Monday, June 21, 2021

It’s Who You’re With That Really Matters

Have you noticed those giant scoreboards that dominate many athletic stadiums and arenas? Equipped with a multitude of high-tech innovations, they command the spectators’ attention during lulls in the action. And in case folks get distracted from the game, they offer replays of every play. How did the sports world ever do without them?

 

But you might not appreciate how massive the scoreboards really are. Years ago I was in Columbus, Ohio and a friend – a fellow Buckeye fan – asked if I wanted to visit Ohio Stadium, where the Scarlet and Gray play, to see the renovations that were going on at the time. Always game for anything Buckeye, I jumped at the opportunity. My friend knew the man serving as project manager, so we were given firsthand access few others had.

The stadium’s new scoreboard was the centerpiece of the stadium tour. It looked huge from the outside, but then came a surprise: The project manager asked if we’d like to go inside the scoreboard. Inside? Who knew you could do that? Talk about big! I discovered you could not only see its interior, but if you were so inclined, you could actually take up residence there. 

 

There’s a TV show called, “You Live in That?” I fully expect that one day there will be a segment about somebody who has actually set up housekeeping inside one of those gigantic scoreboards. The one at Ohio Stadium could easily have accommodated enough furnishings for living comfortably.

 

Why do I write about this? Simply because that experience was possible only because I knew – through my friend – someone that had access. I couldn’t have walked up to the stadium gates and shouted, “Hey, let me in – I want to tour the scoreboard!” No, I needed to be with someone; that is, I needed someone who was willing to say, “It’s okay. He’s with me.”

 

There’s an important spiritual parallel here. In Mark 3:13-14 it says, “Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve – designating them apostles – that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.” Then the passage specifies those Jesus personally selected to be “with Him.”

 

During Jesus’ early ministry there were many who followed Him, eager to witness His miracles and hear what He had to say. But the Lord hand-picked certain people to be with Him full-time, and He imparted to them special powers do perform work on His behalf. He’s still doing that today, asking to us to serve as “Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20).

 

But there’s an even more important element to being “with Christ.” One day our days on earth will come to an end. The Bible tells us then “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). What will happen then?

 

We’d like to think that on balance, our good deeds will outweigh the bad, prompting God to declare, “Well, you haven’t been too bad. Come into My heaven.” Unfortunately, that’s not how it works, according to the Scriptures. Romans 3:10-12 bluntly states, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God…there is no one who does good, not even one.” And a bit later we’re told, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

 

We’ve heard about the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. But that sounds like bad news. Very bad news. What can we do? The Bible declares that no matter how hard we try, we’re not good enough. We’ll never measure up. God’s standard isn’t good works vs. bad, but rather, absolute perfection. Whoa!

 

This is where the good news comes in, the part about being “with Christ.” We also find it in the New Testament book of Romans. The apostle Paul, after acknowledging his ongoing struggles with not doing the things he knows he should be doing, and doing the things he knows he shouldn’t, offers the solution to his – and our – problem.

 

“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!... Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 7:24-8:2).

 

The day will come when each of us stands before the God of all eternity, and perhaps we’ll be asked on what basis we deserve to become part of His eternal kingdom. The reality will be that we don’t deserve it, not at all. But then, because of what Jesus has done for us, we can say something like, “I’m with Him.” Or better yet, Jesus will say, “He (or she) is with Me.” That tops being invited to go inside a fancy football stadium scoreboard any day! 

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Maybe It’s Time for the Real Fathers to Stand Up

We don’t see it as much these days, but there was a time when cameras would roam the sidelines of college football games and athletes sitting on the bench would turn, wave and smile and say, “Hi, Mom!” I noticed, however, they rarely said, “Hi, Dad!” Maybe because moms are inclined to beam and say, “That’s my boy!” while dads are more likely to respond, “Suck it up, son. Get tough and play ball!”

 

All the attention for mothers is well-deserved, as I’ve noted many times. It’s a shame, however, that we tend to underestimate the importance of the father. We hear much about single moms sacrificing, doing whatever they can to provide for their children, but not nearly as much about dads.

There seems to be a concerted effort in some quarters to even discount the need for fathers. Sadly, in too many scenarios, men have failed to step up and accept parental responsibilities. One search showed that in 2020, there were 11 million single-parent homes, and 8.5 million of them were headed by women. 

 

A 2019 Pew Research Center study revealed nearly one-quarter (23%) of children under the age of 18 were living with one parent, more than three times the average of 130 countries and territories around the world. Moms bearing by themselves the burden of raising children deserve all the credit in the world, but it would make life easier for them – and their kids – if the dad were present to share in the work, and the blessings, of parenthood.

 

I often think about Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, which speaks of the power and synergy of people teaming up to achieve commonly shared goals: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work. If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up.” This can certainly be applied to parenting in many ways – spending time with the children, both quality and quantity; handling household chores; earning a livelihood for the family; providing discipline when needed, and many other aspects of parent-child relationships.

 

The National Center for Fathering estimates nearly 25 million children live absent from their biological fathers. The ramifications of this are many, ranging from a greatly increased likelihood of young people growing up in poverty, experiencing developmental difficulties, and heightened risk for becoming involved in criminal activities.

 

We hear much about young people joining gangs and getting caught up in waves of gun violence. The majority of these are young men, and I believe one reason for this is a deep-seated desire for a father figure, even if it’s a gang leader. Ephesians 6:4 admonishes, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” The absence of a father can’t help but exasperate a child and his or her instinctive desire for the love and attention, nurturing and training of both a mom and a dad.

