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 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.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Do Bad Things Happen So We Can Do Good to Others?

One of the most common, yet confounding questions asked whenever discussions of religion or spirituality arise is, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Countless articles and books have been written on the topic, with varying degrees of success in providing a reasonable answer. 


There’s no denying many people live good lives – at least outwardly – and yet often encounter serious difficulties and tragedies. For those of us inclined to believe in cause-and-effect – that good things should result in more good things, as well as bad things leading to bad consequences – we find ourselves wondering, “What’s the deal?”


There’s no easy explanation for bad things happening to people who live upright lives – although that hasn’t discouraged theologians and philosophers from trying. But the Scriptures offer some insight into possible reasons. One of them – even if it may provide little consolation while we’re going through struggles – is that personal suffering equips us to empathize with and console others when they go through circumstances similar to ones we’ve already experienced.


In 2 Corinthians 1:3-7, we read these words from the apostle Paul:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.”


That, without question, is a mouthful. It’s tempting to try and dissect this passage into itty-bitty pieces, but the gist of it is that as we go through seasons of suffering, and receive comfort from God, we in turn can share what we have learned through the process to offer comfort to others. In fact, the apostle uses the word “comfort” nine times in just four sentences.


Consider Paul, the one-time persecutor of Christians who, after his life-transforming encounter with Jesus Christ, had endured adversity in many forms, including persecution, imprisonments, beatings and stoning, shipwrecks, illness and other hardships. If anyone knew about suffering, and the need for comfort while going through it, Paul was the guy. He was intimately acquainted with the subject; a card-carrying authority on it.


But how does suffering prepare us to serve as comforters for others? I’ve written about this before, but after undergoing open-heart surgery, I knew about it from personal experience, not from reading about it. So when I encounter others who have either recently gone through the procedure, as I did while serving as a cardiac volunteer at a local hospital, or hear of someone who has just received the unsettling news from a cardiothoracic surgeon, I can relate to what they’re going through. Sharing about my own “journey of the heart,” I’ve tried to offer hope, reassurance – and comfort. Along with what I found to be a good game plan for recovery.


Most of all, it’s understanding that we don’t have to go through life’s challenges alone. Whether it’s a health crisis, financial difficulties, the loss of a loved one, overwhelming family challenges, addiction, or some other issue, there are other people who have gone through similar circumstances.


Even more important, our faith in God can sustain us during even the greatest adversities. And we, as followers of Jesus, can remind each other of that. During high-stress times, it can be easy to lose focus and forget, so it’s our job to encourage one another to remember. We can point to promises like Isaiah 40:31, “But those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”


And then, drawing from our own experience, we’re able indeed to, as Paul wrote, “comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”

Monday, May 3, 2021

A Picture Being Worth a Thousand Words Isn’t Enough

Since college, photography has been one of my favorite pastimes, ranking just behind writing. A graduate teaching assistantship in photojournalism launched me into the world of color and black-and-white imagery, and my passion for taking photos has only grown stronger over the years.

 My wife graciously has allowed me to hang many of my pictures around the house, some of our children and grandchildren, and others from beautiful locations we’ve visited. Each photo brings back happy memories, whether it’s one of the times we toured the Grand Canyon or Disney World, my trips to Hungary and Germany, or sights around our scenic city of Chattanooga.


Photos of the kids when they were young evoke fond remembrances, often causing us to marvel over how much time has passed – and how quickly it has gone. However, these images, no matter how well-composed and carefully exposed, fall short of capturing what we enjoyed “live and in person.” As for natural beauty, there’s no way a two-dimensional photo can convey the grandeur of the Canyon, a European cathedral, or a beach at sunset. 

A picture might be worth a thousand words, as they say, but the experiences behind the images are worth infinitely more than that.


Have you noticed we have no photographs of God? Nor do we have paintings, or even sketches, from anyone who was a contemporary of Jesus Christ. Yes, artists and sculptors through the centuries have created depictions of how they envisioned Jesus to have looked, but often those are reflections of their culture more than accurate representations.


Why do you think the Lord has chosen not to give us any kind of “photo albums” of Himself? Obviously, cameras weren’t invented until the 19thcentury, so photographic images of Jesus were impossible. And compared to works from the Renaissance era and centuries that have followed, painting and sculpture in the days He walked the earth were primitive arts.


But I think there are two big reasons we don’t any precise images or reproductions to show what Jesus looked like. For one, despite the efforts of artists to show otherwise, His physical appearance is of little importance. Jesus’ sacrificial death, burial and resurrection were offered for everyone, regardless of color, gender, status or culture. As it says in Galatians 3:28, “There is Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”


And when Jesus gave His disciples their final instructions, they were all-encompassing: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19). He didn’t die to pay the penalty for the sins of only people in Israel, or Ireland, or Iran, or Idaho. The salvation He offers is for people in every nation, of every ethnicity. If we had accurate images of Christ, we might be tempted to conclude He came as Savior and Lord only for certain people groups that look as He did.


Another reason for not having actual images of Jesus is because of God’s taboo against idols of any kind. The second of the 10 Commandments was, “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them and worship them…” (Exodus 20:4).


Even with this prohibition, we still have fancified depictions of Jesus in many churches, and in some countries, shrines have been erected at various locations where people can stop to worship and even leave gifts. If we had photos or statues of what Jesus actually looked like, we might be tempted to worship those rather than to observe His admonition, “…true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth…. God is Spirit, and His worshipers must worship Him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24).


I’m a big fan of “The Chosen,” the still-unfolding, highly imaginative video series which in my estimation is the finest portrayal of the life of Christ ever produced. The actor who plays the role of Jesus, Jonathan Roumie, does an exceptional job of conveying both Christ’s divinity and humanity. However, there could be a temptation to see Roumie on the screen and believe that’s how Jesus actually looked like 2,000 years ago. There’s a difference between appreciating someone’s skills as a thespian and idolatry.


I suspect in everyone’s mind’s eye they have an idea of what they think Jesus looked like, but it matters far more what God has revealed to us through the eyes of faith. We don’t need photos or exact paintings of the Lord to be His true followers. Because, as 2 Corinthians 5:7 says, “We walk by faith, not by sight.”