Thursday, July 30, 2020

Now Is the Time for Humility, for Repentance, and for Prayer

If you are a fan of chaos, you must be enjoying this year. A global virus pandemic. Protests. Riots across the country, which may or may not really be related to racism. The usual political blather, only amped up multiple times over. Shutdowns, businesses ruined, and economic turmoil. Schools closed, sports seasons in limbo. Having to wear masks, the first time that’s happened since “The Lone Ranger” enthralled TV fans more than half a century ago.


In considering root causes of many of these issues, it seems fairly evident that, as the Scriptures tell us, we’re experiencing what happens when you “sow the wind and reap the whirlwind” (Hosea 8:7). We keep hearing about the “new normal,” but many of us are longing for the old normal. Can’t we rewind to Dec. 31, 2019, or bypass 2020 altogether, start fresh with 2021, and see if that works out better?


For those inclined to be “fixers,” seeing a problem and wanting to get it resolved as quickly as possible, it’s frustrating. The COVID-19 restrictions were only supposed to last a few weeks until we “flattened the curve.” Those have expanded to months, with no certainty of ending anytime soon. What can we do?


Some folks believe politics is the answer. Get the right folks elected and before we know it, Kumbaya! The problem is, we’ve pursued the political solution for many decades; despite how “enlightened” our society supposedly has become, we’re still wrestling with many of the same problems.


Then we have the “Pollyanna people,” believers that the essential goodness in people will suddenly emerge, that we’ll all spontaneously become unselfish, kind and loving, generous, and all the other nice traits and values we can imagine. Sounds wonderful, right? Utopia, coming to a town near you! Except it’s been tried and failed, time after time. Why? Because, as the Bible says, “There is no one righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10-12). And in case we think that verse doesn’t mean what it says, Ecclesiastes 7:20 asserts the same truth: “There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.”


Pastor Jonathan Cahn is calling for a time of spiritual turning, repentance, awakening and revival.
Pastor Jonathan Cahn is calling
for a time spiritual turning, repentance,
awakening and revival.
So, if politics/government and inherent human goodness aren’t the salve needed to salvage the current malaise of our nation – and the world – then what is? I think the answer’s found in a verse we often hear at community prayer gatherings, and once in a while in our churches: 

“If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).


Sounds simplistic, I know. But are we doing it – right now? We’re wringing our hands, mumbling, complaining to one another, debating on social media, and maybe even sending out a pitiful prayer flare: “God, do something, please?” But are we, God’s people, humbling ourselves and praying and seeking His face – and turning from our wicked ways?


Our tendency is to stare at people outside our faith circles, point and say, “It’s them! They’re the ones who need to repent!” Ah, but that’s not what this Scripture says. The onus, it would seem, is on those who profess to be genuine followers of God, who manifested Himself on earth in the person of Jesus Christ.


Full disclosure: Anything I write here, if it seems I’m pointing a finger, there are several fingers pointing back at me, okay? So I’m not judging. 


Are we truly humbling ourselves, solemnly acknowledging and reminding ourselves daily that apart from the grace of God and redemption through Jesus Christ, we’re just as deserving of God’s condemnation and wrath as anyone?


Are we truly seeking the Lord, or are we merely giving Him lip service, devoting maybe an hour or two – if that – every week and living the rest of the week as if He didn’t exist? Coronavirus restrictions on church attendance aren’t an excuse. Were we genuinely, zealously seeking God even before all of that?


Are we turning from our own wicked ways? ‘What wicked ways?’ some might ask. Well, for starters, recognizing where we may be failing to serve as ambassadors for Christ in our communities, reaching out to others in His name, both tangibly and spiritually? Are we giving deference to the god of materialism, buying and accumulating far more stuff than any human really needs? (Again, fingers are pointing back at me, too.) Finding other “idols” to worship, ranging from our favorite sports teams to our spouses, children, jobs, achievements, entertainment, or our status in the community? Feel free to add to this list if you like.


These steps, it seems, are prerequisites to God’s promise to hear from heaven, forgive our sins personal and societal – and heal our land.


