Friday, May 30, 2008

Spent for God

Many experienced spiritual counselors advise spending an hour in prayer daily, and a full day each month. And most "ordinary" Christians feel overwhelmed at the thought. Aside from the fear of running out of things to say, most of us in the "civilized" world fill our schedules so full that we can hardly imagine finding that much prayer time.

If we're honest with ourselves, there's usually a psychological reason behind our resistance: the idea that something as "passive" as prayer is a waste of time, that we should be out doing things. We forget that unless we first get our "marching orders," we're likely to really waste our time doing the wrong things. Consider what would happen if no one in an earthly army--or an earthly business--could be bothered to listen to his superiors' instructions because he thought that writing his own battle or business plan (notwithstanding his lesser understanding of the big picture) was a better use of his time.

A better attitude is that of Martin Luther, who is credited with having said, "I have so much to do each day that I cannot get by without spending the first three hours in prayer." Luther accomplished great things for God largely because he accepted the fact that God knew better than he did--and was willing to pay attention to God so he could find out what really needed doing.

Stopping to listen to God--assuming we've made up our minds to follow through on everything He says--is never a waste of time.

An hour that's spent for God is never wasted--
A time of service, or an hour in prayer;
A slowing in one's work to seek His presence;
A pausing to remember He is there.

A day that's spent for God is never wasted--
No waste in work, if it is His we do;
No waste in rest, if we reserve attention
For Him Who made the week, and Sabbath too.

A lifetime spent for God is never wasted--
If you be rich, then spend your wealth for Him;
If you be poor, you still have time and service
For Him Who fills life's cup up to the brim.

Spend not your hours in frantic, frenzied rushing;
Waste not your days in things that fly as fast;
Give not your life to chasing earthly treasures--
But know that all you do for God will last.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

God Still Has Work for You

Mid-life crises are not a "privilege" reserved for the 45-60 crowd. I had two before I turned thirty: the first just after college, and the second while working on my master's degree seven years later. Any completion of a stage in life without a clear idea as to the next step, any life-changing tragedy or illness, any sudden realization that one has made little progress toward early dreams, can trigger deep depression or extreme "acting out."

Regardless of chronological age or outward manifestations, the root cause is the same: a fear that one has "missed one's chance," wasted the most (perhaps the only) valuable part of life. "My life is as good as over" is not a pleasant feeling; and knowing that your official life expectancy calls for several more decades can, if anything, intensify the sense of hopelessness.

Such problems are associated with the "middle-aged" perhaps largely because Western culture has long glorified the innovation and energy associated with youth, at the expense of long life's experience and wisdom. Although there's some evidence that this view is changing as retirees become an increasingly large part of the population and vigorous octogenerians move away from the exception and toward the rule, we still have a long way to go before discarding the idea that "old people are worn out and not much good for anything," or that "gray hair and wrinkles are ugly and should be concealed." Even though the Bible says that "gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained by a righteous life" (Prov. 16:31, NIV).

Nineteenth-century Scottish pastor William Arnot has some helpful advice for those tempted to midlife crises (in Laws from Heaven for Life on Earth): "The very fact of a Christian being here [on earth] and not in heaven, is a proof that some work awaits him." It is never God's will for any Christian to sit around feeling sorry for himself, or to live for "pleasure." If we feel useless and worn out, it's probably because we've forgotten to ask God what we should be doing right now.

Even being bedridden is no excuse. The famous missionary William Carey received hours of daily prayer support from his sister, who was almost completely paralyzed physically.

But far from paralyzed in effectiveness for the Lord.

You who are feeble and feel worn out--
You who are sick and frail--
You who are lonely for human ties--
You whose best hopes did fail--
Do not deceive yourself and say
All of your use is through:
As long as you're here and not in heaven,
God still has work for you!

There may be prayer you can offer up;
There may be some small art;
You might have smiles for despairing souls,
To cheer some hurting heart--
Do not demean your work as small;
Do what you find to do:
As long as you're here and not in heaven,
God still has work for you!