 

My own father was far from perfect – as I’ve also proved to be with my own family. But becoming a father and a grandfather has been among the greatest privileges of my life. The thing is, my dad was there, he was hard-working, he was faithful to my mom, he was a man of integrity, and I knew he loved me. These were priceless gifts to me, demonstrating what a real man was like and helping to mold me into the man that one day I would become. Sadly, far too many children never experience this, and I have no doubt our society is the worse for it.

 

The Bible has much to say about the roles and responsibilities of fathers, not diminishing the importance of mothers, but affirming God’s design for a family to consist of both a dad and a mom. It says the father is to serve as the spiritual leader, modeling what it means and looks like to live for God. 

 

Deuteronomy 6:5-7 addresses both parents, exhorting, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

 

Many of us share a concern for the path our nation is on today, and I think here we find keys for making changes in the right direction: To reaffirm the value and significance of the father in the home, and for fathers to stand up, reassuming their God-given duties to raise, teach and nurture their children to know right from wrong, and to live accordingly.

 

An old hymn we rarely hear anymore is “Faith of Our Fathers,” written by Frederick William Faber in 1849. It hearkens to the enduring faith of those who have gone before, including many who were martyred for not renouncing their trust in Jesus Christ. This Father’s Day, we need to review and recapture its repeating refrain: “Faith of our Fathers! Holy Faith! We will be true to thee till death.” And God willing, fathers will lead the way.

Monday, June 14, 2021

The Problem With Taking Things for Granted

Quite a few years ago, before the shattering of the Iron Curtain and the disunifying of the Soviet Union, a friend in Atlanta hosted two Russian visitors. As hosts often do when people come to visit from out of town, my friend wanted to introduce his guests to some of the local sites. One of the destinations was a huge, indoor shopping mall.

 

“Who doesn’t like a trip to the mall?” he thought. Well, he found out. The Russians, accustomed to long food lines and sparse store shelves in their home country during Communist rule, went out of curiosity but quickly experienced sensory overload.

 

After about five minutes, the visitors rushed up to their hosts and insisted, “We must go now.” “But we’ve just gotten here,” my friend protested. “No,” one of the men repeated, “We must go. Too much – too much!” Trying to comprehend the material abundance everywhere they looked had overwhelmed them.

I was reminded of this while viewing a video produced by PragerU, a conservative non-profit devoted to teaching about the values that make America great. In the video, an immigrant from Cuba goes to Walmart  for the first time. In the grocery section, he’s amazed at both the array and size of the fresh produce. He picks up an onion about the size of a baseball in disbelief.

 

The newcomer to the U.S.A. next goes to the small appliance section, and then the toy department where he marvels at the many dolls on display. How would his daughter react if she saw this, he wonders. As the Cuban speaks on the video, you can see astonishment in his eyes. There was nothing like this in his homeland.

 

By comparison, how do lifelong Americans react in similar circumstances? We’re more likely to respond with a shrug, oblivious to the abundance all around us. I’ve actually felt a bit annoyed at times by having some many choices: Going into a paint store and discovering hundreds of different shades of…white, or blue, or green. Or walking down a grocery store aisle and encountering 55 varieties of baked beans – in sizes ranging from single-serving to “big enough to feed an army.” Why so many?

 

Remember the great toilet paper panic of 2020? (Who can forget, right?) In two blinks of an eye, the shelves went from stacks and stacks of TP to absolutely bare, causing some to consider subscribing again to the daily newspaper – just in case they ran out and needed an alternative. The crisis got so urgent that Mr. Whipple nearly came out of retirement to hawk his hoarded supplies of Charmin.

 

Such is the blessing – and the curse – of living in a prosperous nation. We can easily grow complacent, taking for granted our access to goods that people in many other countries can find only in their dreams. 

 

Maybe that’s why one of the virtues so rare in our society is contentment. Our desire for more seems limitless. Too much is never enough. Meanwhile, folks from other nations who visit – or just watch American programs on TV – find such abundance unfathomable.

 

I’m not suggesting we should go on a collective guilt trip, but maybe it’s time we started to gain some perspective. In a letter of exhortation to his young protégé, Timothy, the apostle Paul wrote, “godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (1 Timothy 6:6-8).

 

In this same passage we read, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). Some have incorrectly quoted this as “the love of money is the root of all evil,” which it doesn’t say at all. But as Paul concludes his thought, “Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

 

Perhaps the greatest problem with material abundance – excess – is that it deceives us into trusting our own self-sufficiency. Which in turn diminishes our sense of dependence upon God. Jesus spoke about this, chiding His hearers for worrying about their daily needs:  

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?... For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:25-33).

 

In one sense, it’s wonderful to know we live in a society where we typically don’t have to worry about whether we’ll find a loaf of bread to buy when we go to the store. But it might be good to occasionally see things as folks visiting from other less “blessed” lands. Wouldn’t it be something to go to a mall and suddenly decide, “Too much!” and return home, happily content with what we have and not feeling an urge to acquire more? 

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Sound Suggestions for Living Our Everyday Lives

At my granddaughter’s recent high school graduation, the keynote speaker, Dr. Paul Conn, chancellor of Lee University in Collegedale, Tenn., offered some succinct, simple, yet profound suggestions on how the students should begin living their post-high school years. As he stated at the start, “My goal is to stop speaking before you stop listening.”

 

Conn challenged them to “live your life as a statement,” and then described how not to live their lives: “Don’t live your life as an apology…. Don’t live your life as a whimper…. Don’t live your life as an echo.” Since I was attending the event as a proud grandpa, and not as a reporter, I didn’t capture all the veteran educator said, but I’ll share the gist of his meaning.