Recently I saw a brief video by Jonathan Cahn, author of The Harbinger and the Jewish pastor of Beth Israel, a Messianic congregation in New Jersey. In it he speaks of “The Return,” a time dedicated to “spiritual turning, repentance, awakening and revival.” Cahn talks of “10 days of vigilant prayer” – Sept. 18-28 – with a “sacred assembly,” a National and Global Day of Prayer and Repentance, scheduled for the Mall in Washington, D.C., Sept. 26, 2020.  


I don’t know much about Pastor Cahn, other than having read The Harbinger. But in today’s troubled times, many of us would welcome spiritual turning, repentance, awakening and revival. Perhaps some of us should participate in what is expected to be a large assembly of people. But we don’t have to wait for September to get started. Now is as good a time as any.


James 5:16 tells us, “The prayer of a righteous man [and woman] is powerful and effective.” Jesus said, Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24). He also promised, Again, I tell you truly that if two of you on the earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:19).


How many of us are willing to take God up on these promises, to trust that our humble, seeking and repentant prayers will be heard and answered at a time when we as individuals – and a nation – desperately need for Him to act? Don’t just sit there; do something: Pray!

Monday, July 27, 2020

When God Directs, How Will You Respond?

One of the most common questions believers ask is, “How can I know God’s will?” Many books have attempted to answer that question, so I won’t try to address it here. But an equally important question should be, “Once you sense you know God’s will, what are you going to do about it?”


Recently I participated in a Zoom online meeting in which the fellow giving the meditation posed the question, “When God directs, do we have enough faith to step out in obedience?”


Thinking back over my life, I can recall a number of times I felt God’s leading – sometimes a gentle nudge, other times a firm shove – to do something that was far outside of my comfort zone. In some of those instances I hesitated, thinking, “I can’t do that.” But after praying, God persisting, or both, I took the step He was asking me to take.


Each time I did, the Lord did “exceeding abundantly beyond anything I could think or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20). One of the first such times I remember was when I was concluding my newspaper career in suburban Houston, Texas, preparing to make a major job change in joining the staff of CBMC (Christian Business Men’s Connection) in Chattanooga, Tenn. 


God has many ways of making clear His will. In this case, I knew it was time to change employment, but the CBMC job offer was the only door that opened up. It was almost like the Lord saying, “Bob, you’re not smart enough to deal with multiple options, so this is the only opportunity I’m going to present.” So when the job offer came – to become CBMC’s editor and publications director – I accepted.


But I still felt anxious. My family and I had never been to Chattanooga, except when I traveled there for the job interview, and I knew next to nothing about CBMC or the people I would be working with. So in meeting with the pastor of my church to talk with him about going to work with a Christian organization, he suggested I take a few minutes during a Sunday morning service and tell the congregation about what I would be doing.


My initial reaction was, “No, I can’t do that.” Being pretty much of an introvert, and averse to speaking in front of a group, I couldn’t imagine getting up to speak before several hundred people, even for just a few minutes. But the pastor asked me to pray about it. As I did, I felt strongly impressed that was what God wanted me to do. Finally, I agreed, praying, “Okay, Lord, I’ll do it, but don’t let me embarrass myself – or You – In the process.”


That Sunday morning, as I sat near the front awaiting my time to speak, I felt very nervous. “What am I doing?” But as soon as I got up, stepped behind the pulpit and looked at the congregation, including many friends, I sensed the “peace that passes all understanding” Philippians 4:7 speaks about. With a steady voice and without stumbling around, I briefly explained how God was calling me – and my family – to Chattanooga where I would be writing and editing for a ministry dedicated to evangelizing and discipling business and professional people.


That step of obedience turned into a stepping stone for future opportunities. In part because of that experience, knowing that in God’s strength I could something I felt very uncomfortable about – public speaking – I’ve had numerous opportunities to speak since then, in many different settings. I’ll never been invited to be on a speaking circuit, but I have spoken at meetings all across the country, taught college classes in business communications for years, and even was invited to speak internationally in Hungary, the Netherlands, Canada, Mexico, El Salvador, Venezuela, and Jamaica.


There have been other times when I stepped out in obedience as God directed, such as discipling and mentoring another man spiritually; traveling to Brazil, where I knew no one and could not speak a word of Portuguese; and making another major career move.


