Monday, September 28, 2020

Some Things Are Best Only When They’re Shaken

Weather is one crazy thing. Of late, as parts of the western USA were being beset by record heat, other parts of the country, like Colorado and Wyoming, experienced their first snowfalls. And that was before the official arrival of autumn, much less winter. A few days later, summer temperatures had returned. In many parts of the country, if you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute.

No wonder meteorologists hedge their bets with predictions of “70% chance of rain,” or “a cold front with the possibility of 1-2 inches of snow.” Because that means 30% chance it won’t rain, or that despite decreasing temperatures, there’s a chance it won’t snow at all. Technically, they’re always right.


But seasons still come and go, as surely as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. We’ll soon find ourselves in the midst of winter. And with it, some homes will again be adorned with those marvelous little creations called snow globes.


They come in all sizes, featuring a vast array of scenes: horses and sleighs; quaint, show-covered towns; wooded countrysides; skyscrapers for urban dwellers; figures like snowmen, angels or Santa Claus. But the best thing about a snow globe is what happens right after it’s shaken, when tiny white particles inside are churned up into the watery “air,” then slowly fall like snow.

It's curious that while most snow globes catch our eyes even when stationary, they’re most beautiful after being shaken. Instantly, tunes like “Let It Snow” and “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” start dancing in our minds. Shake up the globes, and then all the real beauty happens.


Everyday life can be like that. We plod through our lives, muddling through the mundane, then suddenly something happens to shake things up. At first we find the disruption annoying, or worse. We desperately desire a return to the familiar and predictable. But often, if only in retrospect, beauty emerges from the shaking.


Recently I heard a missionary speaking about this, explaining how God led her to enlist for serving in a very unlikely – for her – mission field. She had been very content where she was, believing the Lord was using her there. However, through a chain of events – and considerable shaking – God made it clear He was calling her elsewhere. 


Each of my career moves came about as the Lord shook me from comfort and even complacency, making it abundantly clear He didn’t want me to remain where I was. Good things, I had to learn, aren’t necessarily the best things God has for us.


I think of the Old Testament patriarch, Abram (later known as Abraham), who was instructed to leave his pleasant, familiar life in Haran to go to the land of Canaan: 

“The Lord said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing…and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:1-3).


On the face of it, this sounds like a good deal. To be made into a great nation; have one’s name made great; become a blessing to all people? What’s not to like? But change is usually hard, especially when it’s not on our terms. Abram had it made in Haran. Who could have blamed him for wondering, “But Lord, can’t we do that right here? I’m one of Haran’s movers and shakers. And I’ve heard those Canaanites are pretty rough people.” 


I don’t know if Abram raised any of those objections. Most likely, they at least crossed his mind. But he and God had a history – the Lord had blessed him abundantly, had proved Himself 100 percent faithful, and there was no reason to doubt He had a good plan. “So Abram left, as the Lord had told him…. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated...” (Genesis 12:4-5).


Later, God made a covenant with Abram. He promised that even their advanced years, Abram and Sarai (to be renamed Sarah) would have a son, and their descendants would be as numerous as the stars. Then it says, “Abram believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). His faith was so exceptional, it’s recounted in the New Testament – Hebrews 11:8-12.


Snow globes weren’t invented until the late 1800s, so Abraham wouldn’t have understood the snow globe metaphor. But his life was definitely shaken up. Nevertheless, he willingly agreed to relinquish his good life to experience the much better life God had for him.


Is God shaking things up in your life? In many ways, 2020 has seemed like an ongoing earthquake, one unwanted surprise after another. But when the Lord decides it’s time to shake things up in our lives, we have this assurance: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe. For our ‘God is a consuming fire’” (Hebrews 12:28-29; Deuteronomy 4:24). He may shake things up for us, but He’s never shaken.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

The Benefits of 24/7 Access, Without Limitations

Over the years, I’ve been in many business meetings where the general rule was, “Absolutely no interruptions.” Staff not participating in the meetings knew they were not to intrude, barring legitimate emergencies – or maybe an approaching tornado. 