 

Let’s start with his don’ts. By not living life “as an apology,” Conn explained he meant not having to apologize for or give an excuse for being male or female; a specific race or ethnicity; having certain interests, hobbies or passions; or even having certain physical characteristics. As Psalm 139:14 declares, we each are “fearfully and wonderfully made,” so we need not offer any apologies for how God created or wired us.

 

By not living one’s life “as a whimper,” the longtime college administrator and author urged the students not to muster up complaints or grumble about life circumstances, especially when they don’t always go in one’s favor. My take on what he said was rather than focusing on why one can’t do a certain thing, pointing to obstacles or factors that might stand in the way, concentrate on ways to overcome those hurdles just as many great people have done through the centuries. In the words of Ecclesiastes 9:10, “Whatever your hands find to do, do it with all your might….”

 

When Conn exhorted the students not to live “as an echo,” he was encouraging them to not parrot the views and perspectives of those around them, whether they are friends, college professors, the media, even parents. “Learn to think for yourself,” he said, “don’t blindly agree or disagree, or let others do the thinking for you.” 

 

Critical thinking skills seem to be discouraged in many quarters these days, with authorities on any and every topic more than willing to inform us on what we should believe. Romans 12:2 speaks powerfully to this, admonishing, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” A popular paraphrase states it this way: “Don’t let the world shape you into its mold.” The passage proceeds to add, “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

 

But it was Conn’s positive exhortation that stood out most strongly: “Live your life as a statement.” He challenged them in several ways, such as, “Can you dream?” “Can you commit?” He also told them to seek their own answers to the question, “For you to live is…?” Ultimately, Conn proposed, our lives should be a statement of faith – not only in God and His revealed truth in the Scriptures, but also in what we believe He has called and uniquely equipped each of us to do.

 

I’ve always admired the words of the apostle Paul, who unwavering declared, “For in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). The apostle was certain about his calling and the purpose God had prepared for him, and pursued it with relentless zeal – even more enthusiastically than he had pursued and persecuted followers of Jesus as a Pharisee prior to his life-changing encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus.

 

Often commencement messages are filled with lofty, ethereal ideals, kind of a feel-good hurrah for those eagerly waiting to grab their diplomas and embark on their next stage of life. But Conn, the savvy, seasoned educator that he is, packed his brief message with wisdom that hopefully will resonate in the advancing students’ minds for many years to come.

 

Would that we all would embrace his advice, refusing to let our lives become an apology, a whimper or an echo, but resolving for them to be clearly conceived, resolute statements enabling us to become true difference-makers, rather than difference-experiencers.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Overcoming the Greatest Problem in Poverty

The problem of poverty is both perplexing and perpetual. It’s plagued humanity since the beginning of time, and despite the posturing and protests, lacks simple solutions.

 

Years ago I had the opportunity to visit an inner city ministry in Atlanta, Ga. on several occasions, observing firsthand how leaders there were striving to help equip down-and-outers to one day become up-and-outers. In the process of gathering information for articles I wrote about this work for various publications, I gained some unexpected insights. 

I’ll never forget, for instance, touring a ministry-supported home goods store. Merchandise at the store had been donated, so it could be sold at greatly discounted prices to low-income residents of the community. I met a young man who had been working there for a few weeks, carrying out whatever responsibilities he was assigned. Having been told it was his first-ever job, I asked him what he had learned. His response caught me off guard: “I learned how to use a ruler, and that I need to show up on time.”

 

As I thought about it, however, what he said shouldn’t have been so surprising. Think about it: If you don’t have much, there’s no need to measure it. And if you have nowhere that you must be, what difference does it make what time you get there? This helped me to realize that lifting folks from poverty involves more than telling them, “Get a job.” Because lacking basic life and job skills, in many cases not even knowing how to fill out a job application or conduct oneself in a job interview, many hurdles stand in the way of being able to obtain suitable employment.

 

But perhaps my greatest insight into the broad and complex dilemma of helping the poor was an observation from Bob, the ministry leader. He said simply, “The greatest poverty is the inability to give.” He had seen this vividly during the Christmas holidays in the ministry’s initial years, when they would go to different homes and bring gifts for the children. Their motivation, of course, was to ensure that the kids wouldn’t wake up on Christmas morning without any presents to open.

 

The moms were always receptive and appreciative, but dads were rarely seen. For them, having someone bring gifts for their children was a painful reminder of their own failure to provide for the material needs of their families. Unwittingly, generosity from others only intensified the awareness of their poverty.

 

Wisely, the ministry changed its strategies and developed many ways for enabling the disadvantaged to effectively help themselves and protect their dignity in the process.

 

Ironically, studies have shown that increase in material wealth does not result in a corresponding increase in willingness to give. In fact, one study of giving patterns revealed that proportionately, the poor were inclined to give 44 percent more of what they had, than wealthy people. So keenly aware of their own poverty, they were typically more highly motivated to help when they saw others in need.

 

We see a powerful example of this in the Scriptures: “Jesus sat down opposite the place where offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on’” (Mark 12:41-44).

 

If anyone had an excuse for not giving, it was this widow. She gave all she had, as meager as it was - some translations call it the "widow's mite" - not holding back even a single cent. And yet, it’s likely she did not feel any pangs of regret. Despite her impoverishment, she was a “cheerful giver,” as 2 Corinthians 9:7 describes it.

 

This is not the only biblical illustration of poor people displaying extravagant giving. Earlier in his letter to the church in Corinth, the apostle Paul points to “the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints…they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will” (2 Corinthians 8:2-5).

