Monday, August 31, 2020

The Great Peril of Denying the Presence of Evil

When you read or hear the word “evil,” what comes to mind? How about the word, “sin”? In popular culture, both have taken on almost salacious connotations. Rather than being perceived as wickedness or wrongdoing, including those terms in a movie title or book description typically serves to pique the interest of potential viewers or readers. 


This is to society’s detriment. Evil and sin are hopelessly, and eternally, intertwined. We seem to have lost a sense of transcendent virtue, as well as its antithesis, pure evil. Many people chuckle at the mention of Satan or the devil, whom the Bible describes as the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). When mentioned, folks envision some little guy in a red suit with a pitchfork. A reference to sin also is likely to elicit giggles. As someone has accurately said, “If sin wasn’t any fun, we wouldn’t want to do it.”


But to shrug our shoulders, diminishing or even denying the pervasiveness of evil is to our great peril. Evidence of it is everywhere. We don’t have to look hard. Violence, sensationalized by TV, movies and electronic media, is being played out across our nation. Domestic abuse is rampant. People are held captive to many forms of destructive addiction. Hatred and vitriol is spewed across social media, rather than respectful, reasonable communications.


Recently I finished editing a trilogy of novels written by a friend, drawn from real-life experience – hers and those of women she has worked with as a professional counselor. Her books focus on three terrifying years as a young girl subjected to satanic ritual abuse. Reading them brought to mind the horror novels I used to read, until I realized they were pointing me away from God, rather than toward Him.


What makes her story so horrific, so mind-boggling, is that it’s not the product of the twisted imagination of some weird author, but an account of the depths of evil that few of us can fathom.


Years ago, one-time atheist turned Christian apologist and author C.S. Lewis wrote: “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”


Then there are the words of the late commentator Paul Harvey, first aired on his ABC Radio program on April 3, 1965, called “If I Were the Devil.” I won’t present its entirety here – you can find the full transcript as well as audio and video versions of it online. But many of his observations – made more than 55 years ago – seem hauntingly familiar.


Harvey said, “If I were the Devil…I mean, if I were the Prince of Darkness…I should set about however necessary to take over the United States. I would begin with a campaign of whispers. With the wisdom of a serpent, I would whisper to you as I whispered to Eve: ‘Do as you please.’… To the young I would whisper, ‘The Bible is a myth.’ I would convince them that man created God instead of the other way around….


“I would caution them not to be extreme in religion, in patriotism, in moral conduct. And the old, I would teach to pray. I would teach them to say after me: ‘Our Father, which art in Washington.’… I would evict God from the courthouse, and then from the school house, and then from the houses of Congress and then, in His own churches I would substitute psychology for religion, and I would deify science because that way men would become smart enough to create super weapons but not wise enough to control them….


“If I were the devil, I would take from those who have and I would give to those who wanted, until I had killed the incentive of the ambitious…. Then, I could separate families…. In other words, if I were Satan, I’d just keep on doing what he’s doing.”


As followers of Jesus, we should not be at all surprised, shocked, or dismayed. In fact, the Scriptures repeatedly warn that is the way things will be. This is why Ephesians 6:10-13 helps us to understand what’s happening and how we should respond: 

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rules, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”


We find this encouragement in 1 Corinthians 16:13, “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong.”


There’s this assurance from Jesus Himself, I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). We also have Christ’s promise that we are never alone or abandoned. His last recorded words were, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Be aware - but do not fear.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

It’s Not ‘Do.’ It’s Not ‘Don’t.’ It’s Done.

Despite the prevailing story line of our secularized society, humankind is hopelessly religious. Or at least intrinsically spiritual. There’s something within most of us that screams out, “This can’t be all there is! There’s got to be something more, something beyond all of this!”

In fact, the Bible asserts, “…He has also set eternity in the hearts of men, yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). There in one sentence we have two basic truths: The vast majority of people all around the world will agree with the suspicion that this life can’t be all there is. But since we can’t comprehend what God has done, how He has done it, or why, we resort to a construct we call religion.


