomorrow
A friend who was troubled and weary he knew,
Who’d be glad of a lift and who needed it, too,
On him he would call to see what he could do. . . Tomorrow
Each morning he’d stack up the letters he’d write. . . Tomorrow
And he thought of the friends he would fill with delight. . . Tomorrow
It was too bad indeed; he was busy each day,
And hadn’t a minute to stop on his way;
“More time I’ll give to others,” he’d say. . . Tomorrow
The greatest of workers this man would have been. . . Tomorrow
The world would have known him, had he ever seen. . . Tomorrow
But the fact is he died, and faded from view,
And all that he left here when living was through – 
Was a mountain of things he intended to do. . . Tomorrow.

Lord knows I’ve done my share of putting off until tomorrow, perhaps more than my share. In recent years I’ve been trying to overcome that, especially with loved ones and old friends. When someone comes to mind that I haven’t talked with lately – or at least texted – I try to give them a call. When I think, “We really should get together for lunch (or coffee),” I try to make it happen.

We’re discovering how quickly our grandkids grow up – even faster than we realize. So I’m aiming to not be consumed by the urgent and instead focus on the important, such as spending time with one of our “grands” whenever we get the chance. Recently we went to church and enjoyed brunch with our oldest granddaughter here in town, and it was a special time. A rare opportunity.

Ephesians 5:16 talks about, “making the most of your time, because the days are evil.” Some translations use the phrase, “redeeming the time,” which I prefer because it presents the image of making a one-time redemption for a day or an opportunity. What’s “evil” about the days is that once they’re gone, you can’t get them back. They’re beyond redemption.

Another verse, Galatians 6:10, offers a similar idea as it applies to relationships: "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially those who belong to the family of believers." Tomorrow, or as they say it in Spanish – “mañana” – may never come.

As Jesus said, "as long as it is day, we must do the works of Him who sent Me. Night is coming, when no one can work" (John 9:4). Let's not be like the fellow described in Guest's poem, who figured there would always be time enough for doing whatever it was – tomorrow.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

That Pesky Root of Lots of Things

There’s a misconception that the Bible declares “money is the root of all evil.” That’s not exactly true, although that is pretty close to how it’s rendered in the King James Version. The KJV stipulates evil is rooted in “the love of money.” The way most translations express it is, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). 

Mankind has devised many kinds of evil that have nothing to do with money – at least directly. But love for money definitely has resulted in countless forms of evil thinking and behavior. One doesn’t have to look very closely at the realms of business, politics, entertainment and even education to confirm that.

Over my years of discipling and mentoring other men, I’ve observed an interesting phenomenon. Within these very personal, trusting relationships, men have confided in me about all manner of things – marital struggles, various forms of addiction, uncontrolled outbursts of anger, infidelity, and other behaviors they had never shared with anyone else. However, almost unanimously, the one topic that has been off-limits even within the secure confines of a discipling or mentoring environment has been money.

I remember a time when a man had just told me about difficulties he was experiencing in his marriage. We talked about those for a while, and I expressed some observations. I don’t tell people what I think they should do, but do offer perspectives they might find helpful. Then – and I don’t recall exactly why – I asked him about his income. He hesitated, and then said something like, “Well, I really don’t talk with people about money. That’s personal, you know.”

Trying to keep from laughing, I thought, “Wow! This guy has just given me some candid information about his relationship with his wife, but a simple question about money is ‘personal’?” It wasn’t like I was trying to hit him up for a loan. But I’ve learned this is not unusual; it’s more the norm than the exception.

Maybe this is why, according to theologians who analyze such things, Jesus spoke more about money in the Scriptures than any other topic – including heaven, hell, and eternal life. Someone has calculated more than 2,300 verses in the Bible concern money and material wealth. One of Christ’s most convicting statements on the subject is Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

This doesn’t mean money – or any form of wealth – is inherently evil. Whether it was in the ancient times of the Bible or today, a means of exchange has always been necessary to acquire basic needs, pay bills, meet emergency expenses, and such. But money has a way of commanding our attention, for some becoming an object of worship.

How do you feel when your pastor begins a sermon about giving? Do you reach protectively for your wallet or purse? If we buy a new house or a new car, we proudly show off the fruit of our labors. But if someone were to ask, “How much money do you make, anyway?” would you feel offended, or think, “That’s none of your business”?

In the Ten Commandments, the last commandment is, “You shall not covet…” (Exodus 20:17). In other words, don’t envy or lust for other people’s stuff. When a reporter asked one wealthy business magnate, “How much is enough?” he purportedly responded, “Just a little bit more.” So even within the so-called “one percent” of society, there’s no limit to fascination with money and what it can supply.

