Pay Attention to the Packaging

 

I’m not a movie critic but will recommend you watch “Second Hand Lions” sometimes when you need a good laugh and a reminder of where our real riches are found. It is one of my favorites, the story of two elderly brothers who retired to an old house on a run-down farm in a rural area in the southwest. Unexpectedly, their great nephew was dropped off for them to care for while his mother continued her loose lifestyle.

The brothers had become “filthy rich” in their adventures in the Middle East and had stashed their treasure in their dilapidated barn. Although they were elderly, they had not lost their zeal for adventure and were willing to go to their stash to support whatever might interest them. They flew a bi-plane, bought a yacht for their small lake, a skeet machine for their entertainment, and a second-hand lion they proposed to hunt for sport.

The part of the story I want you to think about is how the older brother decided to plant a vegetable garden to occupy their time and provide healthy food for their meals. He had never gardened before. He was sold several packets of seeds, supposing them to be a variety of vegetables such as carrots, cucumbers, squash, corn, etc., and put the package at the head of each row to identify the vegetable they would gather from the seeds planted there. Weeks later the garden was showing promise but needed some weeding. The younger brother decided to help but was confused by what he was seeing. Looking over the expanse of the growing plants he asks, “What is this?” and repeats the question about various other rows.

The brother whose idea it was to plant the garden answers, “Well, this is squash, that is carrots, and this one is corn,” to which the inquiring brother replies, “It all looks the same to me; it’s all corn,” and throws down his hoe and storms out of the cornfield. Although the packaging was labeled as carrots, squash, and assorted other vegetables, all of it was corn. The truth was in the seed, not what the package advertised it to be.   

There is a consistent biblical theme that we must not ignore: we will reap what we have planted or sown. We may be fooled by the packaging, but the seed determines what will be produced. Corn seed grows corn, no matter what the package says it is.  The world and its marketplace advertise products and ideas that appeal to our pride, comfort, self-indulgence, and ego. Doesn’t God caution us to be wise and understanding about what the world is trying to sell us? The packaging can be very alluring and deceptive but the end result is bad news. “Don’t be deceived, God is not mocked. We will harvest what we have planted.”

 Christ wants us to develop a godly character that rewards us with a deep peace and purpose in this life and great rewards in the life to come. The biblical message is unmistakable; there are two paths in life. One leads to personal destruction, the other to eternal life. Sin, rejection of God’s will, brings death. Obedience to God’s will brings life. That eternal life becomes yours the moment you choose to respond by faith in  Christ’s as your Lord and Savior. 

Knowing Christ now is greater than anything this world can offer. Think of all the benefits you have now because you have put your faith in Christ to save you to accomplish His will in you. I’ve often thought that if there is no heaven or hell, knowing Christ now is the best way to live. But there is a heaven and a hell. And, we are laying up treasures in heaven right now as we choose to live faithfully. Take heart, the best is yet to come!

Your Life is a Time-Sensitive Trust from God

Does truth really matter to you? If it does, there are several things you will need in order to have the truth and use it well. First, you will need to have a trustworthy source. Where will you get the information by which you will make decisions? This is an area of deep concern to me because I recognize two things about human nature. First, even well-intentioned people don’t have all the facts about most things. We make interpretations about things we see and hear according to the way we see life. We rarely know all the facts and circumstances as to why someone does something we don’t agree with. Do you think that may be why Jesus us tells us not to “judge” others?

The second thing I have learned through difficult experiences is that some people make a habit of lying. I used to think that something I read was true because it was in print or because someone in a place of leadership said it. How naïve and gullible I was. No longer am I so silly and ignorant. We have people and movements in our country who have an agenda that will basically destroy our country. Jesus dealt with people like this all the time. He knew who they worked for and what they represented. We cannot hide from the fact that our country is under attack. Ignoring problems doesn’t make them go away.

So, what are we to do?  Find reliable sources of information. How do you know they are reliable? Does what they say or write agree with commonsense? Is there a consistency in what they say and what they do?  Is their basic message supported by scriptural teachings and principles? The Bible, as interpreted through the life and teachings of Jesus, is our ultimate source of authority.

The bottom line for me is, does what I am reading or being told pass the tests of scriptural truth and common sense?  Now, let’s see if the truth I share with you today will meet these tests. 

The second life-changing truth I want you to consider is: Your Life is a Time-sensitive Trust from God.

This truth is a foundational teaching of Christianity. Biblical concepts such as stewardship, responsibility, judgment, rewards, discipleship, and Christ’s lordship rest on the premise that we have been entrusted with something. A trust is a property or interest held by one person for the profit or benefit of another. The owner of the property or interest in this case is God, your Creator. You are the trustee or steward of this trust.  