On each occasion, God blessed my step of faith far beyond what I could have hoped. As Jeremiah 33:3 says, “Call on Me, and I will answer you and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.” I don’t even want to imagine what might have happened – or would not have happened – if I had resisted and refused to take a faithful first step.


What about you? Is God calling you, directing you, to do something and you’re thinking, “No way. I couldn’t do that!”? I think of the prophet Isaiah’s bold response: Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?' And I said, "Here am I. Send me!" (Isaiah 6:8). Don’t miss out on some great adventure the Lord has for you by declining to respond, “Okay, I’ll go.”

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Is It Wrong for God to Desire Glory?

What does it feel like when you perform a special act of kindness for someone and they show appreciation for what you’ve done? You didn’t do it for the gratitude, but isn’t it nice to receive it? On the other hand, how do you feel when some form of benevolence that you have done isn’t acknowledged, not even a casual “thanks”?

Or consider this: If you’re at all creative or into craftsmanship, how does it make you feel to capture an unusually captivating photo; or take an art class and create a painting better than you imagined you could; or lovingly sew a beautiful quilt for a shut-in, or craft a special piece of furniture out of wood? When one of our children comes home with a picture they did at school, don't they delight when we praise them for it - even if it's not "perfect"?


Whenever most of us do such things, we surge with a sense of pride and satisfaction. We enjoy being part of a job well-done, whether working on our own or as part of a team. I’ve felt gratification each time when, after months, even years of writing and editing a book, it finally becomes a finished, published product. (It’s probably the closest I’ll ever get to being pregnant and giving birth.)


This response, as I understand the Scriptures, is as it should be. It tells us we’re “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). That’s one of the primary reasons He put us here. Shouldn’t we experience a level of satisfaction as we’re doing them?


So, is it any surprise that the Bible declares that the Lord delights in the praises of His people, that He loves receiving our expressions of gratitude and thanksgiving for all He does for us?


Over and over, the Word of God states how important it is to praise Him and offer thanks. Psalm 8 starts with the declaration, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth. You have set your glory above the heavens. From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise" (Psalm 8:1-2). 


Then, after briefly describing the wonders of His creation and the special place He has made for all of humankind, the psalm closes with the same words: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth” (Psalm 8:9).


In the very next psalm, the writer – King David – picks up where he left off: “I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonders. I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High” (Psalm 9:1-2).


I love the opening verse of Psalm 19, which announces, “The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” Nature, it seems, was created with the capacity for glorifying and praising its Creator. Have you ever thought of the chirp of a bird, the buzz of a bee, the rustle of leaves and the twinkling of stars light years away as forms of praise emanating from the universe?


We could look at countless other examples, not just in the Psalms but in virtually every book of the Bible. What brings this to mind is a comment an agnostic friend of mine made years ago, one that to this day causes me to shake my head whenever I recall it. He said something to the effect that, “If there is a God, He must be some kind of super-egotist to expect people to always give Him praise and honor.”


Really? Seriously? As noted above, we find it nice to have appreciation shown for our kind gestures. It’s not required, but we enjoy having our efforts recognized – or at least being able to see the positive impact of what we’ve done. And we justifiably take pleasure in our own accomplishments, regardless of the areas of endeavor. 


Why then would it be wrong for the God of all creation, who fashioned everything we see and touch and hear, taste and smell and work with, including the physical laws that govern them, to seek honor and glory and praise and thankfulness from us? 


It’s not only a good thing to do, but out of love and adoration and worship for the Lord, it’s pretty much expected. Perhaps this is why the apostle Paul offered this exhortation: So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Monday, July 20, 2020

The Challenge – and Indescribable Blessing of Marriage

Among the many things that can fall into the category of “we don’t know what we don’t know” is the mysterious and oft-maligned institution of marriage. 


A couple gazes starry-eyed at each other on their wedding day, filled with great and grandiose expectations as they repeat the magic words, “I do.” Sooner or later, even if only momentarily, “I do” turns into “I did?” when they encounter a stiff dose of reality. Where happened to all those hopes and anticipations?