 

We tend to perceive poverty as the inability to acquire “stuff,” whatever and whenever we want. But could it be that, as my friend Bob said years ago, the greatest poverty indeed is the inability to give? And as we participate in helping the poor to one day help themselves, we’re enabling them to escape this most profound, most painful aspect of poverty? 

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Darkness Only Makes the Stars Shine Brighter

“Night is when the stars come out.” How many times have you heard people say that? Seems right, doesn’t it? But if it’s true, where have the stars been? If they’ve just come out, where have they come from?

 

Of course, we know the stars are there all the time. It’s just because of the brightness and comparative proximity of our sun, they can’t be seen during the day. That is, unless we’re using a powerful telescope or, better yet, board a NASA or SpaceX rocket and venture beyond our atmosphere. Then, away from the illumination of our sun, we would have the opportunity to get a better glimpse of the countless stars – much larger “suns” – that populate our vast universe.

This may seem like one of those “duh!” observations, but it came to mind when a lead character in one of my favorite TV shows noted, “Darkness only makes the stars shine brighter.”

 

Why does this matter? Why this concentration on the constellations? Because it seems we’re surrounded by darkness these days – the ongoing impact of the pandemic; economic turmoil; social unrest; global conflict; violence, gloom and doom at every turn. We sure could use some stars to dispel the darkness.

 

This is significant, because in the Scriptures, God’s people are compared to stars. For instance, in the Old Testament the prophet Daniel stated, “Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever” (Daniel 12:3).

 

A New Testament verse makes a similar statement. In one of his letters, the apostle Paul exhorted his readers,  “…so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like the stars in the universe” (Philippians 2:15).

 

What does that mean for us? It certainly doesn’t suggest that we ourselves are stars. Both passages say we’re to be “like stars.” In a powerful metaphor, the Bible declares that once we were wandering in darkness ourselves, apart from God. But then, in a literal, spiritual sense, we “saw the light,” as the prophet Isaiah declared, “The people walking in the darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the darkness a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2).

 

That “great light” is Jesus Christ, who announced, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12, 9:5). We ourselves are not the stars generating our own light, but we can reflect the light of Christ – just as the moon reflects the sun – and we can point others to that life-changing, transforming light.

 

This is why Jesus said in Matthew 5:14, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” We ourselves are not the light-generators, but ones called to present the source of illumination to others. Just as the prophets did during Old Testament times: “And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19).

 

But how are we to go about doing this? Do we run around telling people, “Hey, we’ve got the light. Come and see!”? That’s definitely one approach. One of Jesus’ disciples, Philip, did that with his friend, Nathanael. He told him, “‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’ ‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’ Nathanael asked. ‘Come and see,’ said Philip’” (John 1:44-46).

 

But there’s another strategy that’s just as effective, maybe even better. Conducting our lives in such a way that the light of Christ shines through us, so that people can’t help but notice. Yes, we’re told to proclaim the truth, but usually it’s after we’ve earned the right to be heard. 

 

I like how Oswald Chambers expresses it in his devotional book, My Utmost for His Highest: “The people who influence us the most are not those who detain us with their continual talk, but those who live their lives like the stars of the sky…simply and unaffectedly.” It’s dark out there. Are you ready to shine?

Monday, May 31, 2021

Time for Remembering, So We Don’t Repeat What We’ve Forgotten


"Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it,” British statesman Winston Churchill observed back in 1948. The warning remains important today and it’s fitting to keep in mind as we commemorate another Memorial Day, honoring those who have given their lives defending our nation in war. 
 

Some older Americans still remember when it was called “Decoration Day,” because of being a time to honor the war dead by decorating their graves with flowers. Regardless of how we mark this annual observance, it’s important to call to memory the many thousands of lives of men and women who sacrificed through numerous wars so we can still enjoy freedoms we so easily take for granted.

Sadly, there are factions of our society that want to rewrite history, erasing times and events they find distasteful or offensive, and re-envisioning the past as they would like it to be told. In my view this is problematic on many levels, but within the context of this day we should hearken back to Churchill’s immortal words.

 

We all can point to regrettable, even terrible moments in America’s past. Take your pick. But to remove them from remembrance, or whitewash them to reframe them into something they were not, imperils us for repeating these hateful times when humanity was functioning at its darkest.

 

To reinforce this importance, we need look no further than the ancient Israelites, for whom God had performed unimaginable wonders: freeing them from four centuries of slavery in Egypt; parting the Red Sea for them to cross with the Egyptians in hot pursuit; miraculously providing water, then manna and then quail, enough to feed probably more than a million men, women and children for 40 years of wandering. 

 

How could a people forget all of that? And yet, the Scriptures tell us that repeatedly, they did. 

 

Amazingly, it didn’t take the Israelites long to forget how the Lord had blessed them. While still meandering in the wilderness, a consequence of their failure to trust in God’s protective care, Moses admonished them, “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands…. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years” (Deuteronomy 8:2-5).

 

Why did Moses issue this warning? Because as he said soon afterward, “Remember this and never forget how you provoked the Lord your God to anger in the desert. From the day you left Egypt until you arrived here, you have been rebellious against the Lord” (Deuteronomy 9:7). We find many similar admonitions by various prophets throughout the Old Testament. 

 

Apparently things didn’t change much even after Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry. How quickly we forget. The apostle Paul had to remind his protégé, Timothy, where to keep his focus as he conducting his own ministry. “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained…. Keep reminding them of these things” (2 Timothy 2:8-14).