What is it that God has entrusted to you? He has entrusted you with your life and all that comes with it. You belong to Him. Your body, wealth, gifts, talents, and time belong to Him. According to scriptural teachings such as The Parable of the Talents, you are accountable for how you manage His interests. 1 Peter 118-19 is one of numerous New Testament reminders of the tremendous price Jesus paid to save us and make us His own, “You were not redeemed with perishable things like silver and gold…but with precious blood…the blood of Christ.”

What is the time limit on the trust God has given you? The trust remains in effect until you die. During your lifetime you are allowed to make choices that determine your character and your ultimate destiny in heaven or hell. You are not guaranteed a specific amount of time in which to execute your trust. Scripture and common sense caution you not to presume you have another day past the one you are now living. You do not know when the time for your trust will run out.

Do you believe this truth about your life being a time-sensitive trust from God? What are you willing to do, to change in order to take it seriously? How will you treat God, yourself, and others in light of this truth? God gives us only one day at a time and that is all we have. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow may not come for us but we have now. Let’s give God and others our best today and every day that He gives us.  

 

What is Truth?

 

“You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” John 8:32

“What is truth?” This was the skeptical question Pontius Pilate raised when Jesus claimed his earthly mission was all about truth. “For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness of the truth.” John 14:37. Truth didn’t matter to Pilate. Although he believed Jesus to be innocent of the charges against him, he chose the politically expedient path. Later that morning, Jesus was crucified.

The truth was a threat to those who wanted to silence Jesus. They were drunk on power and Jesus’ life and teaching were exposing the shabby lies of their pretentious religion. These religious leaders would fabricate any lie, go to any length to get him out of the way. The crucifixion appeared to settle the issue. They had won. Or, so they thought. There was just one big problem. You can’t kill the truth.

Jesus has said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” John 14:6. Our Christian faith rests on the truth, the reality that God raised Jesus from the dead. There is such a thing as absolute truth. So what is truth? Truth is something that reflects reality. Reality is the way things really are. When someone tells you the truth they are giving you facts or information that match the way things really are. People who are honest can make mistakes with the facts but their intention is to always give you their best effort to tell it like it is. Truth tellers have no “spin,” and no agenda other than to tell the truth. 

Common sense and truth seem to be in short supply in our country today. Both political parties have their agendas and biases. Sometimes it seems we are left to choose a candidate on the basis of who gets the least “Pinocchios.” This is tragic for many reasons. Lies are no way to run a country or build your personal life. Lies lead to terrible decisions because they aren’t based on reality. Rather than tell the truth, liars generally tell other lies rather than face the mistake they have made. According to Jesus, Satan is the father of lies, and those who practice lies are children of the devil. John 8:44

I believe it was Thomas Jefferson who said something to the effect that our ability to remain a free people depends on our news organizations giving us accurate information.. Any wonder why our country is in such a mess? Now, I’m not so naive as to think that everybody wants the truth because truth doesn’t serve their purposes to have control and power over the rest of us. What does all this have to do with Critical Race Theory, the southern border, covid, masks, Afghanistan, and a number of other issues? I don’t know for sure but  I think a lot of what we are told doesn’t match reality. And like in any other relationship, I tend to become skeptical and lose trust when people don’t take responsibility for their actions and do not do their best to give me the truth.  It’s kinda like my relationship with my Cockoo clock. For a while, I could trust that when the bird cuckooed five times it was five o’clock. But, the clock got messed up and I know that the bird is lying to me because I can see it’s really one o’clock when it is telling me it is five. The bird needs an adjustment to reality. And so does our country and perhaps some of us do also. 

I don’t have all the answers to our nation’s woes but I do believe the ultimate solution comes down to our individual choice to seek and follow the truth. For that reason, I hope to share some truths in the next three blogs that have the potential to change your life.  Before investigating these life-changing truths, I want to remind you of an essential fact about truth, any truth. Truth has the power to change your life, but you must do something for that to happen.