In today’s world, the ubiquity of cellphones has made that rule more difficult to enforce. But at times, to prevent any and all distractions, even smartphones are designated off limits – much to the dismay of the electronically addicted. If the desire is to ensure everyone’s undivided attention, it might be necessary to prevent the invasion of calls, texts, emails, or even game-playing during lulls.


Many times, however, I’ve seen a recurring exception: when someone’s child (especially the boss’s), really needs to talk to mom or dad, and right now. Many top executives, when approached by their offspring, willingly put meetings on pause for a few moments to address their children’s concerns.


Calls from important customers or clients may be responded to with a polite, “Tell them I’ll have to call them back.” But if little Will or Susie calls or requires a brief audience, a five-minute meeting break is often announced. Maybe even encouraged, especially if the corporate culture is family-oriented.


In the home, this is also the case. Each of us who are parents know what it’s like to be awakened out of sound slumber by a son or daughter that needs us. It might have been a bad dream, an upset tummy, or the proverbial monster under the bed, but they know that they’ve got full and immediate access to mom or dad until the crisis is resolved.


One reason I think about this because it’s the same – in a far more profound way – in our relationship with God. Our Heavenly Father is never too busy, distracted or preoccupied when we need to talk with Him. This is why Hebrews 4:16 tells us, “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”


I’m constantly amazed knowing there’s no way we could do this with the President of the United States, the CEO of a major corporation, a star athlete, media celebrity, or the head of the college where you or your children attend. 


Part of it is because we don’t have a personal relationship with them. But beyond that, they all have levels of importance that prohibit “ordinary people” to approach them in an impromptu way. For each of God’s children, however, any day, at any time, we never have to meet a “Do not disturb” or “Positively no interruptions” sign.


In fact, one of the first Bible verses I ever learned instructs us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). In other words, God welcomes an ongoing interaction with us throughout the day. This is affirmed by Jesus’ promise to His followers, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). 


We’re never to feel like we’re on the outside looking in to catch the Lord’s attention. In fact, it’s much the opposite. A familiar passage, Revelation 3:20, gives the image of Jesus being on the outside, waiting for our invitation to enter: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”


Putting it another way, the Lord is assuring us, “I’m here for you, 24/7, no exceptions, no limitations. I’m available when you are. My door is always open.” Isn’t that good to know?

Monday, September 21, 2020

We’re All In This Together, Right? Not So Sure About That

Several months ago, many of us figured that by now the novel coronavirus, COVID-19 would be a fading memory. One of those “good riddance” things. Obviously we were wrong. The virus and its consequences are very much with us. 

One of those “consequences” is continuing to hear famous recording artists and actors, celebrity athletes, and anyone with a “Who’s Who” type of name tell us, “We’re all in this together.” Well, not exactly. It’s true that in one way or another, we’re all in the same storm – but we’re definitely not all in the same boat.


Many of the we’re-all-in-this-together folks video their words of consolation from multi-million dollar mansions, or spacious ranches, or extravagantly designed urban apartments. Most of them, like our devoted and outspoken politicians, haven’t missed a single paycheck, while their fans and constituents were trying to figure out how to pay their bills each month, even every week.


Is the "boat" you're sailing in
going to carry you through 
life's inevitable storms?
So, to put it another way, some folks are weathering the COVID storm in jaw-dropping yachts or even ocean liners, while many of us are struggling to keep afloat in canoes, kayaks, or flimsy sailboats. Thanks for the words of encouragement, but when you tell us, “We understand,” we’re not convinced that you do.

I was thinking about this because even in non-pandemic times, the realities of everyday living can seem like a storm. Balancing a budget; trying to figure out how to pay to repair or replace things that break down unexpectedly; confronting the stresses of raising children or caring for grandchildren, who at times are just like angels, and other times, well, not so much. Coping with health issues, or the inevitable challenges of getting older. For many of these kinds of problems, it doesn’t seem to matter as much which boat you happen to be in.