Many years ago, industrialist R.G. LeTourneau, a devoted follower of Jesus Christ, practiced a “reverse tithe.” The tithe, as the Bible defines it, is 10 percent of one’s income. LeTourneau flipped that around, giving 90 percent of his income to charitable causes and keeping just 10 percent for his personal use. Another businessman, Stanley Tam, took similar steps, drawing up legal papers making God a literal partner in his business, eventually giving Him full ownership, not just a percentage of the profits.

That seems to be a key to overcoming the insidious root of evil that money can become: Holding what we have – all that we have – with an open hand and giving the Lord full access to it, without reservation. Is that easy to do? Not in my experience. But one passage in particular serves as a reminder whenever we feel the need to hold tightly to “my money.” 

As 1 Chronicles 29:11-12 in the New Living Translationtells us, Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty. Everything in the heavens and on earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as the one who is over all things. Wealth and honor come from you alone, for you rule over everything. Power and might are in your hand, and at your discretion people are made great and given strength.”

This says that rather than owners, we’re merely stewards of what God entrusts to us. So to avoid the potential evils money can tempt us with, rather than wondering, “What should I do with my money?” a better question might be, “Lord, how would You like me to use Your money today?”

Monday, October 14, 2019

One Shall Become a Thousand

When I started writing these posts in 2008, I had no aspirations or expectations. I just wanted an avenue for expressing random thoughts about a variety of topics. My desire was to offer my perspectives as both journalist and follower of Christ, applying biblical truths I believe are as practical and relevant today as they were when God inspired dozens of men to record them many centuries ago.

When I first thought about writing a blog, I wasn’t sure I could sustain it. So I wrote several posts before publishing the first one, reasoning it would be silly to run out of steam after just one or two. Obviously, I haven’t. It was my plan to write only one per week, but soon realized that wouldn’t accommodate all the stuff I was “just thinking” about.

Initially I limited each post to 300 words, since someone had told me that was the optimum length for online articles. Before long, however, I found that limit too restrictive, especially for including Bible passages related to the issue at hand. Soon my word count grew to 600 or more, with occasional gusts up to 900 or so.

My first efforts included topics like personal finances, communications, holidays, death, setting goals and making resolutions. Over the years since, I’ve revisited many of these, as well as others. The question I’ve always asked and sought to answer was, “What do the Scriptures have to say about this subject?”

Today marks my 1,000th post, which I suppose is an anniversary of sorts. A lot has happened over the past 11 years – career changes, additions of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, learning about the aging process firsthand, hearing daily about a polarizing figure named Trump. But what hasn’t changed is my conviction that the Bible is true and that God has provided it as His perfect Owner’s manual for how He intends for us to live.

I know there’s an incredible range of opinions about the Scriptures. Some consider it outdated and irrelevant; there’s a segment of people who have labeled it “dangerous”; and others find it “figurative,” that we’re free to pick those things in it we like and ignore – or re-interpret – the rest. However, I concur with what the Bible says of itself: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

A friend was leading a Bible study and asked one of the participants what she thought that passage meant. She replied, “It means that God wrote a book!” I wholeheartedly agree. Jehovah God, who created the universe, saw fit to guide and inspire the writing and compilation of a book that stands unique from any other. As someone has said, “Many books can inform, but only the Bible can transform.”

I recall a top executive speaking to a crowd years ago, telling how he had spent countless hours listening to and reading books by self-help gurus who claimed to know the secrets to business success. Then he discovered the Bible, and after thorough examination, concluded it was superior to all the other resources combined. 

Sharing that view, I continue to offer these posts in the belief that the teachings and principles the Lord gives us in the Scriptures – starting with how we can receive forgiveness, reconciliation with God, and eternal life through Jesus Christ – provide the answers to all of life’s biggest questions. We’ve become what some call a “post-Christian nation,” which I think is much to the detriment of our society. But that doesn’t diminish the importance and impact of the timeless truths available to us as we read from Genesis to Revelation.

Toward the end of one of the Bible’s prophetic books it says, “one shall become a thousand” (Isaiah 60:22). I’m sure this had no reference to online commentaries – unless Isaiah was an even more insightful major prophet than we realize. But as of today, my idea for one short blog post has literally become a thousand. 

I haven’t a clue as to what I’ll find to write about, Lord willing, for the next 1,000 posts. But I know one thing: I’m eager to get started in writing post No. 1,001. Because as Psalm 45:1 states so well, “My heart is overflowing with a good theme; I recite my composition concerning the King; my tongue is the pen of a ready writer.”

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Christ’s Ambassadors: Where We Work Or Live, Wherever We Go

How would you like to be appointed ambassador to some foreign land? Our nations of choice might differ – some might prefer Italy, France or Germany, Japan or China, Mexico or Brazil, Kenya, Egypt or somewhere else. Wherever you might choose, imagine representing the United States and its interests in that country. Wouldn’t it be an honor to be the official spokesperson?