He Who received the poor widow's coins,
He Who calls small things great,
Will not despise what you do for Him,
However weak your state;
Do what you can to serve His cause,
Till earthly life is through:
Then know, when He calls you home to heaven,
He will have praise for you!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

In Remembrance

Yesterday, the United States celebrated Memorial Day, honoring members of the U. S. Armed Forces who lost their lives in the line of duty. Even those who oppose all war on principle--or any individual war in particular--do well to remember kindly those who have suffered for the belief that freedom is important. (As one military wife said, "My husband is also defending the right of his fellow Americans to say rotten things about him.")

The day before Memorial Day--and on many another Sunday throughout the year--many of our churches celebrate a far more important memorial as we follow the Scriptural command to "do this in remembrance of me.... whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Cor. 11:24, 26, NIV). While we associate "dying for freedom" with struggling to the end, Jesus won the decisive war of all time without once striking back at His attackers. Only by willingly absorbing the worst that the full force of evil could do, could He free others from the evil that enslaved them.

Not everyone who has died for his country has done it with true love or courage, or in a truly honorable cause. But when Jesus died for the world, He displayed the ultimate example of all three. Only by remembering that--and regularly reminding ourselves of its truth--are we prepared to serve Him in love, courage, and humility.

There were twelve men surrounding the table,
And the Leader, Who stood at the head,
His eyes full of love and of sorrow,
Spoke blessing and peace on the bread;
And He said, "Take this loaf as My body,
To be broken so all can be free;
From now on, when you think on God's mercy,
Eat the bread in remembrance of Me."

His death set us free from sin's prison;
His light warms a world dark and grim;
So let us, as we sit at the table,
Take the bread in remembrance of Him.

There were twelve men surrounding the table,
And the Leader took juice from the vine;
His eyes full of love and of sorrow,
He prayed as He poured out the wine;
And He said, "Take this cup as a covenant,
As My blood spilled so all can be free;
From now on, when you think on God's mercy,
Drink the wine in remembrance of Me."

His blood cracked sin's chains that enslaved us;
His gift fills life's bowl to the brim;
So let us, as we sit at the table,
Take the cup in remembrance of Him.

There were few who stood near through His suffering,
When our Savior hung there on the Cross,
Where, eyes full of love and of sorrow,
He prayed for a world that was lost;
But soon hundreds would rally around Him,
As He rose so the world could be free;
And He left them His words for the future:
"Do all this in remembrance of Me."

His sacrifice, freedom, and blessing
Are for us no less than for them;
So let us, as we think on God's mercy,
Eat and drink in remembrance of Him.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Day Is Full of Miracles

Many people say it's hard to believe in a God Who never seems to perform miracles these days: "If God would heal this incurable disease/rain fire from heaven/part an ocean in front of my eyes, then I'd believe--but how can you say God is interested in this world when He seems to just sit back and let it run according to mechanical laws?"

Well, in the first place, even literal and unmistakable miracles won't convince people who are determined not to believe; they always manage to convince themselves there must be some "logical" explanation. Or as Jesus quoted Abraham as saying, "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets [or the rest of the Bible], they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead" (Luke 16:31, NIV).

One might also say that people will never be able to recognize "obvious" miracles if they are already too jaded to see the miraculous in Creation and life. When Jesus said, "unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Mt. 18:3), He no doubt referred at least in part to the child's sense of wonder. In our early years, we marvel at everything: stopping to admire the beetle crawling along the sidewalk; plunging into the pool again and again for hours; begging "Read it again" long after our parents feel they can't possibly face the same book one more time. Once we "grow up," however, we bore quickly and demand something "new" at every turn, blind to the fact that there are always new possibilities in "old" things. Ask anyone who truly loves the Lord if she ever gets tired of reading the Bible over and over, and the answer will invariably be, "Not at all; God always has something new to show me."

It can be the same in all aspects of life--if we are willing to humble ourselves and let God show us His "everyday miracles."

The day is full of miracles:
The sun; each breeze that passes;
The cooling rain; the flowers; the trees;
Fresh air; each blade of grasses.

The night is full of miracles:
The stars; the moon's bright crescent;
The mockingbird's spring serenade;
The air turned cool and pleasant.

Each life is full of miracles:
A newborn infant's crying;
Each breath we take; each day we live;
God's peace in hours of dying.