From time to time we hear someone talk about the Titanic, the supposedly unsinkable luxury steamship that lost its close encounter with an iceberg on April 15, 1912, in the North Atlantic Ocean. On that fateful night, despite the unquestioned assurances of the ship’s designers and builders, more than 1,500 lives were lost that ill-fated night.


Contrast that to the simple fishing boat in which Jesus and His disciples were crossing the Sea of Galilee. Matthew 8:24-27 tells us, “And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But Jesus was asleep. Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We are perishing!’ But He said to them, ‘Why are you fearful, O you of little faith.' Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. So the men marveled, saying, ‘Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?’”


What a difference: So many lives lost in the sinking of a ship that its makers claimed was indestructible, while a group of devoted followers survived a violent storm that developed suddenly on a vast sea, only because they were traveling in the presence of the Lord.


This is a valuable metaphor to cling to today, when the future remains so uncertain – not only with what is yet to unfold with COVID-19, but also the upcoming Presidential election, widespread unrest, and the daily and unpredictable events of life. Whose boat would we rather be in? As Jesus taught similarly: 

“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock; and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall” (Matthew 7:24-29).

Thursday, September 17, 2020

So Busy Doing, We’re Getting Nothing Done

“Don’t just stand there – do something!” When’s the last time you heard someone say that? You’ve probably said it yourself. Even when we’re on vacation, we typically feel the need to be engaged in some form of activity. What good’s a vacation if we’re not doing anything, right?


We fill our lifestyles with action verbs, and that’s reflective of our society. For centuries, we’ve prided ourselves on “pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps.” By the way, have you ever tried that? It’s not as easy as it sounds, given the pull of gravity and all. 


Decades ago Frank Sinatra enthralled his fans by singing, “I Did It My Way.” I’ve tried that many times myself; too often I’ve then fretted, “Now what have I done?!” But when facing a crisis, dealing with worry, or just at a perplexing juncture in our lives, we think the solution is to do something. Anything. Even if it’s the wrong thing to do. Better than nothing.


Lest we think this is some uniquely American thing, or even a 21stcentury thing, it’s not. Apparently, this human tendency has spanned the ages. We see it in the biblical account of the sisters Mary and Martha, when Jesus paid them a visit:

“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’

“’Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her’” (Luke 10:38-42).


Of these two sisters, which do you identify with the most? Many of us would side with Martha. After all, this visit might have been unanticipated, so there was much to do to extend proper hospitality to Jesus and His followers. Why shouldn’t Martha be aggravated to see her sister, Mary, sitting there, just listening to what Jesus had to say?


Except, with a soft but direct rebuke, Jesus gave Martha a lesson in priorities. Mary, apparently sensing a unique, even once in a lifetime opportunity to sit and soak up the wonderful things Jesus had to say, decided the necessary busy work could wait. The Lord seemed to agree.


“Yeah, but…!” Certainly the two women didn’t already have a four-course meal awaiting, just in case some special, unexpected guests came by. Surely Jesus didn’t send a text, or an email, to give them advance notice of His arrival with some friends. Showing proper hospitality was important in their culture, so there was work to be done – and someone had to do it.


All true, but from Jesus’ own lips we read His caution about confusing the important with the urgent. This comes to mind because many of us sense an urgency for our nation. We seem at an unprecedented crossroads politically, morally and most of all, spiritually. Time for action!


Starting in just a few days, a 10-day event (Sept. 18-28) called “The Return” will seek to awaken many minds, hearts and spirits. Perhaps even be used by God to usher in a revival that would sweep across every strata of society. Central to this event, sponsored by numerous Christian leaders, will be a “sacred assembly” Saturday, Sept. 26 on the Washington Mall in our nation’s capital.


This is doing something, right? Moving into action, right? Yes, and no. I’m reminded of the most impactful psalm in my life, Psalm 37. It underscores the importance of balance, that there’s a time to be a Martha, but also a time to be a Mary.