 

It's important never to forget what the Lord has done in each of our lives, leading us to become part of His eternal family. Writing to followers of Christ in the ancient city of Ephesus, Paul offered this reminder as encouragement: “remember…you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:12-13).

 

And it’s critical to remember how God has guided us through hardships and times of adversity in the past to shore up our faith for facing the uncertain future: “Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering…. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised” (Hebrews 10:32-36).

 

On Memorial Day, we pause to remember the many who gave their lives on battlefields near and distant so we could be a free people. But for those who call themselves disciples of Jesus, every day is a memorial day for bringing to mind all that He has done for us, what He continues to do, and what He has promised to do in eternity future. We dare not forget.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Because We Don’t Know What It Will Be Like


Can you imagine a builder of grand, upscale houses – ones consisting of many perfectly decorated rooms, with every conceivable accessory – living in a tiny, rundown, rat and cockroach-infested apartment? No, that’s impossible to imagine.

How about the CEO of a luxury car manufacturer – vehicles equipped with all the latest high-tech options that only the most affluent can afford – driving a personal car covered with dents on every side, paint hopelessly faded, and its tires nearly bald? Nope, can’t see that happening either, right? 

 

Why is that? Because we would rightly assume that creators, makers and providers of the highest quality products and services would want to enjoy that same standard of quality themselves. We wouldn’t expect the top executives of Neiman-Marcus to buy Christmas gifts for family members at a dollar store, or purchase their office attire at a thrift store.

 

Then how is it, I’ve often wondered, that we feel hesitation and uncertainty in considering the prospects of dying and going to heaven, the domain of the Creator of the entire wondrous, expansive, complex and mysterious universe? It’s nice to trust that when we’ve drawn our last breath we won’t dissolve into nothingness, but we’re still facing the unknown. When we hear the common question, “Where do we go when we die?”, we might think, “I’m going to heaven. But what’s it like?”

 

This comes to mind because in recent weeks, two more members of our extended family have passed away. Life as they knew it has ended for them; they no longer have to contemplate what heaven must be like. For them, in the words of the classic hymn, “It Is Well With My Soul” – faith has become sight.

 

The Bible teaches, of course, that not everyone goes to heaven. It’s reserved for those who have placed their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, who have received Him and His gift of forgiveness for their sins: 

“And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:11-13).

 

And yet, even for those having this assurance, not needing to fear what the Bible calls “the second death” (Revelation 2:11, 20:6,14), sometimes there are still questions, even anxieties, about what awaits us on what I call “the other side of eternity.”

This is why I offer the analogies above. Just as we wouldn’t expect a builder of exquisite homes to live in a rundown shack, why would we think that God’s eternal home would be any less beautiful than what we have experienced on earth? Actually, I wholeheartedly believe that from the Lord’s perspective, we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. 

 

In fact, that’s what the Scriptures tell us:

“However, as it is written: ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him…’” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

 

During His time on earth, Jesus often talked about what awaits His followers after our earthly days are over. For instance, He said, “My Father's house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2). Other translations use the terms “mansions” or “dwelling places” instead of “rooms,” but Jesus’ point is clear: Our heavenly Father in providing a very special place for each of us, and we have every reason to believe it will be magnificent beyond anything we could imagine.

 

The apostle Paul, who served as an unabashed, unwavering ambassador for Christ after his dramatic encounter with Him on the road to Damascus, viewed the next life with great expectation. He wrote, “Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8).


We find imagery in the Book of Revelation, describing “a new heaven and a new earth…. The great street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass…” (Revelation 21:1, 21), its walls consisting of precious gems. Without an equivalent to that on earth, we might find ourselves scratching our heads in uncertainty. 

 

Consider wonders of this world, such as the grandeur of the Grand Canyon, towering sequoias, the awesome majesty of Niagara Falls, a glorious sunset at the beach, a festive field of flowers. If only we could enjoy such beauty perpetually, right? God promises that one day we will:

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands” (2 Corinthians 5:1).

 

Holding fast to that assurance, we have no reason to fear – but every reason for great anticipation.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Free Lunches, Free Postage, and Other Free Stuff

“There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” We’ve probably all heard that at one time or another, even though many of us have been the beneficiaries of a lunch that we didn’t have to pay for. So why do they insist there’s no such thing as a free lunch? 

 

It’s because that lunch does cost somebody. The best scenario is someone covered the cost of the lunch for you. It might be a friend or family member, employer, or even the restaurant itself. It might not have taken anything out of your wallet, but someone had to absorb the cost. Worst case scenario is that even though your lunch might have been free, it created an obligation you might be expected to fulfill sometime in the future. 

It's similar with “free postage” that’s offered when we buy something online. We might not have to pay the additional cost of getting merchandise shipped to us, but somebody has to pay it. Maybe it’s the retailer or the shipping company. The shipping cost might even be a hidden add-on included in the price we paid for the items we wanted. The U.S. Postal Service, which seems to be always losing money, certainly isn’t going to absorb the cost – and even if it did, it still must pay workers who sort, process and then deliver what we buy.

 

We seem to hear a lot about free stuff these days: “free” college educations; “free” health care; “free” unemployment benefits. The costs for these things might not be assessed to us directly, but someone has to pay for them. The “money tree” of legend still hasn’t been discovered, although we might have reason to believe it’s hidden somewhere in Washington, D.C., the way politicians like to throw money around. 

 

This matters because of something available free to each of us, something that’s of far greater value than any of the things cited above. It’s described in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This gift of eternal life truly is free – offered to each of us – but it still comes because of an extremely high cost that has already been paid.