In the early 1880s Thomas Edison developed a way to provide electricity to areas of New York City. For centuries experiments had been conducted with lighting but few saw the practical potential for harnessing the power of electricity for everyday use. There were some early doubters about its effectiveness but today electricity has become so widespread that no one wants to do without the cool air it can produce on a humid day or the many other conveniences it makes possible. Electricity is a reality, a kind of “truth,” if you will.  Electricity “can” dispel the darkness from a room, but it “will” light up the room only if you do what is necessary to release its power. Likewise, these truths can change your life. What will you need to do for that to happen? Believe them to the extent that you put them into practice. When Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” he was talking about knowing truth at a deep experiential level. This kind of “knowing” requires action, putting the idea into use. Truth is useless unless we act on it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Responding to Crises

 Crises are nothing new to our country. We have been through tough times before. A 2016 Times Magazine article reminds us we have had at least three major national crises in addition to the National Division (1970-present) we are currently experiencing. An update of the article would surely add our recent experience to the list. If so, the new list will look like this: Revolutionary War (1774-1783), War Between the States (1861-1865), Great Depression (1929-1938?), National Division (1970-present), and Covid-19 (2020).

The title of the article referenced above is “How Today’s American Crisis is Different.” The article’s focus is how, from the 1970s until today, there has been a fracturing of, a tearing apart, of the sense of unity and purpose that helped us overcome the earlier crises. E Pluribus Unum, “out of many, one,” doesn’t appear to be working out for us. Political gridlock and polarization define national politics. Where is our great unifying purpose? The constitution and government which survived the former crises seem to be under serious threat. How long can our nation survive conditions like this? 

One of the challenges we have about learning from our problems is the forgetful mindset we have adopted because of the instant news cycle we have become accustomed to. We are bombarded with multiple tragedies, murders, scandals, wars in real-time from home and across the world. Crises are part of the daily news diet and we simply cannot digest it all. We tend to become hardened to it and develop a survival attitude; reluctant to ponder the profound life lessons crises may hold for us. 

How can we look at these enormous challenges from a more personal, optimistic, and faith perspective? In his book, Faithful Change, Dr. James Fowler says that each generation has felt they lived in unprecedented times, experiencing the full range of challenges of human living. To live faithfully, we must learn to make good choices in light of those challenges. Fowler discusses  three kinds of change we must negotiate if we are to live faithfully: (1) developmental change,(2) healing or reconstructive change, and (3) change due to disruptions and modifications of the systems that shape our lives.

Developmental change is the process of physical, emotional, and intellectual challenges we face in the life cycle from conception, birth, young children, pre-adolescents, teenagers, young adults, and so on until old age and death. This process is ever-present as we deal with the two additional areas of challenge. I’m in my eighth decade and certainly notice lots of challenges that come with the territory. The next step in this process for me is dying. That idea doesn’t appeal to me but I know the One who will see me through that just as He has faithfully brought me to this stage of life. 

The second area, which Fowler refers to as “healing or reconstructive change,” has to do with the need for healing from harmful patterns of emotion and thinking which we have adopted to help us feel safe and less vulnerable to the harsh realities of life. This false sense of self and security is challenged when we lose a job, face a major health crisis, lose a loved one or go through a divorce or other significant disruption. Such a crisis presents an opportunity to reassess who we are and to make necessary changes. Think about how true this is in your personal experiences. How has God helped you faithfully change in light of personal loss or crises in your life?

Change due to systems that shape our lives has to do with the challenges that come from our participation in our society’s social, political, and economic processes. We often feel the only control we have in these areas is how we will respond to the decisions of those in power. We are in the midst of what is often labeled as a “cultural war.” One of the challenges a believer faces in this postmodern culture is how to maintain a faithful, loving witness in a society we believe to be in a rapid downward spiral. While we don’t control many of the financial, health-related, and political issues that affect us, we must learn from these crises and take responsibility for our choices. Our nation is in a mess on different fronts. How can we respond faithfully to what we see is happening to the country we love? 

 Life often poses a variety of challenges; coming at us from various directions. To live well, we must understand how our everyday choices form patterns of decision-making that will ultimately prove to be wise or foolish when the next crisis comes. And, troubles will come to each of us in one way or another.

Sadly, lots of folks may look back on these crisis events and regret their lack of preparation for the problems they faced. Some will wish they had spent more time with those they have lost. Others will chide their lack of financial discipline and regret they didn’t put away some savings for times like these.

Those most fortunate are those who will come to terms with the fact that material possessions and money, while necessary, are not a reliable source for our security. We are made for another world, and it is to our great benefit that we invest our life and temporal possessions in that world.

Whether solely personal or shared with much of humanity, every crisis is an opportunity to reassess how you live and invest in God’s priorities. There are more crises ahead, and the daily investments you make will be crucial in weathering the coming storms.

 Many believe our nation is in a great crisis politically, economically, and morally. Are the vitriol and divisiveness a harbinger of a country that is about to come apart at the seams? Where is that something or someone to bring us together, to unite us?

 

 

 

 

Is God Good?

 

Is God good?