The psalm starts off with the active verbs we like so well, such as “Do not fret,” “trust in the Lord,” “do good,” “delight yourself in the Lord,” “commit your way to the Lord,” and “trust in him” (Psalm 37:1-5). But then, just as we’re about to charge into the sunset, eager to be doing the Lord’s work, we read words that seem almost like shouting “Whoa!” to a galloping horse. It says, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him…” (Psalm 37:7). Oh, man! Then, perhaps for emphasis or in case we missed it the first time, we’re told, “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 37:34).


In a later psalm we find a similar admonition: “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10). What’s up with all this waiting, and being still? Doesn’t the Lord understand the time is now, and something must be done?


I have no doubt He understands. And perhaps, if the family of faith really gets serious about this call back to the fundamental truths, values and virtues that have undergirded our nation since its founding, God will do some great things. Maybe even “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine,” as Ephesians 3:20 declares. But the key is the last portion of that verse: “according to his power that is at work in us.”


Too often we launch into campaigns and enterprises and missions, determined to do good things for God, forgetting that if He’s not in the middle of them, our best efforts will fall flat. So I think the premise of “The Return” is great. But the most important thing we can do, the greatest work we can perform, is the hard work of prayer. As we are abiding in the One who empowers us to carry out His will.


As Jesus said, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it shall be done for you” (John 15:7). Because when we’re engaged in a spiritual war – which we are – we’re instructed to put on the full armor of God, as described in Ephesians 6:10-18. And the most important piece of the armor is prayer: “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit” (verse 18). 


We don’t need to wait until Sept. 18 to start praying, and we definitely don’t need to cease praying on Sept. 26. Without question, God is able. But for whatever reason, He usually chooses to do His best work in response to the faithful, fervent prayers of His people. Let’s not get so caught up in the busy work that we become like Martha and forget, as Jesus said, to choose what is better. 

Monday, September 14, 2020

Vantage Points: Always Important to Consider

Promotional poster for
"Vantage Point"
Back in 2008, a film called “Vantage Point” was produced, a political action thriller about an assassination attempt on a public figure, viewed through the eyes of a collection of characters. The film, according to Wikipedia, “recounts a series of events which are re-enacted from several different perspectives and viewpoints to reveal a truthful account of what happened.”

It’s been years since I viewed “Vantage Point,” but I do recall seeing the initial viewpoint presented and arriving at one conclusion. My judgment changed with each successive perspective that was shown. It’s often said that seeing is believing, but evidently, seeing isn’t always perceiving correctly.


This is evident these days with the cyber-flood of smartphone videos capturing countless events and incidents: Shoppers clashing over use of virus-protective facemasks in stores and public places. Natural disasters like hurricanes or earthquakes, or huge explosions. Tighten-your-seatbelts car chases. It seems every time an act of suspected law enforcement misconduct takes place, someone’s recording it. One angle doesn't always tell the whole story.


In other ways, we’ve all seen evidence of how vantage points can affect judgment. In football games, players are sometimes assessed illegal roughness or unsportsmanlike conduct penalties because an official didn’t see how an opposing player instigated the response. Four people could stand at different corners of a busy intersection, witness an accident, and come up with seemingly conflicting details. Or maybe we’ve taken the side of a friend or family member in an angry dispute, until we learned about the other side of the story.


But there’s another vantage points advantage. They can give us a fuller, more comprehensive account, even when the facts presented are in agreement.


Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of hearing – and even writing – the testimonies of hundreds of men and women, stories about how God invaded their lives and transformed them forever. In many cases, specifics were very different from how the Lord has worked in my life. However, it was clear they were talking about the same God that I worship and serve; the result was to broaden my own understanding and appreciation for the many ways He can touch lives and alter them for eternity.


The Bible itself is a prime example of how different vantage points can provide a more complete picture. Comprised of 66 books, written by about 40 different authors over a span of thousands of years, it gives amazing depth and breadth for learning about the relationship between the Lord and His people. Unique vantage points about the same God. 


Take the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, for example. Each gives an account of the life of Jesus Christ and His followers, basically the same story from very distinctive vantage points. We find the Beatitudes, part of Jesus’ “sermon on the mount,” in both Matthew (chapters 5-7) and Luke (chapter 6), but they are not included in the other two gospels. 