Did you know that all followers of Jesus Christ are in fact His ambassadors? It declares that in 2 Corinthians 5:20, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” Nowhere in this brief passage do we find the option, “if you choose to do so.” It’s our job; our assignment. Wherever we go, whether in our homes, neighborhoods, at school or where we work, we’re called to represent Him.

'Marketplace Ambassadors' recounts the nearly
90-year history of CBMC, along with the
rich spiritual legacy that continues today.
So I was grateful for the opportunity to write a book about Christian Business Men’s Connection (CBMC), which for nearly nine decades has been comprised of business and professional men devoted to serving the Lord and their communities in His name, seeking to tell others about Him. Marketplace Ambassadors has just been published and tells how God has been using CBMC to touch countless lives for Jesus since its founding in 1930.

Over the years the CBMC ministry has intersected with many notables – people like Jimmy Carter (then governor of Georgia), Charles Colson, Dr. Billy Graham, Joni Eareckson Tada, members of Congress, and others. But most of all, God has worked through everyday people with a heart for sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with others. 

Churches and parachurch ministries have developed effective strategies and resources for reaching various segments of society – young and old, women, young people, couples and families – but relatively few have concentrated their attention on the marketplace. Particularly business and professional men with their unique needs and challenges. This is where CBMC has excelled, and I’ve had the privilege to help in communicating this mission in one way or another since 1981.

Marketplace Ambassadors includes dozens of stories of men and women whose lives have been transformed by being introduced to Jesus and discipled, so they could grow and mature in their faith. Some of these folks I’ve come to know well, and they have served as role models and mentors for me along my own spiritual journey. What has impressed me most is their love for the Lord, their passion for serving Him and zeal for telling others about Him.

In His Great Commission, Jesus instructed us to, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations … teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). In many segments of Christianity, this has been either underemphasized or ignored entirely. But it was the last thing He said prior to ascending to heaven – kind of like telling us, “This is what I most want you to remember.” It’s been my great privilege to experience and observe firsthand that CBMC has not forgotten the Lord’s final instructions.

A theme verse CBMC has embraced over the years, especially since the 1970s, is 2 Timothy 2:2, “And the things you have heard me [Paul] say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” When the apostle wrote this to his protégé, Timothy, he described four generations of believers: “spiritual multiplication.” However, this is not directly only to the business and professional world. It’s a charge given to each of us, no matter where God has placed us.

This is why we’re called Christ’s ambassadors. A faithful, effective ambassador does not do whatever he or she wishes; they understand that they serve on behalf of their “sponsor.” And for those of us who profess the name of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, we’ve been placed in our workplaces, schools, neighborhoods and churches on His behalf, to be “salt and light” to many who need to learn about Him.

Monday, October 7, 2019

The Pain, Privilege and Power of Waiting

Waiting. Whether idling at a traffic light, standing in a grocery store checkout line, or anticipating an important business call, most of us hate to wait. Patience isn’t a virtue in great supply. That is, unless our waiting involves someone or something we care about deeply.

Recently a speaker observed waiting can be an expression of love: The longer we’re willing to wait, the greater the measure of our love. For instance, sitting at a hospital bedside day after day, waiting for loved one to recover from a serious illness. A military wife anxiously anticipating her husband’s return after months of overseas deployment. A child staring out a window waiting for mom or dad to come home. 

Jesus’ parable of the lost son in Luke 15 tells the poignant story of a father waiting for a rebellious son to come home. This provides a vivid picture of how God the Father awaits the return of His prodigals. What great, undeserved love this demonstrates. A brilliant metaphor for His grace.

The desire of our waiting and longing, of course, isn’t always realized. Recently a friend lost his dear wife of more than 50 years to a long-term illness. Sometimes the hoped-for phone call never comes. But that doesn’t diminish the value of the love that inspires our willingness to wait.

When the expectations that undergird our waiting are fulfilled, feelings of joy have no match. Some friends had a critically ill daughter who waited weeks before she was physically ready to undergo major surgery. At last, the operation was performed, followed by a good prognosis. It was worth the wait.

Sometimes the desire that motivates us is directed to other objectives. People line up for 24 hours or more, wanting to be the first to latch onto the newest smartphone, or camp out for days to acquire tickets for their favorite musician’s concert. But how often do we demonstrate such love or devotion in waiting upon God?

Maybe we have to wait for Him to answer an urgent prayer. Other times it’s simply a matter of setting aside our busy schedules and everyday concerns to spend time with the Lord, reading and studying His Word, praying, meditating – and being quiet long enough for Him to speak to us. For many of us, this waiting is the hardest of all.