The world is full of miracles:
You have two eyes--so raise them,
And look to see God's wondrous works,
And learn to joyfully praise them!

It May Seem a Small Thing

After the doctor's office weighed me in at 183 pounds--only a few of which I could reasonably blame on heavy clothes with full pockets--I decided it was time to start watching what I ate. Which isn't easy when one spends a lot of time at business events that lay out the buffet without much attention to low-calorie choices.

Even harder, perhaps, is keeping hands out of the candy dishes one finds in every business office these days. It's so easy to rationalize that "one little piece of chocolate won't hurt." But even "one little piece" has calories which, once you get into the habit of dipping in, quickly add up to tens of pounds.

The same principle applies to the "weight" of our spiritual lives. How often do we rationalize that sinning (though we rarely use that exact word in that context) "just a little" won't hurt? We shirk our duty "just this once" or put it off for "later"; we take "one little peek" at an X-rated magazine; we know our attitudes are selfish but decide to indulge them for "just an hour or so." But every "little" sin of thought or action is a building block that leads us farther from the Christlike ideal. As the old proverb goes, "Sow an act, and you reap a habit; Sow a habit, and you reap a character; Sow a character, and you reap a destiny.”

Fortunately, the principle also works in reverse. Every time we decide to do the right thing--however small in itself--we take a positive step toward Christlikeness.

Learn to ask, "Will this serve God's purpose in me?" of everything you do.

It may seem a small thing to pick up a can
Or to push ahead in a queue,
But your heart grows a shard more soft or hard
With every deed that you do.

It may not seem much to speak one kind word
Nor to growl at a long delay,
But you forge a grain of a habit's chain
With every word that you say.

You may think you have only one day's mood,
But on days is a lifetime fed,
And you make for yourself your life's heaven or hell
With each thought you let in your head.

Out of hand-sized bricks a great house is built,
And small drops build a mighty wave:
So choose those things well that will build your soul--
Make each tiny act true and brave!

Monday, May 19, 2008

No More Than a Cloud Can Blow out the Sun

I think it was in J. B. Phillips's book Is God at Home? where I first came across the observation that materialism hasn't been the same since the start of the Atomic Age. Every high school science class now knows that the things which look firm and solid are mostly empty space. Those bunches of loosely connected and fast-moving atoms, which make up everything we can touch and hold, take only one explosion to scatter into a mess that makes Humpty Dumpty look simple to put back together.

When Phillips wrote his book (copyright 1957), fear of all-out nuclear war was widespread, and the world dreaded the potential deaths of millions, maybe even total extinction of life on Earth. These days, people are more likely to fear smaller-scale terrorist bombings. But the same principle holds: physical life and material possessions are tenuous. It doesn't even take a literal bomb to make our lives "blow up" and our worlds turn upside down; anything from a stalled car to a diagnosis of cancer to the sudden loss of a job can leave us scrambling desperately to "put things back together." Sometimes we never can.

It's good to know that our God's plans are never spoiled, nor is He ever caught by surprise. As Job said, "I know that you [God] can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted" (Job 42:2). That may be hard to believe when everything is going against the success of what we were sure were God's plans for us. But since Scripture states clearly and repeatedly that God is all-powerful and all-knowing, it would be calling Him a liar to believe He didn't realize what would happen, or was powerless to stop it. So when our ventures fail to achieve the success we believed God had promised, there are three possible explanations, none of which involve any oversight on God's part:
  1. We heard wrong in the first place.
  2. God plans for the venture to succeed, but not as quickly or as straightforwardly as we expected. (Remember how Joseph dreamed that his brothers would bow before him someday, but apparently had no inkling that he would endure years of slavery and imprisonment before that dream came true?) Maybe God does not even plan for the venture to succeed through our actions, but through others who will water our seed, perhaps years later.
  3. God's real purpose is not the success of the venture, but our own spiritual development, and He is bringing that about through our efforts to follow the vision.

All that may be small comfort when it seems the world is falling apart. But whatever the reason for a failure or other unpleasant surprise, we can be sure that God will work a far greater good through it.

And that someday, in heaven if no sooner, we will thank Him that our own plans failed.

No more than a cloud can blow out the sun,
No more than the night can hold back the day,
Can anyone halt what God has begun,
Nor cause in His plans one second's delay.