And consistent with the modern mantra, “I have my truth,” there’s a smorgasbord of religions to suit just about every taste, style and preference. Many folks reject the idea that one size fits all, so humankind has developed many belief systems, including Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and a host of others.


I intentionally omitted Christianity from this list because on several points it differs from all other belief systems, major or minor. We could delve into those, but that’s the domain of theologians far more astute than me. So, I’ll focus instead on perhaps the most profound, yet simplest, difference.


For lots of people, the fundamental teaching of religion can be summed up in the word, “Do.” You have to do this, or that, or these things, to be accepted by God and be rewarded with some kind of life after death. What these “do’s” actually are depends largely upon which religion you select.


Others believe the fundamental religious instruction centers around the word, “Don’t.” These consist of the things we shouldn’t do, whether it’s murder, stealing, lying, or even enjoying the material pleasures of everyday living. To experience life beyond this one, various religions dictate stuff you shouldn’t do.


Yes, in the Bible we have both “do’s” and “don’ts.” The Ten Commandments come immediately to mind. But at its essence, Christianity isn’t about deeds – or misdeeds. It’s about one thing. Actually, one person: Jesus Christ and what He has already done, for everyone willing to receive the priceless, undeserved gift that He offers: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). 


Think about it – when Jesus willingly surrendered His life on a cross outside of Jerusalem, 2,000 years ago, how many sins had you committed? That’s right, none. Zero. Zilch. So, from God’s perspective all the sins we’re guilty of – and every sin we will ever commit – have already been atoned for. 


With one caveat: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12-13). We must each be willing to receive this gift He offers.


What about the do’s and don’ts? Isn’t it necessary to demonstrate that we’re deserving of God’s love and acceptance, His mercy and grace? Nope: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).


Another verse, Titus 3:5, underscores this biblical truth: “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior.”


What about things we do, things we say, things we think about? Don’t they matter? Yes, certainly they do. However, God desires them to be our response to what He’s already done for us. We can’t earn His favor, His unconditional love, but as it says in 1 John 4:19, “We love because he first loved us.”


An expected reaction then, is what the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:14 affirms: “For Christ’s love compels [constrains] us….” Several verses later the apostle Paul writes, “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” (2 Corinthians 5:20). 


No other religion – or belief system – offers this perspective, or worldview. Christianity doesn’t rest on what we do or don’t do. Because through Jesus Christ, what matters most has already been done – long before any of us took our first breath or caught the first glimmer of sunlight. Our doing, and not doing, then becomes a natural, heartfelt response to God’s love, graciousness, and merciful forgiveness. And that, in the proverbial nutshell, is why it’s called the Gospel – the Good News.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Recognizing the Lasting Imprint of Our Steps

Do you remember the “Footprints in the Sand” story? It’s about someone dreaming of walking along a beach with the Lord, watching a panorama of scenes from his or her life and seeing two sets of footprints trailing behind. Then the person observes that at times, there’s only one set of footprints.


“I notice that during the most troublesome times in my life there is only one set of footprints,” the person says. “I don’t understand why you left my side when I needed you most.” To which the Lord replies, “…I never left you during your time of trial. Where you see only one set of footprints, I was carrying you.”

That imagery has always moved me, sometimes to the point of tears. Because I can remember numerous times in my life that, if God were not carrying me, I would not have made it through. In the Scriptures, the Lord promises to be with us at all times – it’s just that sometimes, He’s doing all the heavy lifting.


A plaque with this story, in the shape of a footprint, hangs on my office wall. It came to mind while reviewing the final draft of a novel that a friend, Sondra, has written. Only, she offered a new twist.


Describing a scene where several couples have come together for a social gathering, she writes: 

“…I notice the footprints on the carpet. Indentations made by everyone’s shoes. Some large, some small. But the steps visibly show where the guests have walked. All had left their mark. It hit me. Our walk through life leaves a mark. Everywhere we go, everything we say and do, we leave a print. Good or bad, we leave a mark that says, ‘I’ve been here.’” 


“Footprints in the Sand” focuses on singular footprints left by the Lord, but Sondra gives a great reminder about the impression, the mark that we leave behind – the impact we have on others as we cross paths with them during our journey through life. 