 

This cost, of inestimable value, was paid 2,000 years ago by Jesus on a lonely cross outside of Jerusalem. As someone has said, He paid a price we could not pay to satisfy a debt He did not owe. Or as Romans 5:8 declares, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

 

Question: How many sins had you personally committed when Jesus Christ willingly gave His life on that cross centuries and centuries ago? Not a single one, right? Because you weren’t born yet; not even a tiny glimmer is someone’s eye. And yet Jesus paid it forward, we might say, covering the sin debt you had yet to start accumulating. As it says in the Greek, “tetelestai” – “it is finished.”

 

Why was that even necessary? Why didn’t the Lord just wait for us to earn our way to heaven and eternal life by doing good things? Because He is perfect, holy, all-righteous, and even a slightly imperfect life is totally unacceptable to Him. “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12). Countless biblical scholars have studied this passage, and no one has yet to uncover a single exception to this dismal assessment.

 

So as we think about all the free stuff that tantalizes us in this world – “buy this and we’ll throw in that, absolutely free” – we must remember that it’s not really free. Someone is taking responsibility for the cost. And in a far more profound, enduring way, each one of us is offered the greatest free gift of all, the gift of everlasting life. 

 

There’s just one catch: As John 1:12 states,“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, not of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12-13). Just as a free lunch is of no worth if we don’t accept it when it’s offered, the Lord’s gift of eternal life also must be received. Refusing to accept it is a cost no one can afford. 

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Consulting the ‘Map’ for Avoiding Life’s Everyday Perils

Can you imagine being a soldier deployed in a war zone somewhere in the Middle East, Iraq or Afghanistan perhaps, and being sent out on a mission on foot or by transport vehicle? You know the intended route is littered with IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices), but you have no clue where they are. 

 

What might that be like? Sadly, many in our military have experienced that firsthand, suffering grave injuries or even losing their lives when one of those lethal devices detonated. If only they had been able to refer to a guide – a map of some kind – that could pinpoint the location of each IED or other enemy threats so they could steer clear of them. 

 

Pastor Tony Evans made reference to this on a recent radio broadcast, observing that in many ways our journey through life presents us with similar perils. They might not be physical explosions, but have the capacity to blow up our lives apart in other ways. We call them temptations. They present themselves to us without warning, threatening to set us off course or even stop us dead in our tracks. How can we avoid them?

Fortunately, we have a safety guide, a “map” called the Bible. At times life seems to throw us into harm’s way at every turn, imperiling our health, marriages, families, careers, finances, even our goals and aspirations. Throughout the Scriptures we find principles and truths to help us navigate around the potholes, dead ends and unwanted detours we encounter along the way.

 

We can find beneficial teachings throughout the Bible, but for many years the book of Proverbs has been one of my favorites to find practical, down-to-earth wisdom for virtually every aspect of life. I compiled an book, Business At Its Best: Timeless Wisdom from Proverbs for Today’s Workplace, citing principles and practices Proverbs offers for folks who spend many hours each week in the marketplace. But Proverbs is just as relevant for teachers, homemakers, married couples, parents, pilots, mechanics, mentors and counselors.

 

Suppose you have a problem with anger, tempted to flare into a destructive rage with little provocation. We find words of caution such as these: “A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult” (Proverbs 12:16) and, “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control” (Proverbs 29:11). To show how common the issue of unrestrained anger is, we’re provided many other passages on this topic.

 

Maybe you’re a person who isn’t always careful about the things you say. Consider these: “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18). Or, “Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down” (Proverbs 26:20). And then there’s my personal favorite, one I’ve had to put into use many times, “When there are many words, transgression is not avoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise” (Proverbs 10:19).

 

Early in my adult life I thought credit cards were magical. I didn’t need money in my checking account; all I had to do was “charge it.” Only later did I learn the consequences of accumulated debt and compound interest. Thankfully I came across this admonition: “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender” (Proverbs 22:7). I became much more judicious in the use of credit cards and readily available credit.

 

When it comes to decision-making, it’s easy to proceed without considering all perspectives. As they say, we want what we want when we want it. But there’s great wisdom in seeking the advice of people we trust: “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22) and, “Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise” (Proverbs 19:20).

 

Husbands may be tempted to take their wives for granted, but Proverbs reminds us they can be among God’s greatest blessings: “Houses and wealth are inherited from parents, but a prudent wife is from the Lord” (Proverbs 19:14). And most of Proverbs 31 is devoted to extolling the virtues of a godly wife, starting with, “A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies,” and concluding,“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised…” (Proverbs 31:30).

 

Integrity and honesty are all-or-nothing virtues. You can’t have a little bit of integrity, or be fairly honest. As Proverbs 11:3 says, “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity,” and “A fortune made by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a deadly snare” (Proverbs 21:6).

 

We’ve probably all felt repulsed by people displaying excessive pride and ego. On the other hand, almost invariably we’re drawn to people who display a humble spirit. We see confirmation of this in the book of Proverbs: “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2) and, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). We also find this principle: “Humility and the fear of the Lord bring wealth and honor and life” (Proverbs 22:4).

 

There are many other topics we could look at, but even these listed are just the tip of the iceberg of the great wealth of wisdom we find in Proverbs, not to mention the other 65 books of the Bible. Spend a little time in the Scriptures, even use a handy reference to research topics of particular interest to yourself. You’ll find a true roadmap for everyday life, preparing you for the inevitable traps and hazards that pop up along the way.

 

As a passage from the New Testament declares, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Often that “way out” is recalling and implementing God’s promises in His Word.