No more than a sword can cut up the sea,
No more than a bomb can wipe out the air,
Can anyone halt what God did decree,
Nor keep from His ears the feeblest of prayer.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Seize Your Work with Joy

Some people enjoy their jobs so much that, were it not for the need of money, they would gladly work for free.

Then there are the “normal” people who groan their way to work and can hardly wait for quitting time, weekends, and vacations.

Some researchers estimate that up to seventy percent of workers are dissatisfied with their jobs, and that at least twenty-five percent are downright miserable. The causes are many. Arrogant bosses and scheming coworkers. Too many assignments divided among too few people. Unexpected overtimes and changes. The stress of tight schedules. Career fields that don’t suit a worker’s temperament or talents.

Other reasons for hating a job are self-inflicted. There are people who load their schedules to bursting and then wonder why they always feel rushed. There are people whose attitudes are all wrong: they think they never should have to do anything they don’t enjoy (not even the maintenance aspects of what is otherwise a dream job), or they feel too important to start at the bottom. And there are people who hate work on principle, having somewhere picked up the idea that it is a curse.

It isn't. Work was a big part of human life long before the Fall (see Gen. 2:15). The curse that now afflicts our work is that results are no longer directly proportional to effort (Gen. 3:17-19). Even worse is the now-all-pervasive human selfishness that drives bosses who treat employees as machines, slackers who claim the inherent right to relax 24/7, and every negative attitude in between.

Christ will redeem even this, however--if we cooperate with Him. Even secular psychologists know that happiness and unhappiness are largely matters of choice. If we're determined to be miserable, not even a million-dollar-inheritance and a trip around the world can stop us. If we determine to follow Paul's command to "rejoice in the Lord always" (Phil. 4:4, NIV); if we pray regularly, "Lord, help me to do my work for You and to enjoy it as much as my leisure time"; if we delight in the privilege of doing whatever we can for the One Who did so much for us; we may find that, before we know it, we have joined the ranks of those who would gladly work for free.

Because the Lord's "Well done, good and faithful servant" (Mt. 25:21, 23) is worth infinitely more than all the salary on earth.

Christian, up! and cease your sleeping;
Put aside your love of rest:
Look! a hurting world is weeping;
God calls you to meet the test.

Do not act upon your feelings;
Do not shun life's holy deeds;
Christ, the Lord of work and healings,
Calls you to meet others' needs.

Put aside the thoughts that tell you
You deserve a life of ease,
Sinful thoughts that would expel you
From the chance your God to please.

But do not begin in grudging,
Serving as a bitter slave,
One who only fears God's judging:
Seize with joy the work He gave!

Think on what He paid to save you--
Think on how He guides you still--
All you owe for all He gave you:
So delight to do His will!

If you truly know and love Him--
All He is, and all He gives--
He, with not a thing above Him,
He, Who made each thing that lives,

He, Who owes us but rejection--
Gratitude should flood your soul,
Driving out all glum dejection,
Swelling joy to fill your whole.

Never think that work and duty
Are but pains to grimly bear.
Let your Lord reveal their beauty,
Show you all He has to share.

So remember, each day's dawning,
Great things are in store for you,
In the Lord new gifts are spawning:
Joy, success, and blessings too.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Our Lord Is the Resurrection

"I am the resurrection and the life," said Jesus to His friend Martha, who was grieving the loss of her brother Lazarus. "He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die" (John 11:25-26, NIV). To underscore His point, He called Lazarus back from the grave (verses 34-44).

Those of us who have seen a loved one cut off unexpectedly from the world of the living probably wish God would take that last step more often! There are probably two reasons why He almost never does: the Christian dead, at least, are better off away from the pains and struggles of this world (cf. Phil. 1:21-24); and, if all Christians were guaranteed long and healthy lives on earth, many people would declare themselves believers on the mercenary basis of "what's in it for me."