Part of the problem, I suppose, is that often the couple enters into the relationship thinking, “He (she) will meet all my needs.” Talk about mission impossible! In most cases, two very different people are committing to a lifelong partnership – kind of like a square peg and a round peg trying to fit into a triangular hole together.


The good news is, despite the growing trend in our society to disparage marriage as an archaic, overly restrictive tradition, there remains a warm place in our hearts for the institution. That’s why even “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” usually conclude with the magic moment when a guy drops to his knee and asks, “Will you marry me?” (In these days of equality, why we don’t see a gal dropping to her knee to pop the question?)


Anyway, millions of people get married every year; statistically about half of them stay married. Others find it more difficult than they thought, and yet they remain hopeful, attempting marriage with multiple individuals in succession. Maybe they’re convinced third time’s the charm – or the fifth.


As this is being posted, my wife and I are celebrating our 46thwedding anniversary. Frankly, if there were a Congressional Medal of Honor for marriage, my wife would deserve it. She’s put up with a lot over our more than 4½ decades together, and we’ve weathered our share of the proverbial ups and downs, trials and tribulations. But we’re both glad we worked at it, and worked at it…and worked at it. And we’re still working at it.

If someone were to ask what our secret for an enduring marriage is, we’d have to admit we don’t have one. We just determined to stay committed to one another, and we’ve been able to weather some bad times so we could enjoy lots of good times. But more than that, even though it didn’t start that way, our marriage has been centered about the Lord Jesus Christ.


When the apostle Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13), his context wasn’t about marriage – but it could have been. Because the vows we take – the “sickness and in health, richer or poorer…” part? The “as long as we both shall live” part? They’re extremely difficult to live out apart from the power, wisdom and guidance of the Lord.


There’s a passage in the New Testament book of Ephesians that often gets people’s noses out of joint: “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22). In today’s culture, that verse seems to fly contrary to conventional wisdom. “Submit” to your husband? How dare you?! However, that verse is nestled between two other passages that elaborate on the why’s and how’s of this directive.


The first is Ephesians 5:21, the preceding verse, which admonishes us to “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” So it’s not a submission of one person as a lesser to another who is greater. It’s a mutual, deferential submission. Giving way to each other.


Genuine love isn’t the touchy, feely type of emotion we see glorified in the Hallmark movies, but rather giving preference to the desires and needs of another. The word for love most commonly used in the Scriptures is the Greek “agape,” which means unconditional, sacrificial, selfless love. It hearkens to the soldier who gives his or her life for comrades, a parent doing whatever is needed to protect a child, and ultimately, Jesus dying on the cross. Not for anything He had done wrong, but for the wrongs – the sins – of each and every man, woman and child. As an old friend used to say, Jesus took the rap for us.


The other passage comes soon after the “wives submit to your husbands” verse. Ephesians 5:25-28 refers to Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice when it says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…. In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.” Sadly, many husbands fail to live up to this – as I have on numerous occasions. We love them, but only up to a point. “Don’t make me sacrifice too much,” we rationalize.


We don’t have that option. There are no caveats, no exceptions, placed on how much or in what ways we’re to love our wives as Christ loved the Church. When we ask, “How much?” we only need to visualize Jesus, with arms outstretched on the cross, for the answer. That’s how much!


The apostle Paul beautifully concludes this passage when he exhorts, “…each one of you must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (Ephesians 5:33). Husbands should love their wives unconditionally, without limit. And wives are to respect their husbands – value them and give them the admiration they long to receive.


If you’re looking for a recipe for a successful, long-lasting marriage, there it is. Long after the echoes of “I do” have faded, and the occasional “I did?” arises, then we can smile and think, “Yup, I did!”

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Powerless: Sometimes the Perfect Place to Be

Have you seen any of the video series, “The Chosen”? I’ve seen the first four episodes – it’s about the life of Jesus Christ, employing some artistic license about what His life might have been like before He began His formal ministry. It also includes fictionalized back stories of some of Jesus’ closest disciples.


I don’t mention this to promote the series, although it’s well worth the time to view it. The fourth episode includes a scene called “The Miracle of the Fish,” referring to Luke 5:1-11, in which Jesus directs several frustrated fishermen, including Simon Peter, James and John, to try once more to haul in some fish. Their catch is so overwhelming, it almost capsizes their fishing boat.