Have you ever stopped to wonder what kind of mark you’re leaving behind? 


Remember the ‘WWJD” fad of some years ago? “What Would Jesus Do”? That idea was originated in a little book, In His Steps,” by Charles Sheldon. The title is drawn from 1 Peter 2:21, in which the apostle exhorts, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” In the book, an entire congregation resolves not to make any decisions of consequence without asking the question, What would Jesus do?


But there’s another side to that. There are people around us – family members, friends, coworkers, neighbors, people we minister to – who are watching us, following us. The Scriptures acknowledge that, and say we shouldn’t shrink from such an important, yet humbling responsibility. 


Writing to the church in Corinth, after speaking about the freedom believers have in Christ, the apostle Paul boldly declares, “Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God – even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good, but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:32-11:1). Earlier in the book, the apostle gives an admonition that seems almost audacious: “Therefore I urge you to imitate me” (1 Corinthians 4:16). Yet, shouldn’t we be willing to say the same?


To the church in Philippi, Paul wrote, “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you” (Philippians 3:17). And in writing to his young protégé, Timothy, he says, “Follow the pattern of the sound words you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus…” (2 Timothy 1:13).


As a child, did you ever walk in some mud and then proceed to track it through the house? What about the tracks you leave when walking across freshly fallen snow? The mud can be mopped or swept up, and snow tracks will disappear when it thaws or when additional snow falls to fill the indentations. But the tracks we leave in the lives and hearts of those whom we interact from day to day are usually long lasting, even permanent.


So it’s not a question of whether we’re leaving a print or mark as we march on this exciting, sometimes perplexing adventure we call life. The question is, what kind of mark is it that we leave? And are we satisfied with that? If not, what can we do about it – starting right now?

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Learning to Look on the Inside, Not the Outside

Got a question for you: If you were in a hospital, in desperate need of a blood transfusion, would you ask whether the blood had come from a Caucasian, African-American, Asian, Hispanic or Middle Eastern person?


When a cardiothoracic surgeon opens someone up to perform open-heart surgery, do you suppose he or she is concerned about whether the patient is African-American, Hispanic, Caucasian, Middle Eastern or Asian?


The answer to both questions is – or should be – an emphatic, No. Because on the inside, all human beings are the same. Blood and plasma are the same, regardless of the race or ethnicity of the donor. On the inside, we each have a heart, a liver, kidneys, lungs, intestines, and all that other stuff. And they all function in the same ways – it doesn’t matter whether you come from a rich family or poor, what language you speak, or whether your skin color is naturally dark or you have to lay in the sun or a tanning booth to get that way.

So why in the world do we continue to remain so hung up, so obsessed with the amount of pigmentation – or lack – of someone’s skin?


I think I’ve mentioned this before, but vividly remember the time I was meeting with a young African-American man, his first name was Rhon. We were early in a discipling relationship, and one day out of the blue he asked, “Bob, if Jesus were to come up and stand in front of me, would He see a black man?”


Thankfully, I didn’t have to fumble for a response. A verse I had recently read came immediately to mind: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Although I believe God created different skin colors and ethnic features, perhaps simply for the sake of variety, just as He created cardinals and eagles, blue jays and robins, barred owls and sparrows, He doesn’t regard us differently because of our skin, status or sex.


In fact, 1 Samuel 16:7 states this emphatically. After the prophet Samuel had become frustrated after examining each son of Jesse and finding none to be of God’s choosing for the next king of Israel, God told him, “…The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”


Elsewhere, speaking about motives but also referring to the folly of judging solely based on externals, Proverbs 21:2 tells us, “All a man’s ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs the heart.” Similarly, “The lamp of the Lord searches the spirit of a man; it searches out his inmost being” (Proverbs 20:27).


Today our nation is once again embroiled in racial strife. Factions are demanding an end to racism, sometimes through acts of violence and hatred. Which is like trying to put out a house fire with a blowtorch.