Monday, May 17, 2021

The Mythical ‘Separation of Church and State’

Our founding fathers did a remarkable job in writing the U.S. Constitution. Not only in building the framework for a new, independent nation, but also in anticipating what needs and circumstances would confront the United States of America in the future, both near and far. 

 

Most of us remember the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776, but did you know the first 10 amendments to the Constitution were ratified on Dec. 15, 1791? That’s nearly 230 years ago, yet in many respects these amendments make as much sense now as they did then.

 

These days there’s considerable debate about the meaning and application of several of the amendments, including Amendment I, which encompasses the rights to worship freely and speak freely, as well as freedom of the press and the right to assemble. What I’d like to look at is the beginning of the 1st amendment, which states very simply, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….”

 

This was specified because the United States was in part the byproduct of people fleeing from Great Britain, where the state had established the official religion, restricting the practice of other faiths. As a result, today in America we have a cornucopia of religions and belief systems from which to choose. And most would agree that is as it should be; no one should be coerced into what they should or should not believe.

 

Somewhere along the line, however, the intent of this amendment was turned on its head. Instead of restraining the government from dictating a specific religion, it’s become interpreted by many as a taboo for exercising one’s faith in the public square. There are those who would argue that faith – or religion – has no place in politics, education, science, or any other discipline.

 

This isn’t a new development. It’s a growing trend that started gaining traction in the 1960s and has been building momentum ever since. But I find it hard to comprehend how someone devoted to their beliefs, especially followers of Jesus Christ, could hang their faith at the door no matter which sphere they enter. As the apostle Paul wrote, “For in him [Jesus] we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

 

Some folks seem to compartmentalize their faith, putting on their religious masks on designated worship days but acting as if God does not exist the rest of the time. For born-again disciples of Christ, however, that's not an option. They can’t help but bring his or her beliefs into whatever they do, whether it’s working, going to school, passing laws, or even in adopting worldviews for help in sorting through the complexities of everyday life.

 

As the brilliant writer, theologian and apologist C.S. Lewis wrote, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else." In the life of faith, there is no separation. It’s not like a hat or coat we can conveniently put on and remove whenever it serves our purposes. 

 

We’re admonished in Colossians 3:23-24, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” In essence, we’re there to serve Him and His purposes.

 

Whether in the halls of Congress or a schoolhouse, the Oval Office or an office cubicle, when we as Jesus’ followers are there, He’s right there with us. The Lord doesn’t reside in the sanctuary, but in our hearts, as Galatians 2:20 declares: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

 

Years ago I heard the following quotation that’s generally attributed to George MacLeod, a Scottish clergyman. It encapsulates the importance of diligently avoiding any separating of church and state, church and workplace, or church and classroom:

 

“I simply argue that the cross be raised again at the center of the marketplace as well as on the steeple of the church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on the town garbage heap; at a crossroad so cosmopolitan that they had to write his title in Hebrew and in Latin and in Greek...at the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble. Because that is where he died. And that is what he died about. And that is where churchmen ought to be, and what churchmen should be about.”

 

The building we typically call “the church” may be the place we congregate on a regular basis, to worship and be reminded of the Lord’s call on our lives as members of His eternal body. But we’re to exercise that call in the world around us, wherever He chooses to place us. “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building” (1 Corinthians 3:9).

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Lessons and Tests, Tests and Lessons

Can you remember those stressful times of preparing for a test at school? After weeks of attending class, listening the teacher drone on about some topic, reading the textbook and working through questions or equations, next came the test.

 

I can still vividly recall exam week in college, cramming for one final after another, hoping to absorb and then regurgitate the right answers to earn a good grade. By the time exam week had ended, even without knowing my grades, it felt as if the world’s weight had been lifted off my shoulders. My brain felt like mush, as if I’d squeezed out the last ounces of knowledge.

Recently, however, I was reminded that unlike in academics, everyday life typically operates in reverse fashion. Tim Kight, a consultant and motivational speaker who can encapsulate important principles about life and work in short, pithy phrases, recently observed, “Life works backwards. First it gives the test. Then it gives the lesson.”

 

That’s true. As parents, we teach our children the importance of obedience. We tell them to clean up their rooms, and if they do so, we’ll take them for ice cream. It’s a test. If they do as asked, they get ice cream. If not, visions of sweet frozen treats go unfulfilled. We’re trying to teach them that at every level of life, whether in school, at work, or even when stopped by a police officer, it’s wise to do as we’re told.

 

These days, some young people seem to think when you start a career, you start at the top – and move up from there. However, in many work situations, new employees are asked to carry out mundane jobs. They might think such tasks are beneath them. “I didn’t go to school to do this!” But this might be a test. If they do the work well and without complaining, the boss might decide they deserve greater responsibility.

 

In marriage, couples eagerly exchange “I do’s,” but inevitably there comes the day when they think, “I did?” The happily-ever-after phase of being married abruptly ends with a serious argument, a seemingly irresolvable disagreement, or even an act of betrayal. Alas, another test. Do they give up, shouting the oft-fatal words, “I want a divorce!” or do they determine to work through the conflict, whatever it may be, to find reconciliation? The lesson? The only bowl of cherries life hands you is in the supermarket’s produce section.

 

We see the ”first comes the test, then comes the lesson” throughout in the Bible. In fact, it pops up often the opening book of Genesis. God places Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, then says, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17). He might as well have said, “This is a test!” 

 

He gave the first humans full run of the idyllic garden with only one caveat: “You see that tree over there, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? That’s off limits. Every other one is yours.” As commentator Paul Harvey used to say, “And now…the rest of the story.”