Does your answer to that question depend on the mood you are in or the particular circumstances you are confronting? It is very easy to say, “God is so good” when everything is going your way. If you have your health, enough money to pay your bills, and your family relationships are in pretty good shape, you may have no difficulty in saying “praise God from whom all blessings flow.” 

But, what do you think about God when troubles come and your life seems to be falling apart? What do you say about God when a child dies or you are personally stricken with an incurable illness? Is God good when you lose your life’s savings or your job is terminated?

These questions strike at the heart of an issue important to every true believer; is God good? Is He purely good with no trace of evil or deception in His character?

What happens to my life if I don’t really believe God is good? It means I believe I can’t really trust Him. If I can’t really trust Him, I live in doubt about His care for me and lose my interest and zeal to live according to His teachings.

 Remember the story of Job? Satan’s contention was that he only served and trusted God because he had such a good, trouble-free life. God allowed Satan to test his theory. Job lost his children, his possessions, his health, and the support of his wife and friends. He complained and wondered why God would allow him to suffer such misery but he never lost his confidence in the goodness and righteousness of God.  

In my last blog, “Thinking about God,” I wrote about how Satan wants to deceive us and cause us to doubt God’s goodness. Satan is a Liar. According to Jesus, he is the father of the lie (John 8:44). What do you think Satan wants you to think about God? Does He want you to believe God is good, that you can trust Him? No, he wants to plant doubts in your mind about following God’s will.

 Remember his misleading words to Eve, “You will not die because God knows that when you eat your eyes will be opened and you will be like God.” Genesis 3:4-5. One of the takeaways from the temptations of Jesus is that Satan would go to any length to distract Him from God’s ultimate will for His life. Satan’s deceptions of folks Jesus came to save culminated in the cross at Calvary. Satan is serious about deceiving people into believing a lie about God’s goodness. Do you think for one moment Satan isn’t interested in doing this to you?  

We are living in times when evil all around us. It seems we are reaping what we have sown as a nation. Have we been so busy chasing the “American Dream” that we are now facing a moral nightmare? I am not an alarmist but the crime and murder that’s happening in the streets and neighborhoods of our country causes me to ask, “When is this lawlessness going to get personal”?  Unless a spiritual revival takes place, our children and grandchildren are going to be living in a country where the freedoms our founding fathers risked their lives for will be greatly diminished.

There is a lot of focus on politicians as the reason for our current problems. I believe the political stalemate and the acrimony that seems to characterize much of D.C. is a symptom of a deeper, spiritual issue. Politics will not solve our problems. Many of our politicians could sure help a lot more if they would, but they are not the solution.  The ultimate solution to our nation’s ills lies with us, God’s redeemed people. Politics won’t heal the soul as a nation. Only God can restore us.

 Perhaps some of us need to pray for our leaders as God tells us to do. Maybe we need to spend more time in the word and less time watching the news programs that support our political views. It may surprise some of us to discover that God isn’t a Republican or a Democrat. He loves all of us regardless of whether our views are liberal or conservative.  

God is good. His ways are right. And, he blesses those who trust in His goodness and follow Him, “How blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in His commandments!” Psalm 112:1.

The bottom-line  solution to our nation’s ills is clearly stated in 2 Chronicles 7: 14, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear them, will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

Yes, God is good and that reality carries weighty consequences. We are to act like our Father. We are to love as He loves. We are to do good in evil times. We are to pray for our enemies. We are to be salt and light in a dark and decaying world. And, we are to live with the confidence that our Father, as Paul tells us in Romans 8:28, “causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.”

Bill Haslam, former governor of Tennessee, has written a helpful book for those of us concerned about our role as people of faith in a hostile environment. The book’s title is Faithful Presence-The Promise and Peril of Faith in the Public Square. Concerning Jesus’ expectation of the role believers will play in the world, Haslam writes, ” They were and are to be people who do for the world what salt did for meat in the days before refrigeration: keep it from spoiling. If the meat went bad, it was the salt’s fault, not the meat’s. (page 192 ). 

Don’t despair. God is good and He will prevail. But, you and I need to be sure we are faithful to follow Jesus in the way we respond to today’s challenges.

Thinking About God

 Small god or Big God?

Good God or Mean god?

Weak god or Strong God?

Have you given much thought to how you think about God and the effect that has on your emotions, your outlook on life, and how you live? How do you answer the three sets of questions above?

Why does it matter what you think about God? It matters because your god or God is your ultimate source of authority, what or who matters most in your life. Your values and the way you live are shaped by whatever has authority in your life. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, (your source of meaning and authority) there will your heart be also.”  He also said, “ Out of the heart come the issues of life….”