Only the gospel of John gives us the amazing account of Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus, a leader of the Pharisees. This passage provides two of His most profound statements, “unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3), and the one even many non-believers have heard, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).


Each of the gospels has an account of Peter denying Christ three times as He was undergoing a trial on trumped-up charges prior to His crucifixion. However, only Luke reports a small but extremely significant detail: “Immediately [after the third denial], while (Peter) was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.’ So Peter went out and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:60-62).


The other three gospels don’t include a mention of Jesus looking directly at Peter at that moment, but it’s important because near the end of the gospel of John, we see a moving scene where Jesus dramatically restores Peter – in effect, erasing each of Peter’s three denials. 


Three times Jesus asks him, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” (John 21:15-17), and each time Peter replies, “Lord, You know that I love You.” Without saying the specific words, “Peter, I forgive you,” Jesus replies successively, “Feed My lambs…. Tend My sheep…. Feed My sheep.”


Why do we see variations from one gospel narrative to another? Because their purpose is not to supply verbatim repetition. Also because, while divinely inspired, God allowed the personalities, perspectives – and vantage points – of each gospel author to be represented.


The Lord could have given us much, much more. It’s inconceivable that all there is to know about Jesus Christ could be captured in just four gospels, or even the entirety of the Scriptures. As the last of the gospels closes, “And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen” (John 21:25). 


But the Scriptures provide us with many vantage points. And from these, we can discover all we need to know. 

Thursday, September 10, 2020

‘Stay Hydrated, My Friend!’

Perhaps you recall the old beverage commercials where the dapper, gray-haired gentleman looks at the camera and urges, “Stay thirsty, my friend!” Well, no matter how distinguished he appears, how well-meaning, the fellow had it wrong. 

Because one key to good health is keeping properly hydrated. Medical science tells us the average human body consists of 60 percent water, with the brain and heart made up of 73 percent water, and 83 percent in the lungs. So if you’ve been working out, or feel rung out by stress, it might be good to hydrate to replenish your inner water supplies. When someone tells you, “You’re all wet!” that might be a compliment.


Just as the body requires physical
water, we also require water
for our souls.
Most of us think about drinking water when we feel thirsty – like when mowing the yard on a very hot, humid day, or during a break while playing an outdoor sport – but according to health experts, that might be too late. Staying thirsty, becoming dehydrated, can result in a variety of negative consequences.

My intent is not to offer physical health advice, but to point out there’s a parallel in the spiritual realm – even more critical. 


In the gospel of John, Jesus often speaks “living water” that is available to anyone willing to receive it. For instance, we see His encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. After asking that she give him a drink from an ancient well in the town of Sychar, He says, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10).


Confused, the woman observes, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?” To which Jesus replies, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:11-14).


Later, addressing a crowd in Capernaum, Jesus declares, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35). During His talk we call the Beatitudes, the Lord states, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6). 


And speaking to a group of antagonistic religious leaders, Jesus boldly explains His meaning: “’If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.’ By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive” (John 7:37-39).


Sounds like Jesus is talking about the importance of “spiritual hydration.” I’ve mentioned this before, and it’s not original with me, but the Christian life is not difficult – it’s impossible. The only way we can possibly succeed is through the power of Christ living in us spiritually, the “living water” He spoke of so often.


We might have the best of intentions, and even try really hard. But in our own strength, our efforts to live out the timeless truths and commands of the Scriptures amount to futility. But if we avail ourselves of the living water He provides, as Jesus said, “streams of living water will flow” out of us for the benefit of all who encounter us.


To experience this involves time with God every day. Not just Sundays, or even a couple of days a week in some formalized worship settings, but every single day. It requires prayer, time reading and meditating on the Scriptures, and reflecting on Him throughout the day. Talking to others about the Lord, when opportunities present, is especially effective for keeping the living water flowing.


There’s no secret formula, or steps 1-2-3 to follow, any more than your personal physician will dictate how often, when, and how much physical water you should drink every day. It’s just that we need the water – natural and supernatural – and to go even one day without it can be devastating.