 

Adam and Eve decided the all-but-one command wasn’t to their liking. “Who is God to tell us what we can and can’t do?” they thought. So they ate of the tree, succumbing to Satan’s temptation, and we’ve been paying the penalty ever since. God’s lesson was simple: When He makes a command, He’s serious.

 

In Genesis 16 we read that Abraham (Abram) and his beloved wife, Sarah (Sarai), had been unable to have children. However, in the next chapter the Lord informs them that even though they’re advanced in years, they will indeed become parents together, having a son they were to name Isaac. Hooray! 

 

But in Genesis 22:1-18 we find God giving Abraham a very disconcerting command. “Then God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love…. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” What?! Our first reaction is, “How barbaric!” But soon we discover this was another test. The Lord wanted Abraham to demonstrate his trust in Him. He did, and God provided a substitute sacrifice, a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. The lesson: When you put your faith in the Lord, He always keeps His promises.

 

In Genesis 37-42, we read about Joseph being tested repeatedly. Despite betrayal by his jealous brothers, being sold into slavery in Egypt, and then wrongfully imprisoned, he was ultimately elevated to prominence, second in command only to Pharaoh himself. The lesson? If you remain true to the Lord, He will work through you in ways you could never imagine.

 

There are many other biblical examples, but I think of impetuous Peter boldly declaring to Jesus Christ, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you” (Matthew 26:35). Curiously, Peter created his own test – one he failed miserably in denying Jesus three times later that same night. 

 

From that tragic test Peter learned how incapable he was in his own strength to carry out the grand work Jesus would assign to him and the other disciples following His crucifixion and resurrection. We see a humble and repentant Peter being reinstated in John 21:15-19 when Jesus says, “Feed my lambs…. Take care of my sheep…. Feed my sheep…. Follow Me!”

These have a moral for us all. Are you going through a test right now, perhaps wondering, “What’s going on? Where is God in this? Why me?” Just remember, He’s most likely trying to teach you something. First comes the test – then comes the lesson. 

Monday, May 10, 2021

Since When Did the Work Ethic Become Unethical?

Walking into a restaurant last week, my wife and I were greeted by a sign that read, “We are short staffed. Please be patient with the staff that did show up. No one wants to work anymore.” Evidently, this is not an exaggeration. A recent newspaper article quoted other restaurant owners making the same complaint. An increasing number can’t find enough workers to keep their doors open.

Some people attribute this to the ongoing effects of the pandemic, but in many parts of the country, life is returning to a semblance of sanity. Restaurants and other retail establishments are resuming regular hours and activities, and people are venturing out of their homes. But workers are staying away in droves. Why? 

 

It appears unemployment benefits and several rounds of Covid-19 stimulus payments have convinced some folks it’s no longer necessary to work to generate income. Months ago, a friend who owns several service franchises told me it has become difficult to find workers. Often, his help-wanted ads receive little or no response. Even previous employees are reluctant to return to work, satisfied to collect government payments while not working. 

 

Is this “the American dream”? As one wag has termed it, “Payday every day – and no work on payday.” Our society has come a long way; but that doesn’t mean it’s a good way.

 

In the early 1900s, German sociologist Max Weber wrote The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, which embraced values such as diligence, discipline, hard work, innovation and frugality. While his discussion encompassed theology, sociology, economics and history, this work ethic is firmly anchored in teachings from the Bible.

 

The book of Proverbs in particular affirms the virtues of enterprise, initiative, determination and the use of one’s unique skills for the benefit of others. It says things such as:

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

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

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

“The laborer’s appetite works for him; his hunger drives him one” (Proverbs 16:26).

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

“He who tends a fig tree will eat its fruit, and he who looks after his master will be honored” (Proverbs 27:18).

 

Granted, most of these proverbs are couched in an agricultural context, but the principles fit any field of vocational endeavor: Hard work, diligence and the proper utilization of talents and abilities usually reap a tangible reward. 

 

Work obviously isn’t a concept that developed over the past few centuries. Its origin traces to the Creation account, recorded in the first chapter of Genesis. After creating humankind “in His own image,” the Lord gave Adam and Eve their job description: “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it…. I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food…’” (Genesis 1:27-29).

 

For the six days of Creation, God Himself had been diligently, ambitiously and imaginatively working. And He desired for the people created in His own image to do likewise. Sadly, following the first man and woman’s sinful disobedience against God, disregarding the one taboo He had given them, one of the curses of their rebellion was that work became hard. “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you…. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food…” (Genesis 3:17-19).

 

But that doesn’t diminish the fact that work was ordained and mandated by God, a form of sacred service to Him and His creation. In fact, the apostle Paul noted this in a letter to a first-century church: For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat’" (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

 

[Interesting side note: These words had significance even for Vladimir Lenin, a founder of Communism. He referred to them in his 1917 work, “The State and Revolution,” and later they were incorporated into the Russian Constitution of 1918: “He who does not work shall not eat.” We don’t offer hear this cited by voices heralding the supposed virtues of socialism.]

 

Getting back to the claim that “no one wants to work anymore,” even if not intended, this reflects an affront to God. Because the Scriptures declare work is much more than physical and mental labor expended in return for a paycheck. 

 

From the beginning, working was designed as a form of worship and reverence for the Creator. As it declares in Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” 

 

Some may disagree, but refusing to work simply because a check from the government will arrive without the investment of any time or effort is to say, in effect, “God, I don’t want to serve you. I have no desire to use the strength and abilities you’ve given me to honor You or to be of benefit to others.” One reason we were created is to work. To intentionally not work when we’re able to do so rejects a key part of God’s plan and purpose for us all.