A scene of Jesus at a wedding in episode
five of “The Chosen.”
(CNS photo/Vidangel Studios)
The video’s depiction is impressive, showing hundreds of fish being pulled into the boat, straining the capacity of the nets. The only thing is, they’re not real fish. They are computer-generated imagery or CGI, special visual effects created via computer. As Dallas Jenkins, director of “The Chosen,” explained in a brief video about the scene, creating the miracle of the fish on screen was a miracle in itself.

Originally, the plan was to use real fish on a scheduled day and time, but all options for that had proved fruitless. What could be done? Trying to film the scene without the fish would lose its impact. Then the tech-savvy members of Jenkins’s team assured him it could be done with computer software. The director, however, was skeptical. All he could do was trust them – and God.


“So I was powerless, and it’s a scary place to be, when you’re powerless,” Jenkins said in the video clip. “But, for me, it felt like a really beautiful place to be.” 


One of the CGI specialists said an idea came to him that he had never tried before, and as it turned out, the result far exceeded his expectations.


To me, this is a wonderful description of each of our lives at one time or another, whether we’re attempting to capture a miraculous biblical event on film, addressing a serious financial challenge, dealing with a dire medical diagnosis, or coping with myriad other crushing problems that crop up in everyday life. We feel powerless, and it’s scary. But if we turn to God in faith, trusting Him to guide us through whatever the crisis happens to be, it can prove to be “really beautiful.”


We agonize, “What should I do?” when in reality, there’s nothing we can do. Then we pray, sometimes as a last, desperate resort, and wonder, “But what can God do?” The uncertainty can be scary, but it also can become an incredible learning experience as we discover anew that the phrase, “God is able,” isn’t some trite, handy cliché.


While pondering this, a verse popped into my mind that I hadn’t thought about in some time. It’s from the Old Testament, but it’s as new and fresh as the dew on this morning’s lawn. God declares, “Call on me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” (Jeremiah 33:3). That’s a wonderful promise I’ve seen fulfilled in my life – and the lives of many people I know – more times than I could ever recount.


What has you feeling powerless today? A struggle in your personal life? A painful family situation? Seemingly insurmountable problems at work? Concern about the strife and chaos overwhelming our nation right now? Each apparently without resolution. What’s to be done?


Jeremiah 33:3 gives us the answer. God says we’re to call on Him, praying urgently, fervently and faithfully. And trusting that as we do so, He indeed will show us, as another translation states it, “great and mighty things” that we do not know. Because, as Ephesians 3:20 assures us, the Lord is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”


Yes, feeling powerless is a scary place to be. But if we look to the Lord and trust in Him, even when we haven’t a clue about what He’ll do, it can also be the perfect place to be.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Triumphing Over Adversity: The Toughness Test

Time is a great teacher. Over my decades of life, I’ve concluded that I wouldn’t mind pain if it didn’t hurt so much. Similarly, I wouldn’t have such a dislike for adversity if it wasn’t so difficult and demanding.


Perhaps you can relate. Or you might respond with a simple, “Duh!” No one but a masochist asks for pain or actively seeks out adversity. However, they are inescapable, everyday realities. Facts of life. The only people who don’t confront pain and adversity are those who have already departed from this life. So the question is, how do we cope with them?


I’ve never met consultant and life coach Tim Kight, but I’m often impressed with his concise, pithy social media observations about what it takes to succeed in life and work. On the topic at hand, he recently wrote, “When adversity strikes (and it will), what will be tested is your toughness, not your talent. Some people are crushed by adversity, some survive it, but there are those who get better because of it.”


In a lot a relative economy of words, he’s said a lot. First of all, it’s not a question of whether we will confront adversity; it’s when. And it’s true that when hard times come, lots of very talented people crumble, lacking the determination or courage to persevere. Others do survive, but it’s only by the proverbial “skin of their teeth.” Some, however, exhibit the toughness, the inner resolve to look adversity straight in the eyes and refuse to blink. And in the process, become better, not bitter.