It’s offered to every one of us – as Jesus said, “Whoever believes in Me.” We need only accept His gracious and unconditional offer of living water that will last forever. Stay hydrated, my friend!


Monday, September 7, 2020

Are We Going to Belabor the Value of Labor Day?

Like every other holiday over the course of this craziest of crazy years, Labor Day 2020 is different from any we’ve had in the past. In fact, if we follow the emerging thinking of our current age, some might contend it’s not even be a day that should be celebrated.

The intrinsic and noble value of work is at the heart of the “Protestant work ethic,” a term popularized in the early 1900s by Max Weber in his book, The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. (I remember reading it as a college freshman.) A concept in theology, sociology, economics and history, it places high value in hard work, discipline and frugality. It views work as a commendable duty that benefits both the individual and society as a whole.


There are voices, however, that lump this long-revered philosophy of work with so-called “whiteness,” and are therefore seeking to discredit its principles. Without launching into a political debate, let me just say I find such thinking unfortunate. Especially because from the very beginning, hard work – and the rewards from it – have been God’s idea. And so it remains today.

We see it in the opening chapters of the Bible’s first book. One may choose to discount the Scriptures, but if you believe the Bible, you have no option but to accept the ethic of work. 


In chapter 1 of Genesis, we see God actively involved in the work of creation, the entire universe: light; the earth and the seas: vegetation; sun, moon and stars; all living creatures, and then mankind. We read in Genesis 2:1-2, “Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.”


Whether we interpret the Creation process as six literal 24-hour days or a longer period – since there were no clocks, watches or calendars for charting time – is irrelevant for this discussion. God engaged in work, the greatest work of all time, and then paused from His labors.


Soon He delegated the work responsibilities to His prized creations, man and woman. The Lord didn’t present Adam and Eve with video games or puzzles to occupy their time. He entrusted them with the maintenance of the garden of Eden and the new world He had established.


“So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female…. Then the Lord blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’ And God said, ‘See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food.’” (Genesis 1:27:29).


 In the next chapter we see Adam and Eve’s “job description” being affirmed: “Then the Lord took the man and put him in the garden of to tend it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15).


Then came the “oops” moment, however, when the first couple were enticed into eating of the one tree in the garden that God had told them was off limits – the first sin of disobedience. As a consequence, work became hard. The Lord declared, “Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you…. In the seat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground…” (Genesis 3:17-19).


This did not diminish the importance of work in God’s eyes. It just became more challenging, frustrating, and sometimes fruitless. Throughout the Scriptures we see the virtues of hard work being extolled. The book of Proverbs, for example, has much to say about it:


“Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth” (Proverbs 10:4).

“He who gathers crops in summer is a wise son, but he who sleeps during harvest is a disgraceful son” (Proverbs 10:5).

He who works his land will have abundant food, but he who chases fantasies lacks judgment” (Proverbs 12:11)

“Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in slave labor” (Proverbs 12:24).

“The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied” (Proverbs 13:4).

“All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty” (Proverbs 14:23).

“One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys” (Proverbs 18:9).

“Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men” (Proverbs 22:29).


There are dozens of other similar verses, but the message is clear: Hard work and diligence eventually reap a worthwhile reward, while failure to work or unwillingness to put forth a determined effort will result in failure and want.


When Jesus was selecting His followers, among them were hard-working fishermen, individuals who understood the truth of the adage, “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” If they didn’t take their boats out to sea and cast their nets, there would be nothing to eat – or to sell.


A number of Christ’s parables dealt with farming metaphors, incorporating the essentials of cultivating, sowing and harvesting into His spiritual truths. Being a carpenter Himself for most of His adult life, Jesus was no stranger to hard labor.


When I try to understand God’s perspective of work, one other passage comes to mind: “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building” (1 Corinthians 3:9). The context refers primarily to evangelism and spiritual growth, but as we have seen from the start, we are all part of the Lord’s divine and eternal plan, whatever form our work happens to take.


