Archive for August, 2009
My wife and I visited the Great Smokey Mountain National Park this summer. It was beautiful, breath-taking, and spectacular. While there, we stayed in Pigeon Forge. I was amazed. There is a twenty mile stretch of road leading from Interstate 40 into the Park and it is solid tourist attractions. Bumper-to-bumper traffic and an endless array of shops, restaurants, attractions, and shows. The people, the traffic, and the tourist venues were enough to overwhelm me. Yet every time I looked up I could see the mountains.
I could not help but wonder what the real attraction was for all the people we saw. It appeared that most of them spent their time in the man-made tourist center. The National Park was less crowded, cheaper, and more beautiful. I am sure the mountains were the original attraction for this area, but they have been overtaken by the modern tourist hustle and bustle. Yet, there they are … just a short drive away.
It occurs to me that some people live their lives like the tourists I saw. They are busy with the life they created. Yet it is often too busy, too crowded, and too artificial. And all the while, there is a different life available — the life God designed us to live. God created each of us. He has a purpose for each of us. He wants us to live a life full of hope, joy, purpose, and peace. But most of us will choose to live as tourists in a society absent of those emotions, never looking up to see that there is a different life to choose.
This time of year brings the beginning of the school year here in the U.S. It always reminds me of a story I heard from Stanley Shipp, a man who worked with Herald of Truth, where I now work.
Stanley told about meeting a young man who told him that he was studying medicine. “What for?,” Stanley asked.
“To become a doctor,” the young man replied with a smile.
“So that I can help people not to be sick.”
“So they can live longer lives.”
“Well, I don’t know…” the young medical student stammered.
“That,” Stanley said with a smile, “is where I’ve got something to share with you.”
What’s the point of living longer if we don’t know what to do with the extra time? There has to be more of a purpose to life than just avoiding death. That’s where science can sell us short and modern philosophies can leave us cold. If our whole purpose is to live a few years then pass into oblivion, then there’s really not much of a point to life.
Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10) Some complain that Christianity is just a “pie in the sky” religion, merely holding out hope of something after this life. They fail to see that without hope for life after death, there can be no true hope in this life. There can be no meaning. There can be no purpose.
Jesus came to bring life, life to the fullest. He is no “pale Galilean” that steals the joy from life; he is the one who can make sense out of our existence here. He can answer the “What for?” that stares each of us in the face. He can take empty lives and turn them into lives of meaning.
“I thought I was in the right yard.” That is what he told me when I found the person who had mowed half of my yard. He had gotten the wrong address. He was supposed to be mowing the overgrown yard next door, and he was to mow it as low as possible. By mistake, he was scalping my yard. He thought he was doing the right job. He had good intentions. I would even concede his heart was in the right place. But he was wrong. He damaged my yard. Good intentions and a certainty that he was right did not change the facts.
I know that is how some people view their relationship with God. If we have good intentions, or really believe that what we are doing is right… then everything will be fine in the end. Why would anyone believe that we, the created, have the power over God, the Creator? Or, why would anyone assume that if it turns out that the God they have denied actually exists, then He will overlook their ignorance.
God is either real… or He is not. If He is, then He sets the rules, not us. Being mistaken about God is not a decision without real consequences. It is a matter of life or death. Literally!
If you’re much of an Internet user, you’ve probably become acquainted with what are called social networking sites, like Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and Twitter. These websites try to help people stay in touch with one another, help them make new friends and discover new business contacts. They use terms like “communities,” “friends,” and “groups,” to create a feeling of togetherness.
I’m admittedly a fan of such sites. I love being able to find old classmates or keep in touch with distant relatives. I like the opportunities these sites give me to maintain contact with people without having to become too involved. I can quickly say “hi” and go on with other things.
Therein lies the problem of course. However pleasant these quick exchanges with others may be, they are almost certain to be shallow and often somewhat insincere. My wife asked me the other day about someone, and I replied that I didn’t know them. She said, “But you’re friends with them on Facebook!” That was a good reminder of the difference between Internet relationships and real relationships. Internet relationships can exist between strangers who share a common interest, but have no desire to truly get to know one another.
Because of that, I cringed a bit the other day when reading about “online churches” that allow people to “go to church” in the comfort of their own homes. Just as social networking sites are a pale imitation of face-to-face relationships, so these online churches cannot be compared to actual interaction with other believers. Connected doesn’t mean community. We need to pray, hear sermons, etc., but we also need the community that is the church. As the apostle John wrote, “For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20). We can’t really have a relationship with God if we don’t have a relationship with other people.
Are you connected to a community of believers? If you’re a Christian, do you have a church home? If you’re not a Christian, what’s keeping you from giving yourself to God and entering into a relationship with Him? We all need community.
We were a thousand miles from home at a conference when we got the call. Our granddaughter had fallen off the back of the couch and was at the hospital. They had already diagnosed her with a severe concussion, but were running more tests. We could not even get a plane flight out until the next morning. We wanted to be there for our kids. We needed support ourselves. We had to do something. So here is what happened.
Team members from the ministry I work for gathered to pray for her. A local pastor was standing nearby, heard what had happened, and prayed with us. We had gone to have lunch with a preacher friend and his wife. They prayed for her, for us, and continued to check up on her by phone. A lady we did not know overheard my wife on the phone, introduced herself as a Christian, and prayed and cried with my wife.
We made two phone calls to members of our church back home. We left a message with the first couple. They thought it indicated that our children and granddaughter were out of town with us, and they were prepared to fly up and be with us. We talked to the other couple and within an hour they were at the hospital praying and being with our kids.
Even the doctor reading the test results was a member of our church.
So here is the point: when my family needed help and care, our Christian family was there for us. We all worship together. We are all believers. We are all family. And I could have called any number of others who would have done the same. As we would — and have — for them. This is not unique to my church family. I know of communities of believers all over the world that would have reacted the same way.
Our granddaughter is fine now. But I have to wonder, what in the world do people do without community like we have? Christianity is not just about the life to come. It is also about relationship here.