Without intending to sound simplistic, the real answers to racism, prejudice and ignorance are not found in more legislation, or other forms of governmental force. It’s by learning to do as the Bible instructs – to stop concentrating on outward appearances, whatever they may be, and discovering how to look inward, to the heart. Recognizing one another as God’s creations and, potentially, as His children. It’s offered to all who respond to the gracious gifts of salvation, forgiveness and reconciliation, provided through the shed blood of Jesus Christ on a crude cross 2,000 years ago.


On this page I’ve included an image of white and black hands clenched together, with an American flag in the background. I don’t know its artist, but it wonderfully captures the spirit and hope we all should seek to show toward one another.


With forces in our society pressing to keep us separate and perpetually at odds, intending to destroy and divide, only in Christ can we achieve true and undisrupted unity. As Philippians 2:1-2 declares:

“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.”


Did you notice that the key word in this passage is “if”? A tiny word, yet its significance looms as large as the entire world. Jesus Christ gives us the capacity. Are we willing to implement it?

Monday, August 17, 2020

Riding Along with ‘Chariots of Fire’

The famous beach running scene from "Chariots of Fire"
A newsletter from Alistair Begg, a Scottish preacher with a wonderful radio ministry, recently prompted me to again watch the movie, “Chariots of Fire.” It was the first time I’d watched it in years, but as with other classic films, I never tire of viewing it.

In case you haven’t yet seen it (so sorry!), or you’ve forgotten the story line, it centers around a spirited competition between two stellar runners, Scotsman Eric Liddell, and Harold Abrahams, a man obsessed with achieving unparalleled success. 


Liddell, born in China to missionary parents, was preparing to return to the mission field there. However, he also was a fast, gifted runner, and did not believe that ability could be cast aside. He – like Abrahams – had aspirations for representing Great Britain in the 1924 Olympics. 


Eric Liddell assures his sister, Jenny,
of his commitment to missions.
In an iconic scene from the film that I referenced in my last post, Liddell talks with his sister, Jenny, who has expressed concern that his running is diverting him from his calling to serve as a missionary. He responds, “I believe that God made me for a purpose – for China…. But He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”

Then Liddell adds, “To give it up would be to hold Him in contempt. You were right. It’s not just fun. To win is to honor Him.”


Each time I’ve viewed the film, or thought about his words – even though they’re part of a movie script – I can’t help but wonder: Do we understand and appreciate God’s purpose for our own lives? And when we engage in what He has gifted us to do, can we feel His pleasure?


Contrary to what some might surmise, God is not some divine spoilsport, determined to keep us from doing the things we enjoy. Consider a fleet Thoroughbred horse – when it runs fast, as it’s designed to do, can you imagine it feels God’s pleasure? Or a physician whose life is dedicated not only to medicine, but also to serving others in God’s name. Do you think that doctor, in helping very sick patients back to health, feels God’s pleasure in the process?


But there’s another plot line in the film that struck me just as powerfully. Abrahams in a driven soul, constantly striving and desperately afraid of failing. When Liddell beats him in a race, he’s devastated. Even later, when he wins the Olympic gold medal in the 100-meter sprint, Abrahams feels empty and unfulfilled. At one point, he bemoans the fact that – for him – his entire life is defined by how he performs in a 10-second race.


Contrast that to Liddell, who opted out of the same event to stand firm in his convictions. Qualifying heats for the 100 meters were scheduled for a Sunday, and he refused to waver in his belief that he should not compete on the Sabbath. Instead, he was entered in the 400 meters, set for another day. Even though that was not his primary event, Liddell stunned the experts by winning the gold.


Afterward, the joy he felt was not simply the thrill of victory. He had honored his God, and saw an Old Testament promise fulfilled: “Those who honor Me, I will honor…” (1 Samuel 2:30). That was the last Olympic appearance for the man popularly known as the “Flying Scotsman,” but Liddell went on to the mission field in China where he faithfully ministered to people in northern China for two decades before his death in 1945.


Once, when asked if he ever regretted leaving the fame of athletic competition, Liddell responded, "It's natural for a chap to think over all that sometimes, but I'm glad I'm at the work I'm engaged in now. A fellow's life counts for far more at this than the other.”


Jesus addressed this perspective in His so-called “sermon on the mount” when He said, “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).


