Category » Hope
There was controversy in the awarding of the 2013 World Press Photo of the Year. According to some, the photo that won the prize didn’t represent the reality that was photographed. It had gone through significant retouching, enough for some to claim that the picture was fake.
I’m not a photography expert, so I won’t weigh in on that. But I will point out that many pictures are fake. That is, they reflect a reality that doesn’t exist.
You’ve seen them… photos showing a happy couple, when those people are on the verge of divorce. Glamour shots of celebrities that eliminate all wrinkles and blemishes. Panoramic photos with nary a cloud to disturb the heavens. Christmas photos with bows, ribbons and smiles all around.
In fact, we are more interested in having photos that look good than we are in photos that look real. We preen and prep so that we will look better in pictures than we do in everyday life.
So how do you look to God? What does he see? Remember what the Bible says:
“The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
God looks at the heart. Not the blood-pumping organ in my chest, but the inner me behind the photo-ready facade. He doesn’t care about my hair or my skin tone; he wants to know what I’m like on the inside.
If you’re like me, you’re aware that your insides could use some retouching. Your inner man could use a bit of Photoshop. The Bible also tells us who can do that:
“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ezekiel 36:25–27)
God can change our heart. He can make us into what we should be. Then we won’t need to fake anything nor retouch anything. God will give us the heart that he’s looking for.
I was sitting on the porch in Mexico when it happened. One minute I was calmly talking on the phone and the next I was wondering where the train tracks were. Well, I thought it must be a train. After all, first the porch started shaking so badly that I was bouncing. And there was a rumbling sound I had never heard before. Then debris and tiles started sliding off the roof. That’s when it finally dawned on me that it was an earthquake. I found out later that we were experiencing the effects of an earthquake measuring 5.9 on the Richter scale.
In the area where we were, we heard of no serious injuries and most of the damage was relatively minor. The house where I was had roof damage and some cracks in the walls but no lasting structural damage. Once it was over, and everyone was fine, it became the subject of thankfulness, teasing, and relief. But it did remind me of some important lessons.
- The unexpected happens. Life can change in an instant. A car runs a stop sign and lives are changed forever. A natural disaster that you never imagined. A routine visit to the Doctor that reveals a disease you never dreamed you had. The phone call that changes everything. There are things in this life that are out of our control.
- It could always be worse… and sometimes is. We were all relieved, but it could have been so much worse. But if the earthquake had been a little more severe and if we had been a little closer to the epicenter, I would be writing a different article. Or someone else would.
- You think about what matters. The phone calls among my friends in Mexico all started the same way: is everyone OK? The first concern was for people, not things.
- But this whole experience made me realize one thing above all others. I am so thankful to be a Christian. If the damage had been worse, Christians would have taken care of each other. If I had died, my wife would have taken comfort in the fact that we would be together again in heaven.
Life is full of earthquakes: real ones, emotional ones, financial ones, horrible ones. What do you do in those times if this life is all you have?
Trusting is a level higher than believing. You’ve got to believe in something or someone before you trust them. I can believe someone but not trust them, their motives, information or even their intent.
Trusting God is a “church phrase”, one used entirely within a religious context and one that trips off the tongue before one can discern its depth of meaning. Trusting God means that we not only believe in Him but that we know without a doubt that he will do what he says and will do it with our best interest at heart.
To trust God separates those who “want to”, want to believe, want to trust, from those who do without reservation.
There is an interesting proclamation uttered from the lips of the Old Testament figure, Job. After he loses all of his wealth, after his 10 children are killed, after his wife gives up on him, after friends tell him he should repent from whatever he did to anger God, after his body is completely covered in puss oozing sores, after he claims his innocence, after he asks God why this has happened to him, after the devil chuckles at Job’s pathetic condition and after God seemingly watches without providing help, Job says this,
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and he shall stand at last on the earth, and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, That my flesh shall see God, when I shall see for myself and my eyes shall behold and not another. How my heart yearns within me. Job 19: 25-27
Job not only believed but he also trusted the Great God Almighty.
Do you believe but have trouble trusting or do you say the words but lack the conviction of their meaning?
Have tragedies almost overwhelmed you in the torrent of life? How did you survive?
Was God there when you needed him? How did you Know?
We frequently hear people talk about being church members. Just what does that mean?
There’s a bank card that reminds us that “membership has its privileges.” They call us members.
Many of us have been named to honor societies. We become members of those societies, but that’s usually as far as the relationship goes.
We can be members of a team or members of a club. A mathematical set has members. We have family members. We can come up with many definitions of the word “member.”