Those of us familiar with Jesus's words in the Gospel of John can forget how thoroughly paradoxical they are: How can a person "live even though he dies"? How can Jesus say believers never die when they do so every day? The answer, of course, is the distinction between physical and spiritual death. That every earthly body, indiscriminately, wears out and dies is obvious--even Lazarus's must have eventually died "for good." What lives forever is the real person: the personality, the heart, the essence that will receive a new, equally immortal body in God's eternal Kingdom. That is why Christians grieve the death of loved ones, but not without hope (cf. 1 Thess. 4:13); we know that the separation, however painful, is only temporary.

When the pain seems too intense to bear, we do well to consider Jesus's words to Martha, especially His challenge at the end of John 11:26:

"Do you believe this?"

Our Lord is the Resurrection;
Our Lord is Eternal Life;
The one who believes in Jesus,
Will, even in death, never die.

Our Lord is the Resurrection;
Our Lord is the Life of All;
The one who believes in Jesus,
Will, even in death, never fall.

Our Lord is the Resurrection;
Our Lord is the Death of Sin;
The one who believes in Jesus,
Need never dread dying again.

Our Lord is the Resurrection;
Our Lord is the End of Death;
The one who believes in Jesus
Can take without fear the last breath.

Our Lord is the Resurrection;
Our Lord is the God of Heaven;
To all who believe in Jesus,
True life everlasting is given.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Clenched Hands

Have you ever heard of a dual-control road scooter, which travels at automobile speed but consists solely of two high seats--each with a safety belt and handbar controls--mounted either side of a motor and over the wheels?

Neither had I until last Thursday night, when I found myself riding as copilot in just such a vehicle. All went well--we were cruising along as in any other car--until the driver suddenly passed out, with the scooter going sixty miles an hour on a crowded freeway. I knew I'd have to grab my own controls to prevent a crash. Problem was, I was holding two books and there was no place to put them; the only sensible move was to toss them off the scooter.

I love books too much to be sensible about parting with them. So I tried to steer with my elbows instead. The scooter began zigzagging crazily through traffic....

...and I woke up, wondering if that dream portrayed how I'd act in real life.

Our determination to hang on to material things often borders on the comic. A famous Jack Benny radio skit drew plenty of laughs when a miser, confronted by a gunman who demanded, "Your money or your life!" took his time answering because he needed to consider which loss would be more painful. But it's not funny when real people are shot or stabbed for hesitating to surrender their cash. It's not funny when people fall victim to fire or flood because they delayed evacuation to gather up property.

And it's not funny when someone decides that the "good life" on earth is too valuable to trade for eternal life in heaven. Jesus said about one such person, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (Mt. 19:24, NIV). Total conversion--telling God that literally everything we have is His to use or take away as He pleases--is harder for the rich because, the more satisfying the current life seems, the harder it is to picture anything else as being better.

Sadly, Christians aren't immune. Oh, we may not have to worry about being shut out of the Kingdom altogether, but we can easily lose our effectiveness in advancing it because of concern for personal comfort. Especially if we live where nearly everyone has enough food and persecution rarely gets worse than a nasty editorial in the paper, we all too frequently balk when God calls us to do new and risky things for Him. "Too expensive," we say. "Too embarrassing." "Too big a change."

Hunters sometimes trap raccoons or monkeys by hollowing out a gourd, leaving a hole just big enough for the animal to stick its open paw in--but not pull a clenched fist out--anchoring down the gourd, and putting something tasty or attractive inside. Once the animal reaches in and grabs what it wants, it'll struggle for hours to get free, but virtually nothing will make it take the one simple means of escape--dropping what it holds so it can pull its paw back out. Satan has made monkeys of many people by convincing them to hang on to their "treasures" at all costs.

It's hard to receive God's blessings if we refuse to open our hands.

A stabbing last night on Main Street--
It's all over town today:
It was a robbery gone bad;
A struggle ensued, they say.
And people shake their heads as they think,
How, confronted with a knife,
And a demand for all his cash,
He preferred to lose his life.

There was a big fire on Spruce Street,
And it's all over the news:
Eight houses burned, six people dead,
The sky black with ashy hues.
And workers shake their heads as one corpse,
Clasping loaded box, they find:
"He could have gotten out alive
If he'd left this stuff behind."

A burial's set for Tuesday--
They said last night on TV--
The richest businessman in town;
Heart just stopped at fifty-three.
His loved ones shake their heads as they think
How they urged him, "Seek the Lord"--
But he said, "God might want my wealth;
That's a risk I can't afford."