So the questions remain for us to answer: Are we engaged in things that, when we do them, we feel God’s pleasure? And do we understand His purpose for us so that, when all is said and done, we’ve devoted our lives to the pursuit of things that count for much more than other things?

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Wailing Voices and Joyful Noises

For the last several weeks, my wife and I have been “serenaded” by someone in a neighborhood next to ours who sits on his back patio, strumming his guitar and singing – actually, kind of wailing – old folk songs. I’ve never met the fellow, but he sounds like some of the outtakes that are featured as each season of “American Idol” begins.


I do have to give him credit. Even though he’s never going challenge the likes of Josh Groban, Kenny Chesney or Michael Buble, he’s obviously giving his all. He’s putting his heart into it, even though his vocal range leaves something to be desired.


Which reminds me of an admonition from the Scriptures. Psalm 100:1 says we’re to, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord,” and if you’ve ever heard me sing – in a church setting, or anywhere else – that’s the best I can do. If I were to audition for the church choir, the director would ask me to sing “far, far away” or solo – actually, so low that no one could hear me. So, “wailing Willie” has nothing on me.


But I wonder what God thinks. Other translations of the verse above are to make a “joyful shout.” The key word is not what kind of noise we make, but how it’s done – with joy. Philippians 4:4 admonishes us to, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” And in 1 Thessalonians 5:16 we’re told, “Be joyful always.” It’s not the quality of the sound, but what’s behind the sound – our joy in Christ – that matters to the Lord.


My musical vehicle of choice is playing the drums, a pastime I renewed this year. I was in the percussion section in my high school band, and kept a set of drums into my early adulthood, but then I sold them, leaving me with only the steering wheel on my car to drum on. Finally, something prompted me to invest in an economical set of electronic drums and I’ve had fun pounding on them. My wife doesn’t seem to mind, at least not too much. Especially since I can turn down the sound to minimize the disruption.

Like the guy down the hill who belts out his tunes as best he can, my drumming will never merit my entry into any talent contests. Even for senior citizens. But I enjoy it; it’s a way of relieving some stress in these very stressful times in which we live today. And I suspect the Lord doesn’t mind my “joyful noise” either.


Colossians 3:17 says, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” If God gives us a passion for something, whether it’s writing or drumming or playing tennis or knitting or gardening, and we do it in the name of the Lord Jesus to the best of our ability, I suspect that’s perfectly fine with the Lord.


I often think of the scene in the film “Chariots of Fire,” where Eric Liddell’s sister confronts him, questioning why he devotes time training for competing in the Olympics instead of preparing to become a missionary to China.


Liddell acknowledges his calling to mission work, before observing, “But God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” Are you fortunate enough to have something that, when you do it, you feel God’s pleasure?

Monday, August 10, 2020

Importance of ‘Me’ Is Greatly Exaggerated

We spent a couple of days recently babysitting for two of our grandsons while their parents took a much-needed getaway. It was fun, but also tiring as we monitored their non-stop antics. It also served as a good reminder that humans, no matter how small, don’t need to be taught the importance of “Me.”


Whether it’s actually buried somewhere deep in our DNA, I don’t know, but it’s obvious we’re all born with a “sin gene,” the propensity to exalt self from our early conscious moments. We don’t have to teach our kids how to be selfish and self-centered. It comes naturally. Some “experts” would attribute this to an innate self-preservation instinct, but that doesn’t explain why a child perfectly happy with one toy suddenly becomes upset when a sibling picks up another one.


Unfortunately, the focus on “Me” doesn’t seem to diminish as we get older. In some respects, it might even intensify. Years ago we heard a lot about the “Me Generation,” and that segment of society seems as self-absorbed as ever. The coddled individuals who all received participation trophies, regardless of how they performed in their youth sports, now expect the good things of life delivered to them on silver platters with little or no effort on their part.


But let’s not just pick on one generation of people. Consider: What happens when we hear about someone’s misfortune, or a storm devastating another part of the country, while our life is going well and there’s nary a cloud in the sky where we live? We’re inclined to feel badly for the other folks but for us, “Life is good.” There’s even a line of clothing that goes by that title.