Adversity is something we seem to have in abundance these days. It may be hard to find certain products at the supermarket, but adversity hasn’t suffered from the supply chain. Businesses and schools have closed, the sports and entertainment worlds were turned on its end, and churches have had to institute unusual measures to stay connected with the faithful. 


It's hard to find any facet of life that hasn’t been adversely affected by COVID-19, social unrest, the constant fear-mongering of the media, or political turmoil. Not to mention always unpredictable and sometimes severe weather. 


Add to this the personal and unique challenges we’ve all faced. There’s a lot to deal with. So what, as Kight observed, separates those who become crushed, or those who manage to merely survive, from those who somehow thrive when adversity comes to call?


There are many possible factors, I suppose. But for those who follow Jesus Christ, it’s more than grit and an inner refusal to yield to external circumstances. For us, there’s no better resource than what we can find in a deep, abiding faith in our loving, sovereign God. 


So far, 2020 has been as tumultuous as any year in recent memory. I’ve wondered on numerous occasions, “What in the world is going on?” and, “When will all this end?” Like everyone else, I have no idea – but knowing the God who does is a great source of hope and reassurance.


Writing to his protégé, Timothy, about the adversities he had experienced and continued to endure, the apostle Paul said, That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day” (2 Timothy 1:12). 


Just as Paul’s long journey with the Lord had forged an unwavering trust in Him, we too can face the perils and uncertainties of contemporary life with hope and assurance.


In another of his New Testament letters, the apostle wrote this declaration: 

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).


Nothing can separate us from God and His love! The question is, do we really believe that? Our answer will go a long way in shaping our response to adversity, whether it’s what we’re facing at present or what is yet to come. Will we be crushed, will we survive, or will we thrive?

Thursday, July 9, 2020

The Genius of the Ten Commandments

Sometimes the best advice, the wisest counsel we can receive is what we have already been given. “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” has always been one of my favorites. “Look before you leap” is another all-time goodie. And I’ve grown to appreciate the adage, “If you can’t be happy where you are, you certainly can’t be happy where you’re not.” But over the years I’ve become convinced the best advice by far can be found in that good old book called the Bible.

Occasionally I’ll hear someone make a comment like, “The Bible is an outdated, irrelevant religious book.” Or they might call it, “just a collection of stories and fables.” At those times, it’s all I can do to keep from bursting into hysterical laughter. Because I’ve learned – via much experience, trial and error on my part – that if there ever was anything written with timeless significance, importance, usefulness, and truth, it’s the Bible.


I could cite countless examples, but there’s no need to go any further than the Ten Commandments, found in Exodus 20:1-17, and (just in case we missed it) repeated in Deuteronomy 5:1-21. Ten simple mandates which, if adhered to, could resolve and remedy much of what ails our once proud land – and our personal lives.


Going through each one would require far more words than allotted for this post, but let’s briefly consider some of the commandments Moses carried down from Mount Sinai. 


The first three, “…You shall have no other gods before me,” “you shall not make any graven images…and worship them,” and “you shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain…” (Exodus 20:2-6), can be summarized by six simple words: “I am God – and you’re not.” It was author Anne Lamott who wrote, “One of the biggest differences between you and God is that He never thinks He is you.”


Commandment No. 4 deals with that pesky thing called the Sabbath. “How dare God tell me how to use my Sunday?!” some protest. Or, if you’re Jewish or a Seventh-Day Adventist, that would be Saturday. But Jesus clarified that when He declared, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). This, in fact, is one of the most practical commandments. Everything needs rest – animals, fields, and human beings. In effect, God is telling us, “I’m giving you this command to rest, because you need it.”


The commandments about murder, adultery, stealing and lying seem self-explanatory, but every day we see reports and read stories about people flagrantly violating each. Perhaps more than ever before. This is one reason it would be a good reason to boldly and ostentatiously display the Ten Commandments publicly again. Since easily we forget so easily.

In past posts I’ve written in regard to the commandment that instructs us to honor our fathers and mothers, which also seems to have gone out of fashion with our “woke” and “progressive” society. But what about the 10th commandment, the one that says we shouldn’t covet – or envy, or be jealous of – other people’s stuff.