So what are we saying when we talk about being a member of a church? Is it like being members of a society or club? No. Writing to the church in Rome, the apostle Paul said, “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (Romans 12:4–5) He told a group of Ephesian Christians: “We are members of his body.” (Ephesians 5:30)
Church members are members of a body, the body of Christ. Just as a hand withers and dies when disconnected from the body, so believers face spiritual death if not connected with Christ’s body.
The church isn’t an organization; it’s an organism. Membership isn’t optional. If we are in Christ, in a saving relationship with him, then we are necessarily members of his body. Christians don’t choose to belong to the church; if they belong to Christ, they also belong to his body.
The apostle Paul wrote something similar to the Corinthian church, saying, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body.” (1 Corinthians 12:12–13) Christians have been born again, and their new life is lived out in relationship with the body of Christ.
Christ is the head of the church, his body. We can’t be in a vital relationship with the head without being connected to the rest of the body.
It happens in Little League baseball all over the world. There are always players who know the rules and who understand the game. There are also always new players who do not know or understand the rules, and the game becomes confusing and frustrating for them.
If you don’t hit the ball you are out. Unless you get four bad pitches before you get three good ones. Run really fast if you hit it. Unless you hit it on the wrong side of the white line. Or unless they catch it. But they have to catch it before it hits the ground. You can run past first base and home plate, but not second or third base. Step on the base to get someone out. Unless you have to tag them.
If children only see baseball as a bunch of rules everyone knows but them, it is easy to get discouraged and just quit. When they get confused and do the wrong thing, everyone seems to get mad and upset. It is easier to just not play. But with patience and teaching, children learn to love the game of baseball. They learn that the rules make sense and that they even make the game more fun.
Thinking about how confusing baseball is to an outsider makes me wonder how many people look at Christianity and see it as just a bunch of rules no one understands and no one follows. Even when they try to follow the rules, it seems so hard to get them all right. Some Christians seem to get mad and upset when other people do not know and follow the rules. Some even get so discouraged that they give up on God because they really do not get it.
Unless someone has the patience to teach them and show them that Christianity is not just a set of rules no one can understand or follow. Christianity is about a relationship with God and Jesus. It is about being loved and learning to love. When you begin to understand that, you realize that what appears to be a set of rules is actually way of life enabling you to live a life of love, peace, and joy.
I know it’s not me. Still, the headline on the article is a bit jarring: “Tim Archer Obituary.” Turns out that this Tim Archer was about my age, just four years older. Was he better prepared to have his obituary printed in the paper than I am?
Dying is a part of life, but it’s a part that we don’t like to think about. We always have a few more things to do, things that only we can take care of. Not so much a bucket list as a never-ending “to do” list.
We’re so caught up in this life, that we don’t give a thought to what comes after. Jesus told a parable about that very thing:
“The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16–21)
The frightening thing is, this man did what most of us would have done. He was focused on his retirement plan, making sound investments for the future. But the future wasn’t his to control.
Jesus went on to urge his followers to focus on having treasure in heaven, not on this earth, saying, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:34)
I need to think about dying. Not in a scared way, nor some kind of morbid obsession. I need to remember that death is coming… and it’s not the end. I need to prepare for my real retirement, the one that will last forever. All of the “busyness” that surrounds my life can serve as a distraction from things that matter, from the opportunities to increase my heavenly portfolio.
I need to be sure that I’m not just doing things for my own benefit, but that I’m doing my best to be rich toward God: helping others, nurturing my family, growing spiritually.
How about you? Tell me how your retirement funds look… your heavenly ones.
This year marks 110 years that my wife’s family has owned and operated the family farm. My wife’s great-grandfather bought it 1903. My wife’s grandfather bought out his siblings in 1940, and my father-in-law bought it in1994. It is an amazing family heritage. The original survey pole from 1903 is still there. We had to survey it again recently and the surveyor was amazed to realize that the marker was less than one inch off after all that time. Over the years, lots of our family members have worked on the farm. Fathers and sons, father-in-laws and son-in-laws, and all their wives have spent time raising crops, cattle, building fences, and clearing land.
But as remarkable a heritage as the family farm is, it is only the second most important legacy passed down in our family. The most important legacy our faith in Jesus, and I am struck by the similarities in those legacies. Our family’s faith gets passed down through the generations. Each new generation learns of faith from those that are ahead of them. In fact, each Sunday I sit on a four generation row at church: my in-laws, my wife and I, my daughter and son-in-law, and their two kids.
There are “survey poles” that have stood the test of time for us. We believe that Jesus is the cornerstone of our family legacy. We believe that the Bible is the Word of God. We believe that our greatest calling is to love God, love our neighbors, and to share the good news of Jesus in our world.