There's tragedy in this country--
The thought chills me to the bone--
The Christians--thousands--richly blessed,
But in temporal things alone.
Our Lord must shake His head as they say,
When He pleads, "Store wealth in heaven,"
"But we can't risk our earthly wealth"--
So great gifts remain ungiven.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Lord, Teach Me to Love You

"The most important [commandment] is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these" (Mk. 12:29-31, NIV).

Ask, "Are you a good person?" and most people will automatically say yes, taking "good" to mean "honest, hardworking, and loving toward family and friends." But ask if someone follows the "most important" commandment with any consistency, and the answer will likely be an embarrassed silence. Even "loving your neighbor as yourself" seems impossible when we realize it actually means, "always put the concerns of others first, even when they're people you have no reason to like."

The truth is, following these commandments is impossible--if we rely on our own wills to summon up the necessary feelings. The principle that "with man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God" (Mk. 10:27) applies here. Just "doing the right thing and hoping the feelings will follow" rarely works; the feelings that follow are more likely to be a sense of entitlement to thanks, succeeded by bitter anger when that fails to materialize in the form we prefer. The prodigal son's older brother made that mistake in Luke 15:25-30; he approached duty to his father with the sense of a slave doing the right things because he had to, and then pouted when he learned that royal treatment was not directly proportional to good behavior.

Actually, that fact should be a cause for rejoicing. However hard we try, we never can be as good as we want to be, let alone as good as God wants us to be. (The rare person who is thoroughly confident s/he is good enough is usually an insufferable egomaniac, if not a sociopath.) But God not only accepts us with all of our faults and shortcomings; He is delighted to receive us in whatever state we come to Him, and willing to do whatever it takes to make that possible. If we appreciated even a little how much He loves us, loving Him--and the others He also loves--would be easy.

The best way to learn to love God with our all, is to think less about ourselves and more about Him.

Lord, teach me to love You with all of my heart,
Secure in assurance that all things will start
And end with You, Lord; and that You first loved me,
And work out all things to the best they can be.

Lord, teach me to love You with all of my strength:
My work is for You, Lord, its breadth and its length;
Let all that I do be to one end alone:
The praise of Your glory, to lay at Your throne.

Lord, teach me to love You with all of my mind:
Please turn it to seek You, and help me to find;
Whatever I do, and wherever I go,
Guide all of my thoughts toward Your glory to flow.

Lord, teach me to love You with all of my will:
Whatever my strengths, I have weaknesses still,
Conspiring to hamper commitment to You:
Lord, break what needs breaking, and keep my love true.

Lord, teach me to love You with all of my soul:
Please shape me for heaven, where all will be whole;
Where, perfect forever, eternally true,
At last all my love will flow freely to You.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

God Provides Us Great Opportunities

Is it your fondest wish to live a life where everything goes right, health and wealth come easily, and you never encounter danger--

--or would you rather do great things for God?

Most of us would rather have it both ways! We want challenges--as long as there's no doubt about overcoming them quickly. We dream of winning the world for Christ--but hope that achievement wins popular acclaim rather than persecution.

And, to paraphrase an old saying about wealth, everybody knows that easy lives lead to weak character, but everyone wants the chance to prove him/herself the exception to the rule.

You may have heard that when the Chinese word for "crisis" is written out, one can see the words for both "danger" and "opportunity" inside it. God's best opportunities do have an annoying tendency to come in moments of crisis, paired with danger. Look at Daniel, faced with a death sentence for publicly acknowledging God; Esther, risking her head to speak up on her people's behalf; Paul, whose life as a missionary was full of hardships and persecutions. There are still Christians who literally risk their lives to worship; even when the worst likely to happen is virulent public criticism, many believers love their comfort and reputations more. It doesn't even have to be human opposition that scares us away from God's dangerous opportunities; fear of failure, of wasting our time and money and looking foolish in the bargain, is enough for many of us.

But it makes no sense to complain that God never asks us to do anything important, if we're going to say "no" when He does ask.

God provides us great opportunities
To grow strong in our faith in Him,
But we turn and run,
For they tend to come
Looking risky, costly, and grim.