This seems to be one of the foundational principles behind the growing popularity of socialism: Folks want more, and they want others to have less. We want what others have got, even if they worked hard and long to earn it – and we have been disinclined to do the same. We want the rewards without the sweat equity required.


As a result, there’s misery all around. We have people agonizing because they don’t have what others have – wealth, nice houses, expensive cars, the latest and greatest gizmos and gimmicks. And we’ve got the people who have those things, desperately afraid of losing what they’ve acquired.


When I read the Ten Commandments, whether it’s No. 1 or No. 10, it’s like God telling me, “If you want to be truly happy, experiencing a meaningful, fulfilling life, do what I say. And don’t do what I tell you not to do.” It’s simple, really. But then, why choose simple when we can make things difficult, right?

Monday, July 6, 2020

Grief: An Emotion We Don’t Want to Be Acquainted With

Have you ever read a passage from the Scriptures that struck you in a way it’s never done before? Even come across a verse and wondered, “Was that even there the last time I read this chapter?”


This has happened to me a number of times. The most recent was the other day while reading Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest, my favorite devotional book. He was commenting on a prophetic statement about the coming Messiah in the Old Testament, “He is…a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3).


Each of us has experienced grief in some fashion – losing loved ones and friends, broken relationships, or even the death of a dream. But have we really become “acquainted” with grief as Jesus Christ did during His time on earth?


My friend Oswald elaborates better than I can: We are not ‘acquainted with grief’ in the same way our Lord was acquainted with it. We endure it and live through it, but we do not become intimate with it.” In other words, we seek to get past it as soon as possible.


Then he takes his observations a step further. He said it was not death per se that brought Jesus into such intimacy with grief, but sin:  

“At the beginning of our lives we do not bring ourselves to the point of dealing with the reality of sin. We look at life through the eyes of reason and say that if a person will control his instincts, and educate himself, he can produce a life that will slowly evolve into the life of God. But as we continue on through life, we find the presence of something which we have not yet taken into account, namely, sin – and it upsets all of our thinking and our plans. Sin has made the foundation of our thinking unpredictable, uncontrollable, and irrational.


“We have to recognize that sin is a fact of life, not just a shortcoming. Sin is blatant mutiny against God, and either sin or God must die in my life. The New Testament brings us right down to this one issue – if sin rules in me, God’s life in me will be killed; if God rules in me, sin in me will be killed. There is nothing more fundamental than that.” 


Imagine what it must have been like for Jesus, incarnate God taking on human flesh to teach, provide a perfect example, and ultimately, give His life as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of mankind. In so doing, as John 1:12 declares, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.” And yet, during his 33 years on earth, Jesus endured hostility, even hate, ridicule and scorn, rejection, torture, and finally, crucifixion.


Everywhere He went, Jesus saw the raw, devastating effects of sin raging and ravaging all of humankind and creation. So, truly acquainted with sin, He daily walked among people oblivious to their own sin, their brokenness, their own unrighteousness. Romans 3:10 says, “There is no one righteous, no not one,” and Romans 3:23 adds, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The reality of this stared Jesus in the face every day, everywhere He went.


What does this mean for us? In a subsequent passage, Chambers states, “Not being reconciled to the fact of sin – not recognizing it and refusing to deal with it – produces all the disasters in life…. If you refuse to agree with the fact that there is wickedness and selfishness, something downright hateful and wrong, in human beings, when it attacks your life, instead of reconciling yourself to it, you will compromise with it and say that it is of no sense to battle against it.”


Have you noticed what’s been going on around us – in our communities, states, our nation and the world? We ascribe the cause of the strife, chaos and discord to “systemic” problems, ones that supposedly can be remedied through the right laws, properly prescribed behaviors, and restricted speech. But none of this addresses the universal reality of sin that has so deeply infected the human spirit. Sin, as Chambers astutely comments, “produces all the disasters of life.”


Jesus, as the passage above tells us, was “acquainted with grief.” It was such an ever-present tragedy of His earthly sojourn. Meanwhile, we largely ignore it, dismissing it with empty rationalizations, and seeking answers everywhere except where the one true answer can be found – genuine, heartfelt repentance on the part of people willing themselves to become acquainted with the grief of sin, and the subsequent redemption available only through Christ.