Is it possible for a true believer to have a distorted or inadequate view of God? Absolutely. I think it is very likely that you and I and every believer underestimate the God who cares for us and supplies everything we need. Why do I believe this is true?

First, who can fully grasp the glory and magnificence of the Holy One? We are mere mortals dealing with the infinite Reality. We don’t have the capacity to fully grasp the greatness of the God we love and serve. Is this what Isaiah 55:9 is saying? “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts.”  

Not only are we finite and limited in our ability to fully grasp the greatness of God, but we are also “fallen” human beings who are tempted to believe wrong ideas about God. Although we are saved because of our trust in Christ and His death and resurrection, the old nature is not completely eradicated. That means we are still capable of sin and distorted ideas about God. We are saved but God continues to save us from our sinful past through the process of sanctification.

Paul has lots to say about the need to think clearly and live purely in his letters to young believers. Romans 12:2 is a good example of this, “Do not conform to this world but be changed by the renewing of your mind.” Change the way you think about God and His purpose for your life. What were they thinking about God that prompted Paul to challenge them to “Present yourselves as a living sacrifice to God”? Romans 12:1.

The third reason I believe Christians are often misguided in our thinking about God is that we have somehow been deceived into believing the devil doesn’t exist. Jesus certainly believed in his existence. Take note of the wilderness temptations in Matthew’s gospel. Was Jesus just imagining the devil was there? Was He hallucinating after forty days and nights in the wilderness? Satan is not dismissed in scripture as some benign imaginary character. He is real, evil, deceitful, and a liar who wants to somehow cast doubt in our minds about the character of God. Peter tells us to think soberly and watch carefully because the devil is like a roaring lion seeking someone to tear apart. 1Peter 5:8.

One of the best and most important things you will ever do for yourself is to get your thinking about the character of God aligned with the life and teaching of Jesus and scripture. Until you commit to the teaching of scripture about who God is your emotional and spiritual life will be plagued by doubt and confusion.

I encourage you to think about what I’ve said. And, think about how you think and feel about God when bad things happen to you. That may give you a hint about the need to change your thinking to align with biblical teaching.     

 

Who Are You Trying to Please?

I believe we are in a cultural war that will determine the future of our country. Forces of hell are working to change the very nature of our society in several different ways. Evil is behind this effort in high places in government, schools, powerful corporations, and many media outlets to replace the Christian principles that undergird our constitution and way of life. They are inciting hate and division which can ultimately destroy us. Those who participate in these activities have a plan based on lies and use intimidation, and often shut down or attempt to cancel the message of those who oppose them.

These entities make the rules about what you are supposed to believe and the words you can use in your opinions. They are right, and if you oppose their “superior” way of thinking, you are called a racist, homophobe, or some other derogatory name. To avoid being canceled or suffer their wrath, you must agree with their lies, as many are doing. At the very least, you must be silent and let things happen as they will.

Don’t get me wrong; our country isn’t perfect. There are lots of areas where change is needed. We have gone through some dark and challenging times, but we have made considerable progress in race relations and many other areas. I believe the “systemic race issue” is a pretext, a smokescreen to divide our country and fundamentally change us into a socialist nation. Power is what this is all about.

So, as a person of faith, a follower of Jesus, what can I do? There are several things for us to consider. First, remember who you are and Who it is you are to please. We belong to God, and we do not bow the knee to anyone but Him.

Also, remember that evil is always trying to defeat good. Genesis 4: 1-8 recounts how the jealous, angry Cain killed his brother, Abel. The difference in their gifts was not in the substance (animal vs. fruit) but their attitude toward their Creator. Abel honored and pleased God with the best he had, while Cain’s gift fell short of what God deserved. Don’t be surprised that evil is showing its ugly face in our society in unprecedented ways.

Third, we need to stay aware of the issues and be faithful, like Abel, to give our best to God every day. Live your faith and become active where you can to lovingly oppose the evil you see. You can learn about issues such as “critical Race Theory” at www.hillsdale.edu.

And pray against the evil. Prayer is a subversive activity against evil schemes and the schemers of this world. Prayer is a powerful way to fight the devil and those who have joined him to destroy all that is good about our country.  Pray against the evil and for the souls of those who perpetrate it. Love your enemies by praying for them.

Who are you trying to please? If you are a believer, you are in a fight whether you want to be or not. It’s time for all of us to wake up and do what Paul says in Ephesians 6: 10-18, “ Put on the whole armor of  God……”  Take a couple of minutes to read this passage for yourself.