However, things may be going extremely well for other people, but if our immediate sphere of existence has been upset – by illness, personal problems, or bad weather – life is bad, right? What happens if, to borrow a term from “Star Wars,” there’s a “disruption in the force”? Our personal world has been turned upside-down? Life is bad – because it’s all about “Me.”


One of the secrets to a rewarding life – one that I’m still trying to learn and master – is it’s not all about me. I haven’t been placed on this earth, and allowed to live this long, for a non-stop exercise in self-realization. Life’s at its best when we take advantage of the privilege to enhance the lives of others.


That’s why one particular scripture passage, one I like to call the “do nothing” verse, has become so significant for me. Philippians 2:3-4 tells us to “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”


Do you see it? In just a handful of words, God is declaring that the importance of “me” is greatly exaggerated. In fact, even about Jesus Himself we’re told, For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45). 


Jesus demonstrated this truth on numerous occasions. In His time, the primary form of transportation was walking. Roads weren’t paved, so sandaled feet got very dirty over the course of a day. As the Passover Feast was approaching – as well as His sacrificial, atoning death on the cross – Jesus paused before an evening meal to perform an act of service for His disciples: Washing their feet.


After pouring water into a basin and using a towel to wash each of the disciples’ feet, He declared, “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:13-15). 


Can you imagine, God incarnate, literally stooping to wash the filthy feet of His followers?


Where do we see illustrations of this in our society today? We don’t see it in individuals who turn peaceful demonstrations into opportunities to riot and destroy property, even harming others. We don’t see it in people demanding their “rights” as we all strive to cope with the ongoing pandemic. We don’t see it with politicians doing and saying anything to ensure they gain or retain public office in an election year.


If anything, we’ve degenerated with the Me generation. Maybe it’s time for some healthy self-searching and admitting that, it’s not all about Me.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Teachability: A Much-Underrated Trait

When do we stop learning? I vaguely remember my first days of kindergarten, a little guy walking down cavernous hallways to the classroom where a lot of unfamiliar faces greeted me. ‘What have I gotten myself into?’ I probably wondered, being the shy, quiet sort that I was. 


But as I recall, “K” was a very pleasant time. The launch of my lifetime of learning. My teacher, Mrs. Ashenbach – I think that’s how her name was spelled – was kind, and I made many friendships. A couple of those connections continue to this day, amazingly enough, via the marvels of social media.


These days, of course, kids are wondering whether there will be school at all. As the progression of the pandemic continues on its puzzling, erratic course, many options are being tossed about, ranging from part-time physical attendance to a resumption of totally computer-based online instruction. I don’t believe there’s no substitute for face-to-face, eyeball-to-eyeball learning. And I fear the consequences of not gathering in the “schoolhouse” for classes, physically, emotionally and academically, are greater than most people understand.

But I digress. Thinking about when we stop learning, the best answer is, hopefully never. If we’re truly teachable, there shouldn’t come a time when we conclude, “Well, I’ve got it. I’m done. Nothing more for me to learn.” Even the smartest person can’t begin to absorb everything there is to be learned, even in his or her own areas of interest. So the greater question becomes, are we willing to remain teachable even as we get older?


Before anyone asks the question, ‘What do we mean by ‘teachable’?’ I’ll offer a very simple, down-to-earth definition I heard recently: Teachability is having the humility to admit, “I don’t know everything.”


Why does this require humility? In case you haven’t noticed, there seem to be a whole bunch of people who have anointed themselves as know-it-alls, whether it’s about politics, science, social issues, even matters of religion and spirituality. Sadly, many of these folks seem to live by the motto, “My mind’s made up. Don’t confuse me with the facts (or truth).”


Teachability is a trait the Scriptures insist upon for leaders. Consider:

“Which of you is a wise and well-instructed man? Let him prove it by a right life with conduct guided by a wisely teachable spirit” (James 3:13, Weymouth New Testament).

“Therefore, an elder must be blameless, the husband of one wife, stable, sensible, respectable, hospitable to strangers, and teachable" (1 Timothy 3:2, International Standard Version).