Romans 5:8 tells us, “God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Immersed in grief over sin, Jesus gave His life for us that we might experience new life in Him. That, not laws or political correctness or debasing public gestures, is the one cure, the sole remedy to all of the ills that afflict our society today.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

‘Grand Old Flag’ – A Symbol of Scandal?

Like every other holiday so far this year, our annual July 4th/Independence Day celebration is certain to look and feel very different from years past. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, many cities have already cancelled their annual public celebrations and fireworks shows. Others are considerably curtailing their events. And with more aggressive protests attacking seemingly every aspect of traditional patriotic display, “Old Glory” has fallen into disrepute in some eyes, even a symbol of scandal.

It's sad. Sure, the USA has its flaws. But name any nation throughout history that hasn’t. Except we’re no longer supposed to study, or even trust, history. And what we do study, people want to rewrite and revise. But I for one believe our country still offers much for which we can – and should – be proud.


Despite sentiment about oppressed peoples and “white supremacy,” I strongly suspect we have more millionaires, and even billionaires, from every race than any other nation in the world. People of virtually every ethnicity and culture have made major contributions to our society and way of life, and many have been rewarded handsomely for their efforts.


Maybe it’s because I’m a bonafide “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” born on the Fourth of July, but I’ll take the United States – if we can still call it “united” – over any other country in the world, and I’ve been to visit a number of them. For those who disagree, they’re free and encouraged to move themselves and their stuff to another place that’s better.

I’m not oblivious to the inequities – and perceived inequities – of our nation. Yes, wrongs have been committed and justice in those cases must be served. But to discredit everything our nation – and its flag – have stood for and represent is a gross miscarriage of…justice.


When I see our flag, with its 50 stars on a field of blue, and its seven red and six white stripes, to me it stands for the many thousands of lives that were sacrificed to create a land that has often been referred to as “the great American experiment.” 


When my Hungarian ancestors passed through Ellis Island in New York City in the early 1900s, they were not guaranteed anything. But they worked hard, sometimes just scraping by, and succeeded in building respectable lives for themselves and their families. Nothing was handed to them or the other immigrants who legally entered our shores through the decades. They arrived with dreams, and through initiative, determination and refusal to quit, millions were able to realize those dreams.


For those who choose to kneel or disrespect the flag, they have that right, I suppose. But in so doing, they also disrespect the countless souls who came before, giving of themselves to make possible a society that was and still is, unprecedented. 


We’re a people, according to the Declaration of Independence, “created equal…endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” Like the Pledge of Allegiance, which added the phrase “under God,” from our nation's founding there was an acknowledgement of a Creator God who sovereignly has made possible all that we are and all that we can become. Starting with the ‘60s, our courts and elected officials chose to start turning their backs on that God. They sowed the wind, and now we’re reaping the whirlwind.


Dissidents and protesters can’t seem to understand why dishonoring the American flag strikes many of us as such an offense. All they see are the flaws of history; we see not only flaws and failures, but also the great triumphs and accomplishments, the blessings I believe largely came from the Creator to whom our founding documents refer.


The words from the patriotic old George M. Cohan song, “You’re a Grand Ole Flag,” say it well:

You're a grand old flag
You're a high-flying flag
And forever in peace may you wave
You're the emblem of
The land I love
The home of the free and the brave
Ev'ry heart beats true
Under red, white and blue
Where there's never a boast or brag
But should old acquaintance be forgot
Keep your eye on the grand old flag…


“The emblem of the land I love.” So, criticize the United States if you will. We’re far from perfect; there’s room for improvement, without question. However, to spit on the flag, burn it, look upon it with scorn and ridicule is to spit upon, scorn and ridicule the many who gave their all to make our nation, in many respects, the envy of people all around the world.


Ultimately, Hebrews 11:13 and 1 Peter 2:11 declare all of God’s children are “aliens and strangers,” “foreigners and exiles” in this world. There’s another world, “a new heaven and a new earth” (1 Peter 3:13, Revelation 21:1), that we eagerly anticipate. But for now, this is where we reside, the United States of America – and I’m not ashamed to admit, I’m proud to be an American.