God provides us great opportunities
To reach out with amazing deeds,
But no fruit will grow
When we shun the hoe
'Cause it's too much work to plant seeds.

God provides us great opportunities
To do grand and brave things for Him,
But we freeze in fear
With the Red Sea near,
And we whine that we just can't swim.

Take a look at God's opportunities:
See how many we let pass by.
Oh, our faith is small,
We who doubt His call,
Still refusing even to try!

Our great Lord of all opportunities
Waits to step in and help us through,
But it's only when
We step out for Him
That we learn all that He can do!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Time to Get up and Act

There's a line from an old comic strip: "I'd like to ask God why He doesn't do something about all the pain and evil in the world.... but I'm afraid He might ask me the same thing."

Most of us are all too quick to fault God (or media, or government, or education, or "others" in general) for not solving the problems of our society, and all too slow to lift a finger ourselves. Although we may be overwhelmed by the enormity of the situation, the claim that we're too small for such a big job usually is rooted in laziness. We want God or someone else to make this a better world for us to live in--and relieve us of any guilt or responsibility.

We may claim we shouldn't have to help solve problems we didn't create. But the Bible says, "Anyone... who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins" (James 4:17, NIV). And if God was willing to solve the problem of our own sin, which He certainly wasn't responsible for, who are we to consider ourselves too good to do the same for others?

There's nothing wrong with understanding a problem before we try to remedy it; indeed, being too quick to do what looks right can make things worse. But too much time spent analyzing--or, worse, complaining--only makes the problem look more and more impossible, until we are too discouraged to act at all.

Better to "give the cup of cold water" (cf. Mt. 10:42) than to fume because no one is digging a reservoir.

We debate the causes of warfare
While fresh thousands of graves are made;
We toss blame and fling accusations
And bemoan how God's standards fade;
But amid the complaints and analysis,
We're ignoring one simple fact:
That the time for talking is over,
And it's time to get up and act!

We fret over problems of living,
And we sit and we agonize
Over endless considered answers
As the days pass before our eyes;
And we put off saying what others should hear
In the name of observing tact:
But the time for thinking is over,
And it's time to get up and act!

God calls us to pray for our problems
And the needs of the world around,
For in Him is every solution,
And our help nowhere else is found;
But too often we talk till we fail to hear
When His answer comes--sure, exact--
Saying, "Bent-knee praying is over;
Now I want you to rise and act!"

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Eternal Life

A bit more on my all-week textbook project, mentioned in yesterday's blog. The overall topic was controversies surrounding the aging population, and the book included sections on social attitudes, government programs, economic implications--and whether aging is something humanity will have to put up with forever.

The idea that careful diet, advances in medical care, and other revolutionary health practices might soon make 150-year life spans possible has received a fair amount of media attention lately. But some people are aiming much higher than that. Someone has even written a book with the subtitle Live Long Enough to Live Forever, and at least one Ph.D. is pushing the idea (noted in the cover blurb of his own book) that "people alive today could live to be a thousand years old." Providing science can find the key to unlock the biological mechanisms of aging.

It's unnervingly reminiscent of the ancient satanic lie: "You will not surely die.... you will be like God" (Gen. 3:4-5, NIV). And nearly everyone pushing the "live a thousand years" agenda seems to believe that human ability and character are sufficiently godlike to overcome all difficulties. Ask one of these crusaders if multiplying the human life span by ten wouldn't seriously exacerbate the already considerable problems of overpopulation and natural resource exhaustion, and the reply is invariably something like, "I'm sure we'll be able to deal with that when the time comes."

Yet for all their hubris, the "live forever" types are right about one thing: deterioration and death are not "good and natural" parts of life. Death is an "enemy," a curse, a byproduct of sin (see 1 Cor. 15:21-26, 54-57). God never wanted us to die as a matter of course.

Neither, however, will He excuse our arrogance if we attempt to solve the problem without His help. Though most indefinite-life advocates admit that even if humanity becomes immune to aging it probably will not become immune to death, they seem unable to see that (even from the most strictly fundamentalist young-earth viewpoint) a thousand years isn't really all that long. Genesis 5:1-27 lists seven men who came very close to that goal--the youngest of them lived to 895 years, and two passed the 950 mark--and yet the record of each ends with "and then he died." Which covers just about all anyone now knows or remembers about most of them.