We tend to gauge our love for God by things we do: attending worship services; writing a check to support the work of His kingdom; participating in a service project; taking a short-term mission trip. But do we ever consider that the greatest measure of our love for Him is just spending time alone with Him?

In the Scriptures, particularly the Psalms, we see many examples of such love – and waiting. During one of his desert experiences, King David wrote, “O God, You are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1). How often is this the expression of our hearts?

Sometimes as we look at the world around us, we’re tempted to wonder, “Where is God in all this?” We can take heart when we read another declaration from David: “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:1). 

He also wrote, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord” (Psalm 40:1).

Then there’s my favorite passage on waiting, one I’ve turned to repeatedly over the years: “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes…. Wait for the Lord and keep his way. He will exalt you to inherit the land, when the wicked are cut off, you will see it” (Psalm 37:7,34). I can only imagine King David, faced with strong opposition, clinging to promises such as these.

Most of us willingly wait for a good friend who is late for lunch, a client yet to arrive for a critical meeting, or for the doors to open on Black Friday to take advantage of special Christmas bargains. Do we love God enough that we’re willing to wait on Him, however long it takes?

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Why Hold Back When We Know the Cure?

Suppose you’re a medical researcher diagnosed with a dread, terminal disease. You determine to apply all of your skill, expertise and intelligence in search of a cure. And one day, much to your delight – and surprise – you find it. You conduct necessary tests to confirm your findings – no question about it. There’s a cure for you, and for anyone else who wants it.

There’s only one problem: You wonder, “Who am I to impose this cure on someone else?” With so many physicians and medical centers providing other treatment methods, you think it might be “intolerant” to let anyone else know about your good news.

Ridiculous, right? Rather than intolerant, you’d be regarded as selfish at best, cruel and murderous at worst, for withholding such wonderful, life-giving information. 

And yet, this is exactly what happens every day in our communities, across the country and around the world, in a spiritual sense. The disease is called “sin,” which describes not only bad behavior and wrong thinking, but also separation from God. In the Scriptures we find the “cure,” which is Jesus Christ. People need to hear and have the opportunity to respond. However, as Romans 10:14 says, “How then can they call on the One in whom they have not believed? And how can their believe in the One of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach?”

This is why Jesus, in His Great Commission before ascending into heaven, instructed all of His followers, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). This command was not solely for the “green berets” of Christianity, the “special forces” who are seminary-trained, but to everyone who professes the name of Jesus Christ.

Sadly, studies indicate only about 10 percent of all professed followers of Jesus actively share their faith with others. That means 90 percent of the men, women and young people assembling for worship each week never get into the action. They may know, as Romans 3:23 states, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). For some reason, however, they feel disinclined to share with others about the Good News, summarized in the last part of that verse: “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

There are many reasons – or excuses – for not talking with others about Jesus. We might fear rejection, that people would label us “fanatics” or “Jesus freaks.” There’s fear of failure, that we’ll mess up somehow in presenting the gospel message. We might think we’re not adequately prepared or trained for the task, that we don’t know the Bible well enough, or need to attend more evangelism workshops or conferences. There are other justifications as well, but when put to the test, all lack validity.

Consider, for example, the blind man that had his sight restored by Jesus. When interrogated by the Pharisees, he didn’t respond with a detailed theological treatise. He just replied, “One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see” (John 9:25).

Then there was the Samaritan woman at the well, who was shocked to have a Jewish man – Jesus – approach her, especially given her sketchy background. After He described Himself as the “living water,” and compassionately recounted her painful past, the woman ran to tell the townspeople. The passage then states, Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I ever did’” (John 4:39). 

This woman had never attended Sunday school, or received specialized evangelistic training. Like the blind man, all she knew was this was someone unlike anyone she had ever encountered and she was eager to tell everyone else about Him.
If only each of us was as eager to tell others about the Lord Jesus Christ. We tend to think that’s the job of trained professionals, like pastors and missionaries. We support their efforts with money in the offering plate or checks in the mail. We applaud or shout a hearty “Amen!” when we hear about people who have given their hearts to Christ. But how often do we consider, “Could it be that God has brought this person into my life for a reason – to share about Jesus?”

Every one of us is afflicted with a disease called sin, and if not cured, it is terminal for all eternity. We can’t cure ourselves, much less anyone else. But we know the One who can. What we can do is tell them that the cure is available – and theirs for the asking.

Maybe we should pray a simple prayer, “God, I’m willing to talk with someone about You. I don’t know if I’m up to the challenge, but I know that You are. I also know the Scriptures promise that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Make me sensitive to someone who needs to hear about you today.” I have every confidence that is one prayer the Lord will not fail to answer.