Whether we’re black, white, brown, Asian, African-American, Hispanic, Middle Eastern or Caucasian, male or female, God has work for us to do. Therefore, we celebrate Labor Day.


Thursday, September 3, 2020

The Tension of Trusting God Truly, Not Tentatively

When bad things happen, the first question we want to ask is, “Why?” The second one is often something like, “If God is really there, how could He let this happen?” It’s easy to talk about faith when everything seems to be going well. But what about when having faith means you actually have to trust God - and nothing, or no one, else?


This is a dilemma I’ve confronted more times than I care to recall. Sometimes it’s really big events with massive impact – like a global pandemic, along with all the chaos it creates. It might be a hurricane or tornado that rips through a city or a region, causing devastation and extensive damage to anything in its path. It might be social unrest that becomes violent and destructive, turning once-picturesque cities into virtual war zones or making them look like Third World countries.


Or it might be more personal: The loss of a beloved family member or friend. A terrifying diagnosis. The unexpected loss of a job, without any suitable prospects for new employment. A financial crisis that appears out of nowhere, with no reserves for responding to it. Difficult decisions that leave us perplexed.


Regardless of the circumstances, do we possess faith deep enough to trust the Lord, no matter what?


In biblical theology there’s a term called the “sovereignty of God.” To make sure we’re thinking about this along the same lines, I looked up a couple of definitions. One said, “God’s absolute right to do all things according to His good purpose.” Another defined this as, “the unlimited power of God, who has sovereign control over the affairs of nature and history…. The Bible declares that God is working out His sovereign plan of redemption for the world and that the conclusion is certain.”


From experience, I’ve come up with a definition of my own that sometimes I like, and sometimes I don’t: “God is in control – and I’m not.”


This comes freshly to mind whenever I stop to think, even worry, about the crazed state society is in today. Our nation is embroiled in the political turmoil of all political turmoils. Then there’s that thing we’d never heard of when the new year dawned about eight months ago – COVID-19 – that threatens to reshape forever what we regard as “normal.” 


Like many folks, I’ve struggled to make sense of it all. Part of me wants to say, “Uh, Lord, in case You haven’t noticed, things are in quite a mess here. Are You paying attention? Would You mind doing something about it?”


That’s when I try to remind myself of God’s sovereignty, that He hasn’t been caught off guard. He’s not wringing His hands in the celestial realms, fretting, “My, My. What ever are we going to do now?” No, since the Lord is sovereign over all things, nothing is beyond His purview. No matter what it is, His response is, “I’ve got this.”


How do we know this? Through the eyes of faith, and believing what God reveals to us in the Scriptures, we can trust that even when things seem most dark, He still rules. Here are just some of the assurances found the eminently practical Old Testament book of Proverbs:


“The Lord works out everything for his own ends – even the wicked for a day of disaster” (Proverbs 16:4).

“There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord” (Proverbs 21:30).

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21).

“In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

 “A man’s steps are directed by the Lord. How then can anyone understand his own way?” (Proverbs 20:24).


What about our concerns regarding whether the right people will get elected in November? Can we trust God with that as well? We have this assertion: “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases” (Proverbs 21:1).


I’ve played a few games of chess over the years, but never got the hang of it. For experts, however, it’s a contest of consummate strategy. With experience gained through thousands of competitions, as well as a thorough understanding of the game, chessmasters don’t anxiously wait to see what move the opponent chooses to employ. The chessmaster, having anticipated multiple moves and countermoves in advance, is ready for whatever the opposing player opts to do.


This might be a weak metaphor, but I perceive God as the ultimate Chessmaster, armed with a firm, unfailing plan that has factored in everything and anything that can be thrown at Him – by human beings, the natural realm, or the spiritual.


Trust is birthed and established through time and experience, transforming faith from a comforting notion to an unshakable, unwavering possession. This is why, again and again, I’ve turned to my favorite passage in Proverbs for confidence in very uncertain times:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). 


If we believe and trust that God is sovereign, and that He’s after our best interests – perhaps even more than we are – this releases us from lots of unnecessary stress and anxiety.