A servant of the Lord must not argue. Instead, he must be kind to everyone, teachable, willing to suffer wrong” (2 Timothy 2:4, International Standard).


Many translations of the Bible state “able to teach” or “apt to teach,” rather than teachable, but I think a teachable person has far greater impact than one who believes he or she has everything figured out.


In his writings, the apostle Paul also put a high premium on teachability, trusting those he ministered to would learn and apply what he had taught them, and in turn, teach the truths to others: 

“Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put into practice…” (Philippians 4:9). 

“And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2).


Growing up, my father would sometimes speak of people that were “educated beyond their intelligence.” In other words, knowledge is not always the equivalent of wisdom, or even common sense. For instance, Paul wrote about people that were always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7).


The greatest teacher of all time – Jesus Christ – also communicated the importance of humility in learning. He said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29).


Earlier I referred to my memories of kindergarten, when the vistas of learning were just opening up. Have you ever noticed the eagerness, the wonder of children when it comes to learning? Jesus loved being around children, in part because of their simplicity, lack of guile, and inquisitiveness. 


On more than one occasion, He commended their receptivity. Contrasting them with the stubborn, self-satisfied people He would encounter everywhere He went, Jesus declared, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children” (Matthew 11:25).


Most children are humble, wide-eyed, sponge-like in learning about everything they encounter. Perhaps we need to shift back into that mode at times, restoring our teachability by becoming like a child and humbly admitting, “I don’t know everything.”

Monday, August 3, 2020

Making the ‘Love Chapter’ Up Close and Personal

I’ve been pondering what’s often called “love chapter” of the Bible – 1 Corinthians 13. Couples like to include it in their wedding ceremonies; after all, the day is all about “love, love, love, love, love.” And quoting from the Bible does give the event an appropriate tone of spirituality.

Recently, I heard a speaker who suggested taking a different approach for considering this passage, one that forces us to where the proverbial rubber meets the road.


First, in case you’ve had a memory lapse, or are honestly not familiar with the passage, here’s the portion of the chapter most frequently recited before the bride and groom:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, is keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

(1 Corinthians 13:4-7).


Doesn’t reading that make you feel all kinds of warm and fuzzy? We tend to view the love that’s described in romantic or affectionate terms. However, the Greek word used here is “agape,” which refers to a selfless, sacrificial, unconditional form of love, A love that isn’t governed by feelings of the moment.


The speaker encouraged listeners to replace each use of the word “love” with your own name. For instance, in my case, the passage would read, “Bob is patient, Bob is kind. Bob does not envy….” That, I found, gives these verses a strikingly different meaning and impact.


By inserting my name – or your name – in place of love, it forces a bit of introspection: Am I patient? Am I kind? Am I not envious, or boastful? Am I proud? Am I self-seeking? (Are you feeling convicted yet?)


Reconfiguring this famous passage with our own name brings these characteristics, as a sports network used to say, “up close and personal.” Am I easily angered? Do I keep a record of wrongs? Do I delight in evil, rather than rejoicing in the truth? In my expressions of love, am I always protecting, trusting, hopeful, and persevering?


What if our answers to some of these questions are “no” when they should be “yes,” or vice versa?


As we survey the world around us, it seems love is quickly becoming overcome with hate; distrust replacing trust; despair overriding hope; quitting a more common choice than perseverance. What can we do about it, besides feeling guilty if we’re not patient or kind? Or if we’re prone to anger or letting our memories becoming historically hysterical in our relationships?


While putting this together, I happened to listen to an old Michael Jackson song, “The Man in the Mirror.” Regardless of what you think of the late pop artist, the lyrics have great application for what we’re talking about. Some of those are:

I’m staring at the man in the mirror

I’m asking him to change his ways…

If you want to make the world a better place

Take a look at yourself, and then make a change.


If we’re lacking in any of the love traits, perhaps it’s time to take a look at ourselves – and then, make a change. Better yet, ask the Lord to start making those changes in us, because the Scriptures promise, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).


Then, as we participate with Him in the transformation process, we can realize the truth of the closing verse of the love chapter: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).