Several years ago, the original farmhouse burned to the ground. My wife’s grandfather was 96 at the time. When we talked about rebuilding, he told us to not use any cheap lumber. He wanted something that would last. I do not know how long the farm will stay in the family. I do know that someday it will not even exist. It too will burn up. So we believe that this world is not our home. Heaven is. That is the home that will last. In fact, it will last forever. That is the heritage and legacy that I really want for the generations that will come after me.
As soon as they had heard about the calamity, actually multiple tragedies cascading, one after the other, the three began their journey to see him.
At first they did not recognize him. He had changed; scrawny, eyes hollowed out from the now drooping cheeks, seated almost lifeless, covered in ash and filth. It was if he had endured torture and was now barely holding on as death waited nearby to claim its prize.
They had come to comfort and mourn, but wailed and were shocked at what they saw. And then they just sat down, on the cold hard ground, alongside of him and said nothing. They sat there for seven days and seven nights and no one spoke. Sometimes grief is so very great that silence is the only offering of respect. They waited until he was ready to talk.
The story of Job and his three friends begins in chapter 2 and consumes most of the remainder of the book. As you read the accusations of the friends, Job must have done something really bad to provoke God and Job’s claim of innocence and bewilderment, it’s easy to forget that up until the time they opened their mouths, they were doing what good friends do when one is hurting.
They traveled a great distance, grieved with their friend and waited until he was ready to talk. This is how it is described in Job 2:11-15
Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this adversity that had come upon him, each one came from his own place—Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. For they had made an appointment together to come and mourn with him, and to comfort him. And when they raised their eyes from afar, and did not recognize him, they lifted their voices and wept; and each one tore his robe and sprinkled dust on his head toward heaven. So they sat down with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his grief was very great.
That story from ancient times is repeated countless times in living rooms, by hospital beds and at funeral homes when friends come without adequate words to support, comfort, mourn with those that are hurting.
Do you have a Job/Friends story?
What made that situation one that you remember?
How do you plan to be a Friend to someone who is hurting?
It’s the right time of the year. Maybe not the exact week nor the exact day. But this is the time of the year when Jesus Christ was crucified. For many of us, it’s hard to imagine all of that really happening: the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the conflicts at the temple, the Last Supper, the prayerful night in Gethsemane, the betrayal, the arrests, the trials, the terrible death on the cross.
It’s easier to think of this story as a fable or fairy tale. Fodder for movies, Renaissance paintings and children’s picture books, but not a part of the world we live in.
But the crucifixion is a fact of history. God sent his Son to the earth, and evil men put him to death.
Even the resurrection seems out of place in our world, though it fits the season better. Dead people stay dead in our world; the thought that Jesus escaped unscathed from the tomb seems like an unrealistic plot twist.
Yet the resurrection also has its place in history. The two things go together. The cross makes no sense unless the Innocent One lives again. The resurrection receives its power from the sacrificial death that made it necessary.
That’s why those things are at the heart of the good news of Jesus. He came to this world, was rejected and killed, then overcame death and the grave. One day he will come again, and God will judge the world through him. Those who have put their faith in Jesus, being born again of water and Spirit, will live with him forever.
It’s real. It’s true. It’s our past, our present and our future.
It’s the Gospel.
This is one of those sayings you often hear: cleanliness is next to Godliness. Many people even assume that it must a statement from the Bible. It is not. God never said this. I can understand why Moms everywhere would believe this is truth straight from God’s mouth. And I get why little boys everywhere are thrilled to know it is not a Bible verse. Now do not misunderstand me. I am very much in favor of cleanliness. I am just not in favor of attributing things to God that he did not really say. Some might even ask why it is such a big deal. Here is why. It is a dangerous practice to speak for God on things he did not say. It is even more dangerous to speak for God in ways different from what he did say.
There is a difference between what God says and what men think he said. Or wish he said. Or believe that he meant by what he said. It is popular today to say that God’s love is so powerful that it will save everyone and that no one will have to live for eternity in hell away from God. Is that really what God says?
God does say in II Peter 3:9 that he does “not want anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” That is a great statement of God’s incredible desire for all of us to live with him forever. As is this statement in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” God not only wants us to be saved but he sent his son so we could be.
God wants everyone to be saved, and he does not want anyone to perish. I can say that because he did. However, God expects us to believe and to repent. I can say that because he did. Read again what God said in the Bible verses above. He does not want us to perish, but instead to repent. He loves us so much that he sent his son so we can live forever… if we believe in his son. So when someone says that God loves you so much that he will not let you go to hell, they are not saying what God said. They are saying what they think. And there is a difference.
I think cleanliness is a great thing. But God never said it was connected to being like him. But he does say a great deal about being made clean from our sins in order to live with him forever.