Ironically, the one man in that passage who was spared the "died" footnote--Enoch, verses 21-24--had only 365 years on earth, far less than half of the next youngest age. One might say that he was too good for earth; he was so close to God that God took him into heaven without forcing him to go the long, hard route. Enoch had no need for some medical process that would "cure" the deterioration of aging, nor to measure "living forever" in terms of chronological physical years. He knew what all true Christians know: that the only way to truly live forever, to become permanently immune not only to death but to all the problems of life, and to find "forever" so fulfilling that he would never tire of it, was to give himself completely to God.

With that and the one other exception of Elijah (2 Kings 2:1-18), the privilege of being taken to heaven without dying seems to have been reserved for those believers who will remain on earth at Christ's return. But once we trust Christ for eternal life, we need never fear death again.

And it won't matter whether our earthly lives last 150 years or 150 months.

Ever since the day when Adam bit into that fatal fruit,
Setting off a chain reaction, letting deadly sin take root,
Human life has been but fleeting, and a sense that death is sure
Casts its shadow on our living, mocks our longing to endure.

Ever since the day when mortals dared equate themselves with God--
Though He is the great Eternal, and we are but earthly sod--
People gave themselves to searching for some magic that would hold
A sure key to youth forever, sought more eagerly than gold.

And the Lord, Who sits in heaven, laughed to see such deadly pride;
But He also looked in pity on each mortal soul that died,
So He set a plan in motion, far beyond our human skill,
That would free from death the humble, those who sought to do His will.

Ever since the day our Savior breathed His last upon that Cross,
And then rose to life eternal, where He could restore our loss,
Though our bodies fade and wither, then return again to dust,
Yet our souls forever after live with Him Whose love we trust.

Still today, the proud and haughty, in this world of human fears,
Seek to find that magic potion and to live a thousand years--
Yet a thousand years pass quickly, even on the earthly scale.
Let us trust instead the promise of the One Who cannot fail!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Sometimes You Must Reach the End of Your Rope

Yesterday, I finished a four-day "work marathon" in which every available moment--some fifty hours' worth--was devoted to preparing a lengthy anthology-textbook on contract to a nonfiction publisher. One would think that by now I would have learned not to underestimate the amount of time it takes to finish projects--and that it takes an hour to get to sleep when my brain lacks sufficient time to "power down" between work and bed.

Plenty of people have more serious--and longer-lasting--reasons for lying awake at night, most of which are connected to a sense of having taken on more than one can handle--or of having had similar weights dropped on one's shoulders uninvited. If Christ's yoke is easy and His burden is light (cf. Mt. 11:28-30), why do we as Christians still feel consistently "weary and burdened"?

Usually because, instead of carrying the load He gives us and passing to Him everything else that others and life try to hand us, we're trying to carry His load plus all the others by ourselves. God is too concerned with our maturity to snatch things from us if we forget to ask Him to take them. He wants us to be adults who know--and do--what is right, rather than infants who constantly have to have things done for their own good, with or without their cooperation.

So if you feel you're at the end of your rope, God may be telling you: Quit struggling to climb that rope by yourself; just hang on and let Him pull you up.

If you've filled up your life with mounds of tasks
And can see no end to the list,
If you've lost all your joy in serving God,
And it seems no way out can exist
From the hole you've dug--and to bury yourself--
Then consider before you just quit:
Sometimes you must reach the end of your rope
Before God can pull you from the pit.

If you've filled up your brain with "shoulds" and "musts"
And with worry, self-pity, and doubt,
If you've let yourself sink into a funk
And can scarcely conceive a way out,
Then remind yourself Who is the Source of peace--
Take your thoughts off yourself for a bit;
Sometimes you must reach the end of your rope
Before God can pull you from the pit.

For as long as we think we can cope alone,
We will struggle to climb to the top;
And so long as our lives seem organized,
We will fight for our "rights" till we drop.
But with nothing to do but to cry for help,
We at last see the whole truth of it:
Sometimes you must reach the end of your rope
Before God can pull you from the pit!